Women's Groups Shun Packwood Due to Sexual-Misconduct Charges
ASHLAND, ORE. — REACTIONS to allegations of sexual misconduct by Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood range from sorrow to mystification to outrage. The veteran Republican has been known as a leader on women's issues, including family leave and abortion rights. He was one of the few GOP senators to vote against confirming United States Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was alleged to have sexually harassed Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill.
But charges by 15 women that Senator Packwood made unwanted sexual advances against them - charges he has not denied - have undone much goodwill and support among women built up over 24 years in the Senate.
"You've got to practice what you preach," Sen.-elect Dianne Feinstein (D) of California said.
Since the original allegations by 10 women were revealed in the Washington Post two weeks ago, five more women have made similar complaints via the hot line of the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. This group has lodged a formal complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee, as the Los Angeles-based Women's Equal Rights, Legal Defense, and Education Committee did for the first charges.
The Oregon chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League (which supported Packwood in his reelection bid) has applied to set up a political action committee to force him from office. The group claims the issues are sexual misconduct and dishonesty, since he denied reporters were on to the story before the election even though he knew they were.
The question of honesty also figures in Packwood's apparent attempt to discredit accusers, which some people link with his effort to delay publication of the newspaper story until after the election. (Packwood beat Democratic Congressman Les AuCoin by 4 percentage points, a slim margin given his 4-to-1 campaign-spending advantage.)
Former Oregon Supreme Court Justice Betty Roberts calls this a "deliberate attempt" to deceive voters. Other observers agree the election outcome would likely have been different had the story not been delayed.
"It's very unfortunate for the voters of Oregon that that checking process to make sure the stories were corroborated did not take place before the election," said William Lunch, an Oregon State University political science professor.
Former Justice Roberts, who speaks for a coalition of state women's groups (and who ran against Packwood in 1974), says the senator should resign. If not, she says, there may be a recall effort.
Assuming the charges are borne out, resignation or recall may not be a simple solution. Any recall effort would likely be challenged under a 1935 state attorney general's ruling that the law applies only to state offices. And at this point, says retired Oregon Supreme Court Justice Hans Linde, Packwood could only resign from his current term.
"He can't resign from the next term until he's sworn in," says Mr. Linde, who now teaches at Willamette University. "The interesting question is what the leadership of the new Congress is going to want to do about seating him. If they seat him and go ahead with the investigation, I would think it extremely unlikely that punishment later would be anything more than censure."
In such a case, Professor Lunch says, "the likely scenario is that he would keep his head low and stay in the Senate, although he would lose substantial influence."
Senate Ethics Committee leaders quickly agreed to investigate the charges, but questions have been raised about how effectively this body could deal with one of its own.
Pointing to "very serious questions ... about the committee's performance in upholding and enforcing Senate ethics rules and standards," Fred Wertheimer of Common Cause called for an independent investigator. Others have suggested as the investigator the General Accounting Office or the new Senate Office of Fair Employment Practices.
Packwood, who spent last week at an alcohol-treatment facility in Minnesota, is expected to make his first public statement on the affair this week.