THE PACKWOOD PROBLEM : He’s a Republican Senator With All the Right Friends. But Bob Packwood Also Had His Demons, and They May Forever Change the Capitol’s Old Boys’ Network.
THERE ARE TIMES WHEN A PANTY GIRDLE can be a girl’s best friend. For Julie Williamson, the moment came one afternoon in 1969, not long after the smart, ambitious, 29-year-old legal secretary had gone to work for Bob Packwood in the freshman senator’s Portland office. She was alone talking on the telephone when her 36-year-old employer strode in and kissed her on the back of the neck.
The senator had given Williamson, married and the mother of two, a gratuitous smooch once before, at a bar, she says, while her husband was in the men’s room. She had passed it off as a drunken aberration, but this time she spoke up. “Don’t you ever do that again,” she said sternly.
For the record:
12:00 AM, May. 09, 1993 FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Sunday May 9, 1993 Home Edition Los Angeles Times Magazine Page 2 Times Magazine Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
In “The Packwood Problem,” it was stated incorrectly that a Washington Post reporter was among those allegedly victimized by Sen. Bob Packwood.
Her words had no effect. Williamson says Packwood followed her into the back room, where he grabbed her by her ponytail, stood on her toes and tried to remove her clothing. The weirdest thing of all, she remembers, was that he didn’t say anything, not a word. The assault was passionless and oddly mechanical. When he couldn’t get her panty girdle off, Williamson says, Packwood abruptly gave up, saying, “Not today, but someday,” as he hurriedly departed. (The senator has repeatedly declined comment on Williamson’s charges, and he declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Williamson’s then-husband, Doug Myers, didn’t believe her. And two male colleagues, she remembers, told her she should be embarrassed about even mentioning the incident. “That’s just the way Bob is,” they said. About a week later, still angry and hurt, Williamson confronted Packwood on the way to a Girl Scout cookie drive. “What was supposed to happen next? Were we just going to lie down on the rug? Like animals in the zoo?”
“I suppose you’re one of the ones who want a motel room,” she says he replied.
THERE WAS A TIME NOT SO LONG AGO WHEN BOB PACKWOOD appeared invincible. As ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, his championing of the use of tax incentives to achieve legislative goals had made him a darling of Wall Street. But Packwood’s appeal was not limited to this traditionally Republican stronghold. Over the years, his support for progressive causes had endeared him to abortion-rights and wilderness advocates, environmentalists, the pro-Israel lobby, the ACLU, the building trades and feminists--interest groups not always found in the campaign ledgers of Republicans.
Packwood’s war chests were so huge and his electoral support so widely distributed that few Oregon Democrats had the courage to challenge him. Longtime Congressman Les AuCoin, gambling on a Democratic sweep, mounted a $2-million effort in 1992, only to find himself outspent 4 to 1 and hammered relentlessly by negative TV ads. Packwood won by three percentage points. Off to Washington for a fifth term, he seemed secure in the title bestowed on him by a regional magazine 14 years ago: “Senator for Life.”
Politically, at least, he often used his power well. But there had long been rumors that Packwood had a “zipper problem.” Ken Rinke, a retired Oregon lobbyist now living in Riverside, remembers that when he was first introduced to Packwood in the late ‘50s, he was warned that the ambitious young lawyer was an inveterate womanizer. Rinke, then lobbying for the railroads, gave Packwood some advice in the form of a joke about a dog that gets its tail cut off by an engine in the switching yard. Angry, the dog turns around and snaps at the train, only to be beheaded by the caboose. The moral? “Don’t lose your head over a piece of tail,” Rinke said.
For years, the rumors went largely unexamined, and stories such as Rinke’s were recounted for their amusement value. In the all-male Senate, such masculine “indulgences” were once deemed acceptable.
But perhaps no longer. Eighteen days after last November’s election, a startling story in the Washington Post accused Packwood of habitual sexual misconduct, citing 10 specific instances. Democratic Party activists and even some Republicans demanded Packwood’s resignation. The senator disappeared for 18 days, spending part of the time at the Hazelden Foundation, an alcohol treatment center in Minnesota. Finally, in a nationally televised press conference on Dec. 10, he issued a formal apology. Without going into detail, he said his past behavior was “just plain wrong” and that, perhaps because of the times he was raised in, he “just didn’t get it.”
