Constance A. Morella (1931- )
MSA SC 3520-2101
Constance "Connie" Morella was a member of
the Maryland House of Delegates and the United States House of Representatives.
Serving in political offices for almost twenty-five years, Morella always
considered her constituents from
Born Constance Albanese in
Morella was a Republican by party affiliation, but her moderate stance caused her to support some policies of the Democratic Party. This won her favor with many Democrats, and in the beginning of her political run, she said the phrase “I’m a Republican who couldn’t be elected without the support of Democrats” so frequently that it almost became her official slogan.3 As a legislator from a heavily Democratic area, some wondered how Morella was elected to the General Assembly, but she always downplayed her party affiliation and said “I like to think people in this county vote for individuals.”4 During her years in the state legislature, Morella was “a constructive player in the deliberations of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and a voice for moderation on social issues,” making her an ideal Republican candidate for the race to fill the 8th District’s open seat in the House of Representatives during the 1986 election.5
In 1986, Morella campaigned against Democratic opponent, State Senator Stewart Bainum, Jr., for months in order to secure the empty seat in the House. Bainum was a millionaire, while Morella was a mother of nine. Morella reached out heavily to those in District 8 by attending PTA meetings and even converted voters while in the line at the grocery store.6 What truly helped Morella gain popularity, however, were surprise endorsements from both the Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun.7 These endorsements resulted in even more recognition and also helped her gain more support from registered Democrats. Despite less campaign funds than her opposition, Morella won the 8th District seat, beating Bainum by 11,239 votes.8 She said that “This election shows that
Connie Morella entered Congress during a time when a Republican was in the White House, yet in her first six months of serving as a U.S. Representative, she deviated from President Ronald Reagan and the Republicans in the House on almost every issue except trade.10 She even voted with the Democrats to cut $500 million from Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, despite supporting the initiative during her campaign. She continued to vote against Republican fiscal policy when she voted in favor of a bill that would establish the 1988 fiscal year budget at $1 trillion. President Reagan was opposed to the bill, yet Morella was one of three House Republicans to vote in favor of it, setting a precedent that she would not allow herself to be restrained by her political party’s lines. She voted for the budget because it would help those in her district, and also since “it was a budget that looked to how we could cut programs and how we could build in terms of reducing our deficit. We’ve pretty much exhausted our domestic cuts. As Shakespeare said in one of his plays, ‘Action is eloquence.’ We must move forward.”11 Thus began Connie Morella’s many years as a Representative who often quoted Shakespeare and more often defied the norms of the Republican Party.
When she was a newly serving Representative, Morella was a member of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee, the Science and Technology Committee, the Select Committee of Aging, and was also on the executive board of the Federal Employees Task Force. These were the perfect committees for Morella, since Maryland's 8th District was heavily populated with technology related businesses and federal employees who wanted guaranteed pensions upon retirement. Morella’s district was incredibly close to
After securing the trust of her constituents and consistently strong odds of reelection, Morella began pressing for reforms regarding women’s issues. She was the principal co-sponsor of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994.13 The bill made it a federal crime and “would impose punishment on those found guilty of using force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction to intentionally injure, intimidate, or interfere with women seeking reproductive health services.” The bill, however, did not make protesting outside abortion clinics illegal.14 This bill was a huge victory to all women seeking reproductive services since they would now not need to fear violence or assault when entering clinics.
Morella continued to exert her role as a champion of women’s issues on Capitol Hill, making her one of the few representatives in the country who women could consistently rely upon to defend their rights. She introduced or sponsored a plethora of laws, such as the Women in Apprenticeship Occupations and Nontraditional Occupations Act, the Battered Women’s Testimony Act, and an act that allocated funds for training judges on domestic violence. Morella was one of the four major House of Representatives sponsors of the Violence Against Women Act, and also introduced bills that were incorporated into larger laws, such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline Act and the Gender Equity in Math and Science Act. Although Morella’s “pieces of legislation do not have large dollars attached to them, their impact is immeasurable in the number of women’s lives that they have improved and saved.”15 This most certainly was true, since in addition to introducing an impressive number of pieces of legislation regarding domestic violence and workplace equality, Morella continued to defy the Republican Party’s views on abortion when she “was instrumental in stopping the Istook amendment to the recissions package, which would have prevented Medicaid from funding abortions in rape and incest cases.”16
During the mid-1990s, Morella found that the atmosphere within the Republican Party was quickly changing. Liberal Republicans were disappearing and the party was becoming much more conservative, putting her in a difficult position. Morella had to decide whether she would side with her constituents or with her political party. She signed House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich’s “Contract With America,” showing an inkling of identification with more conservative Republicans. After she signed the “Contract With America,” some criticized her, saying that she was not completely independent from the Republican Party and would side with Gingrich when needed. Morella debunked this statement, saying that she “carefully evaluates each vote as it comes before Congress and that her constituents seem to like the approach.” She also said, “I think people like the idea of someone looking at each issue and making up their own mind, rather than just going with the consensus. Otherwise you could send up a robot.”17 Signing the “Contract With America” had the potential to create controversy among Morella’s constituents, but she won yet another election and continued to represent her majority Democratic 8th District.
After the “Contract With America,” Morella continued to vote against the Republicans in the House. She went against Newt Gingrich and his promise to the National Rifle Association when she did not vote in favor of revoking a ban on semiautomatic, assault-style weapons.18 She also voted against a 1996 measure that would outlaw “partial-birth abortions,” a procedure that was rarely used to end late stage pregnancies.19 Perhaps the most controversial matter in which Morella voted against the popular opinion of her party was President Clinton’s impeachment. Morella opposed the movement to impeach
Despite consistent votes against the Republican Party, Morella’s reelection margins began to shrink in the late 1990s. Her Democratic constituents were not thrilled with the actions of the Republican majority in the House and began to see a definite polarization between the two political parties.21 Morella’s coup de grāce, however, was when the Maryland State Legislature changed her district lines by ridding it of her strong supporters in the northwest portion and adding a highly Democratic area to the east part of the district. This intentional gerrymandering resulted in Morella losing her seat to Democrat Christopher Van Hollen, Jr. by a vote of 52% to 48%.22 Morella was devastated about the loss, but nonetheless handled her disappointment with poise. She even received a phone call from President George W. Bush, which, according to the White House, was the only condolence call he made in the 2002 election.23 Thus Morella’s sixteen year career in the United States House of Representatives ended.
The burn of Morella’s loss was alleviated a year later when President Bush announced his plans to nominate her to serve as the ambassador to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). The appointment was low-risk for President Bush but extremely prestigious for Morella, and she even moved to
Connie Morella served in the Maryland House of Delegates and the United States House of Representatives for a combined total of almost twenty-five years. She was truly a representative for her constituents, and always considered their best interests when she voted “yea” or “nay.” More importantly, Morella was a defender of women’s rights and introduced and/or sponsored legislation that resulted in saving the lives of many women. As an incredibly influential congresswoman and advocate for women’s rights, Connie Morella absolutely belongs in the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame.
13. National Abortion Foundation. "Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act." Accessed July 24, 2014. https://www.prochoice.org/about_abortion/facts/face_act.html. Return to text
Return to Constance A. Morella's Introductory Page© Copyright Maryland State Archives