Former Maryland Congresswoman Connie Morella, a Republican in a deep-blue district praised for her bipartisan spirit, was honored Wednesday with a community hero award by Big Train baseball, a Bethesda-based collegiate team that feeds into the pros.
“Connie Morella is the very model of a servant leader. As a teacher, state legislator, Member of Congress, and Ambassador, Connie has represented the highest standard of what we seek in our public officials. As a longtime Bethesda resident, she was the most obvious of choices to be named a Bethesda Big Train Community Hero,” said Bruce Adams, founder of the Bethesda Big Train baseball team.
Morella received her award before Big Train’s final season home game against the DC Grays at an invitation-only birthday party at Shirley Povich Field in Cabin John Regional Park. The event was planned by three Democrats: Adams, Peggy Engel, an author and journalist and Susan Heltemes, a well-known Democratic activist in Maryland politics.
“Connie Morella is a jewel in the crown of Montgomery County,” Heltemes said. “She is supportive of many organizations and helps to better the community she’s engaged in. There is already a library named after her. She is just amazing.”
A popular Republican viewed as a moderate, Morella represented Montgomery County from 1987 to 2003, after serving eight years as a House delegate. She said she would have won a 9th term in Congress if it wasn’t for redistricting, which was controlled by Democrats at the time.
Morella is known largely for her role in supporting women’s issues, her work with then-Sen. Joe Biden on the Violence Against Women Act, being the prime bill sponsor of the Martin Luther King Memorial and her involvement in local issues. She has worked with the Montgomery County Family Justice Center, a shelter and support agency for battered women, the Olney Theatre, Imagination Stage and the Big Train baseball team. But there are many more initiatives she’s touched.
“Since 1980 I voted always for Connie Morella. My mother put postage stamps on her campaign envelopes,” said Bethesda resident Saideh Gensheimer, a lifelong Democrat. “She is great for women, regardless of the party. I stayed with her. She’s the only Republican I’ve ever voted for.”
“We need more Connie Morella’s,” said Bob Metz, a Rockville Republican.
“Boy, I can’t speak highly enough of her,” said Blair High School student Cal Tobias. Morella helped him with a school project on gerrymandering, he said.
Former Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis, who served four terms with Morella, said her style of politics hearkens back to an era of bipartisanship when “politics was not as combative and divisive as it is today.”
All were in attendance for Morella’s 90th birthday party.
“When you are representing a constituency in Congress, you are representing them for the issues for what makes our country and the community better,” Morella said in an interview with WTOP a day before her award. “Therefore, there’s not one correct way, and so I have always believed in the concept of compromise, listen, learn and lead. And you’ve got to listen. I always say we have two ears to listen and only one mouth, so we should listen even more, and then learn.
“So one of the things I would do when I would introduce legislation, I would plan to go and get Democrats to join me in support, to make the [bill] bipartisan. Democrats did the same with me. I was on so much bipartisan legislation. And that’s how we got things done. So I’ve always believed in that. I think one of the reasons that I did well and was able to represent this wonderful sparkling district is that I did go to town meetings, I did listen to what people wanted. I may not have agreed with them, or they may not have agreed with me 100% of the time, but probably 75% to 80% they did, and they trusted me. So it’s a matter of earning trust and respect from the people you represent.”
When asked if she thought that now-President Joe Biden will be bipartisan in his presidency, Morella said she thinks he will try.
“I think he’s trying now,” she said, adding that she supported him in the 2020 election.
“It’s not easy, because within his own party, he’s got enormous divisions,” Morella said. “I think the the greatest crucible that we face in the future is polarization. But the polarization even within parties, and the polarization that has emanated into groups of people, even neighbors neighborhoods, so we have got to do something to to change that, to show people they may have different ideas, but we can work together.”
Morella also responded to rumors that Gov. Larry Hogan, another popular Republican figure in Maryland, may run for U.S. Senate against Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen.
“I have great respect for Governor Hogan. Matter of fact, I knew his father and he was a man of great courage. And his son certainly has demonstrated that courage and conviction,” she said. “I think he will do well in whatever he does, and I know he wants to continue public service. I mean, it’s gotten into his blood. He likes it, he’s doing a good job, and he knows (there’s) much more to be done. So I don’t know where his his path will go, what journey he will take, I’m not sure he knows either. And, you know, both would be daunting, but I know that there will be public service that he will engage in and pursue. And I am a Gov. Hogan supporter. I’ve seen what he has proven that he could do.”