“I do now,” he added.
Packwood loyalists expressed satisfaction with the apology, but his critics dismissed it as a ploy to stay in office. “He still doesn’t get it,” says Betty Roberts, a former Oregon Supreme Court justice who ran against Packwood in 1974 and who is a leading member of a newly constituted anti-Packwood coalition called Oregonians for Ethical Representation. Outraged by allegations in the press that Packwood had lied to the Oregon media about the Post investigation and had pressured Post editors not to run the story until after the election, citizens’ groups brought charges of election fraud before the Senate Rules Committee. Los Angeles attorney Gloria Allred filed a formal complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee. In March, leaders from a half dozen feminists groups met in Washington to hammer out a uniform strategy on the Packwood issue.
Now Packwood and his opponents are girding for what promises to be a sensational refocusing of the national consciousness on the issue of sexual harassment, raised more than a year ago by Anita Hill. With a parade of witnesses and a Senate that is hungry to show it will give as much weight to the views of working women as to one of its own, Packwood can’t expect the protection of senatorial prerogative. “This is an unprecedented situation,” Allred says, “and it calls for an unprecedented remedy.”
Ironically, for years Packwood had been feminism’s good friend in the Senate. Long before it became fashionable, he was putting women in charge of his campaigns, appointing them to important positions on his staff and paying them well, and he had been a consistent and courageous advocate of reproductive rights. He championed women’s issues, says Gary McMurray, a Portland lawyer and Packwood’s former law partner, “because he believed women are the guardians of liberty, but they are never given any.”
Such was his importance to the women’s movement that Ms. editor Gloria Steinem personally contributed to his 1980 campaign and once wrote a fund-raising letter for him that brought in hundreds of thousands of feminist dollars. Steinem’s first reaction to the Post story was to suggest cutting Packwood some slack. “For some of us, our issue was more important than personal rights,” Allred says. “And about our friends, we discount negative messages. That’s human nature.” But as more stories surfaced, old attitudes changed. After hearing that one of Packwood’s accusers was inspired to work for him by her endorsement, Steinem sent a contribution to Oregonians for Ethical Representation. “I support the women, I believe the women--just as I believed Anita Hill,” she declared at a Portland press conference.
The sense of betrayal has been overwhelming. Packwood’s Washington office received so many nasty fax messages that he had the machine unplugged. On a late January swing through Oregon, demonstrators wearing “I Get It” buttons and shouting “Resign! Resign!” confronted him at every stop. In Portland, where he was greeted by a life-size dummy identified as “Senator Peckerwood,” aides fearing violence refused to disclose the location of his appearances.
Faced with the fact that his mea culpa stance had gotten him nowhere, Packwood abruptly changed course, declaring that his Dec. 10 apology was not an admission of guilt. He had a right to defend himself, he said, and he put his accusers on notice that they can expect a tough grilling.
Packwood’s bravado only served to fan the flames of feminist indignation. “He duped us, used us,” Diane Linn, executive director of the Oregon chapter of the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), told a cheering anti-Packwood rally, “but we’re not going to take it anymore!” Meanwhile, Julie Williamson sought and obtained a promise from the Ethics Committee to follow the rape shield law in questioning witnesses. Evidence of past sexual activity not involving Sen. Packwood will not be admissible.
Follow-ups in the press have brought the tally of accusers to as many as 24. The Ethics Committee--Democrats Barbara A. Mikulski and Thomas A. Daschle, Republicans Mitch McConnell, Ted Stevens and Robert C. Smith--is chaired by Sen. Richard H. Bryan, a Democrat and a former Nevada prosecutor renowned for his toughness in rape cases; Bryan has announced that the committee is investigating not only sexual misconduct charges but Packwood’s alleged attempts to intimidate potential witnesses. Preliminary investigations are now well under way, with action by both committees possible anytime between now and the end of the year.
