Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Constance A. Morella (1931- )
MSA SC 3520-2101

Extended Biography:

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 Montgomery County her top priority, and, because of this, she was a unique politician that always used the government to secure liberties and benefits to those she represented. Connie Morella was also a strong supporter and protector of women’s rights, making her a heroine to women nationwide.

Born Constance Albanese in Sommerville, Massachusetts in 1931, she was the daughter of two Italian immigrants. Her parents were incredibly hardworking blue collar laborers, and they instilled the values of dilligence and determination into their six children.1 Thanks to her parents' efforts, Morella was given the opportunity to pursue a higher education. She graduated from Boston University in 1951, and married her husband, Anthony Morella, in 1954.2 The couple moved to Montgomery County, Maryland, where she taught high school and they had three children. The two also raised Connie’s sister’s six children after she passed away from cancer. Morella graduated with a Masters degree from American University in 1967, and proceeded to teach English at Montgomery College from 1970-1984. During her time as a professor, she became involved in many local political activities, such as the Montgomery County Commission for Women, and realized she strongly identified with the political views of moderate Republicans. With a newly formed political mantra, Morella decided she wanted to enter politics. Not deterred by an unsuccessful run for the Maryland General Assembly in 1974, Morella continued to campaign and was elected to the state legislature four years later.

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 Montgomery County voters are very independent. It proves that party label is nothing that’s going to keep people from voting for a person.”9

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 Washington, D.C., so there was no difficulty in connecting with and visiting her constituents. She established close ties with her constituents, always listening to them and considered their needs when voting. Although her district was heavily Democratic, the close relationship she established with voters led to her many re-elections to Congress. In the early 1990s, Morella always won more than 70% of the vote in congressional elections.12

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 Clinton because she believed “his conduct in the Monica S. Lewinsky matter does not warrant his removal from office.” She agreed that Clinton shamed himself by lying under oath, but she exerted her view that “putting the country through the turmoil and tumult of a Senate trial is wrong.”20 Once again, Connie Morella placed the people first, rather than her party, when casting her vote on a critical issue.

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 Paris, France for the four years she served as the ambassador.24 After her service to OECD, Morella returned to the United States and spent a year at Harvard University teaching a course titled “An Endangered Species: The Moderate in the House of Representatives.” She then was appointed a resident ambassador at American University’s Women & Politics Institute, and was also appointed a commissioner with the American Battle Monuments Commission.25 Morella has seemingly yet to completely retire, showing her tenacity, dedication, and passion.

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.

1. Brigid Schulte, “For Morella, Independence Carries a Cost; Supporters Wave in High-Stakes Race,” Washington Post, October 15, 2002. Return to text

2. United States House of Representatives. "Morella, Constance A." Accessed July 22, 2014. Return to text

3. Keith B. Richburg, “Montgomery’s Morella Plays Down Her Party,” Washington Post, August 1, 1982. Return to text

4. Ibid. Return to text

5. “The Montgomery County 8th,” Baltimore Sun, August 22, 1986. Return to text

6. Nora Frenkiel, “AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY: Congress is the new payoff for immigrants’ daughter,” Baltimore Sun, April 19, 1987. Return to text

7. “The Montgomery County 8th,” Baltimore Sun, August 22, 1986; Nora Frenkiel, “AMERICAN SUCCESS STORY: Congress is the new payoff for immigrants’ daughter,” Baltimore Sun, April 19, 1987. Return to text

8. R.H. Melton, “Morella’s Election a Triumph Of Personality Over Party,” Washington Post, November 6, 1986. Return to text

9. Ibid. Return to text

10. Eric Pianin, “In Her First Six Months, Morella Asserts Her Independence: Morella ‘Strays From The Reservation’,” Washington Post, June 28, 1987. Return to text

11. Ibid. Return to text

12. "Morella, Constance A." Return to text

13. National Abortion Foundation. "Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act." Accessed July 24, 2014. Return to text

14. Kevin Merida, “House Approves Bill to Combat Violence at Abortion Clinics,” Washington Post, November 19, 1993. Return to text

15. Donna Milgram, “Connie Morella: Niceness Is Not Powerlessness,” Washington Post, April 1, 1995. Return to text

16. Ibid. Return to text

17. Deirde M. Childress, “Moredate Morella Feels Tug of Republican Agenda,” Washington Post, November 16, 1995. Return to text

18. John E. Yang, “House Votes Repeal of Assault-Gun Ban; Gingrich Fulfills Promise to NRA,” Washington Post, March 23, 1996. Return to text

19. John E. Yang, “House Sends Clinton Curb on Abortions; Late-Term Method Would Be Banned,” Washington Post, March 28, 1996. Return to text

20. Spencer S. Hsu, “Morella Opposes Removal; Others From Area Split on Party Lines,” Washington Post, December 19, 1998. Return to text

21. Return to text

22. Brigid Schulte, “Sad But Stoical, Morella Is Trying to Understand,” Washington Post, November 7, 2002. Return to text

23. Jeff Barker and Andrew A. Green, “Ruppersberger Beats Bentley; Morella Falls To Van Hollen,” Baltimore Sun, November 6, 2002. Return to text

24. Brigid Schulte, “Bush Offers Morella a Ticket to Paris; White House to Nominate GOP Veteran for Economic Ambassador,” Washington Post, July 12, 2003. Return to text

25. Timothy R. Smith, “Whatever Happened to…Maryland Rep. Connie Morella,” Washington Post, October 20, 2011. Return to text

Biography written by summer 2014 intern Sharon Miyagawa.

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