More is at stake than the political future of one incumbent senator, says Kate Michelman, NARAL’s national coordinator and a former Packwood ally. In Hawaii, 10 women recently accused Sen. Daniel K. Inouye of sexual harassment. Minnesota Republican Sen. Dave Durenberger is facing a rape-paternity suit. For feminists, Packwood is a symbol of an order that must go, a boozy, power-addicted, testosterone-poisoned environment in which mashing is mistaken for manliness. They see Packwood’s fall as just one step in a revolution to abolish the old boys’ club that Congress has been.
Thus the battle lines are drawn. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal, rising to Packwood’s defense, called the scandal a Democratic vendetta conceived and orchestrated by the senator’s enemies. Why should Packwood have to resign, loyalists ask, when Ted Kennedy was allowed to stay in office after his performances at Chappaquiddick and Palm Beach?
Is Packwood the victim of mass feminist hysteria, of what one supporter calls “McCarthyism in drag”? Or is he, as NARAL’s Diane Linn has charged, a “sexual predator” and an abuser of power, his behavior beyond the pale even for Capitol Hill? And if that’s the case, why has it taken so long--24 years, if you believe Julie Williamson--for the truth to come out?
AFTER 32 YEARS IN POLITICS, PACKWOOD’S DEEP, MEASURED VOICE IS PRACTICED; his grave, distant expression studied. Only his smile seems unrehearsed, a sudden grin that contorts the left side of his face while the right remains composed. He is moody and tense, a man whose pursuit of senatorial power has become his whole life. His 24-year marriage to Georgie Packwood, a tall, articulate brunette with whom he raised two adopted children--Shyla, now 22, and William, 26--ended in bitter divorce two years ago, and Packwood now lives alone in a two-room basement apartment. “His Senate office is now his real home,” Georgie Packwood says.
In 1968, when Packwood first won election to the Senate, Dan Rather was a dashing young White House correspondent, Packwood the political boy wonder who had cut incumbent liberal Wayne Morse down like an old Douglas fir. Rather liked Packwood’s intelligence, wit, and his willingness to listen to another point of view, but Packwood’s competitiveness was something else. Packwood drove himself and everyone around him unmercifully, barking commands into the Dictabelt he carried with him and constantly racing against time. He has always been, says Harry Boivin, a former Oregon state representative, “150% political. No one works as hard at it.”
Packwood’s decision to tough out the charges against him does not surprise those who know him well. He once had an office softball team and did the pitching, always playing to win. Associates describe him as hyper-competitive, and many refuse to play cards or games with him, says Mark Kirchmeier, University of Portland media director, who is writing a book about Packwood. “You see,” CBS anchor Rather told me when we discussed Packwood for an article I wrote in 1979, “Bob detests losing.”
Packwood has been breathing politics for a long time. His father, Fred, who died in 1965, was a lobbyist for Oregon industry (and later for organized labor), and it was not unusual for legislators to appear at the Packwoods’ Portland dinner table.
Brilliant and aloof, Fred Packwood “did not know how to make people laugh, but when he spoke, everyone else would stop talking and listen,” Georgie Packwood says. On long drives, Fred would pass the time grilling his son on politics, history and philosophy, testing him to the point that Bob would burst into tears. Shy and so nearsighted he had to wear Coke-bottle lenses, Packwood committed himself early on to hard work, often locking himself in his room to study.
It was a matter of survival, family friends say, in a home where the atmosphere became tumultuous after the adults had had a few drinks. Fred and Packwood’s mother, Gladys, fought frequently. In one indelible incident, Bob saw Gladys go to a kitchen drawer and pull out a butcher knife and attack Fred with it. It was not a defensive move, as Bob told the story. Gladys was definitely the aggressor.
Packwood’s parents were parsimonious with affection. At best, Fred would pat Bob on the head sometimes and comment on his physical dimensions (“Say, haven’t you lost weight?”). Gladys hardly ever had a kind word for her son. “He always was a bratty boy,” she once told a reporter. Bob eventually found an escape in the hectic pace of politics.
Though Fred had tried to push him into engineering, Packwood bolted from CalTech after one term, winding up at Willamette University in Salem, where he studied political science. Then came law school at New York University, a job in a Portland law firm and volunteer precinct work in the Republican Party. In no time, he was party chairman in Oregon’s most populous county, Multnomah, and in 1962, he won a seat in the Statehouse.
Even at that early date he was so determined to go to Washington that he undercut a rival Republican’s challenge of Sen. Morse by advising party money men not to invest in his campaign. He was, Portland journalist Mark Kirchmeier noted in a story, saving Morse’s seat for himself.
Packwood proved an indifferent legislator but was a genius at political organizing. “Bob was always into the process, the mechanics of politics, though I never detected any keen interest in substance,” says John Mosser, a former Oregon state senator who is now a Portland holding workshops on how to get elected, and engineering the 1964 GOP takeover of the Statehouse. Fifteen years later, he would do the same thing on the national level, taking charge of the Republican Senatorial Committee, introducing direct-mail fund raising and, thanks also to his ability to influence tax questions in the Finance Committee, increasing Republican campaign revenues twentyfold. As early as 1974, a columnist was touting him as presidential material.
When his party emerged from the 1980 election with its first Senate majority in two decades, Packwood was hailed as one of the brightest Republicans to come along in years.
But Packwood, who in 1970 had introduced the first bill in Congress to legalize abortion, was on a collision course with the Reagan Administration over that issue. In 1982, after other Senate liberals had demurred, he led a filibuster to thwart his Republican President’s attempt to make abortion the equivalent of murder. “You cannot write working women off, and the blacks off, and the Hispanics off, and the Jews off,” he told an Associated Press reporter, “and assume you’re going to build a party on white Anglo-Saxon males over 40. There aren’t enough of us left.”
It wasn’t the first time that Packwood, one of the first Republicans to demand President Richard M. Nixon’s resignation in ’73, had broken party ranks, but this time he had more to lose. The filibuster was a grand gesture, but it cost him the chairmanship of the Republican Senatorial Committee.
When he was still living with Georgie in their suburban Washington home, Packwood often retreated to a basement study equipped with a sound system to listen to classical music through a headset. “He looked like Snoopy pretending to be the Red Baron,” she says. In his typical loner style, during the current scandal he came out for a freeze on Social Security benefits, staking out a leadership position on the Republican side of the budget debate.
But is there another Bob who forces kisses on women, chases them around his desk and lures them into motel rooms? Is Packwood, as Gloria Steinem suspects, equipped with “two sets of blood vessels”?
GEORGIE PACKWOOD SAYS THAT Bob was the first man she’d ever met who did not know how to flirt and didn’t even try. After many years of marriage, she still didn’t feel she knew him completely. It was difficult for him to shed his formal manners and his obsession with politics and talk about intimate things. For a time, Georgie thought he was mellowing--she had taught him that it was all right for a grown man to cry--but up to the end of the marriage, conversation at home tended to focus on the logistics of life.
Real closeness and communication were often clouded by a fog of alcohol: The son had come to resemble the father. “Bob does have a problem with alcohol,” Georgie says over a cup of coffee at a deli in Lake Oswego, the Portland suburb she moved to in December. “He is a binge drinker who honestly can’t remember what he does during his blackouts.” At Kelly’s Irish Times, his favorite Capitol Hill bar, he is reportedly known for his habit of ordering two drinks at a time and for his ability to consume quantities of alcohol without visible effect. At least some of the unwanted advances he is accused of allegedly took place when he was drinking. On one occasion, his verbal abuse of Georgie broke up a Washington dinner party. “Bob’s problem with alcohol was a major factor in our divorce,” Georgie says.
Packwood’s explanation of why he didn’t remain at Hazelden for the full 28-day program--that the program directors didn’t think he needed to--was revealing to Georgie. Like most alcohol-treatment centers that follow the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, Hazelden demands that applicants admit they are alcoholics and acknowledge that there is a “higher power.” “Evidently, Bob had not reached the point in his life where he could do that,” Georgie says.
Although he says he is seeking counsel from friends in AA, Packwood insists that he is not an alcoholic, pointing out that he has always showed up for work on time. His father, Fred, liked to make the same claim--even though contemporaries remember that he sometimes had to be carried home from the drunk tank by fellow lobbyists.
As early as 1974, during Bob Packwood’s first Senate reelection campaign, Georgie tried to get him to deal with the problem, asking his lawyer, friend and adviser, Jack Faust of Portland, to persuade Packwood to get help. Faust (who at the senator’s request is refusing all comment on the scandal) assured her that he would take care of it.
Georgie renewed the effort in 1980 and 1986, to no avail. In 1984, Packwood had begun to think seriously about a run at the presidency, and he held a meeting on Maryland’s Eastern Shore to discuss the possibility with his supporters. Georgie belonged to a generation of women who sought professional fulfillment vicariously, through their husbands. She could see herself as First Lady, working in partnership with Bob on women’s rights and other causes that are important to her. And yet when asked what she thought of Bob running, she could scarcely disguise her displeasure. “I guess I can get used to the idea,” she said. In private, she firmly told her husband that it was out of the question unless he quit drinking first.
Packwood began to refer to her as his “albatross.” He spent more and more time away from home, speaking to the groups that funded his campaigns and ignoring his family. In the past, he had often taken Georgie along on his trips back to Oregon. Outgoing by nature, she enjoyed helping him work the crowds. But Georgie began to fade out of the picture. She had contracted “Potomac fever,” the gossips said, and didn’t care about her home state anymore. “The truth is,” Georgie says, “I was no longer invited.”
Georgie had noticed how Packwood’s new administrative assistant, Elaine Franklin, managed to find hot-tub time alone with Bob in her skimpy bikini during a campaign swing through Oregon. (“The senator is fond of hot tubs, and he does a lot of thinking in them,” Franklin says. “On many occasions he’d suggest that someone get their bathing suit on and meet him in the hot tub, me included.”) It came as no surprise to Georgie when, in the fall of 1986, Franklin’s husband, Andrew, a Portland engineering executive, had Elaine served with divorce papers at an Oregon motel.
Packwood was in a rage over it when he got back to Washington. Why couldn’t Andy Franklin have waited until after the election? he fumed.
When Georgie pressed him on the subject, Packwood swore that there was nothing to the rumors about him and Elaine. (Franklin calls such allegations “outrageous.”)
When his mother died in 1988, Packwood “went a little crazy,” Georgie says, and their home life completely fell apart. Georgie tried to be understanding. Fred had long since died, and Packwood’s sister, Pat, had perished in an auto accident some years earlier. “Bob was alone, confronting his own mortality,” she says, “and in his subconscious, he must have realized that he was now forever without that mothering he had missed as a child.” She asked him not to run again for the Senate, to spend more time with his children. “You’ll only be 60; you’ll have had 24 successful years. Why not quit while you’re ahead?” she said.
Packwood ignored her advice but did go to marriage counseling, where, Georgie says, he acted as if the problems were hers, not his. Trapped into agreeing to bring Elaine Franklin in on the discussions, he reneged at the last minute. A year later, Georgie filed for divorce.
The proceeding, which took place in 1990, lasted two days. Bob leafed through court documents making notes as though it were just another day at the office, and when it was over, he offered his ex-wife his hand as though concluding the successful mark-up of a bill. “I was so numb with grief that I couldn’t speak or think clearly,” Georgie says, “but a little voice in the back of my head was saying, ‘This is not the man I married. This man lost something on his way to the Senate.’ ”
JULIE WILLIAMSON REMAINED active in politics after leaving Packwood’s employ, serving as a volunteer to local causes and candidates and running Congressman AuCoin’s Oregon office in the early ‘80s. In that position, she heard rumors of continuing hanky-panky in the Packwood camp. Reportedly, those Packwood staffers who complained were told to shut up. “If you ever talk, you will have Bob for an enemy, and you will never get another job in Washington,” one woman allegedly was warned.
Early in March of 1992, the Seattle Times broke the story of former Washington Sen. Brock Adams, accused of harassing and even drugging women in order to have sex with them. Shortly after, Williamson spoke with Oregonian political columnist Steve Duin, who was seeking perspective on the Adams affair. Was Adams’ behavior typical in her experience? Williamson said no, she had had only one such problem over the years. She told him about the panty-girdle incident. Duin said he wanted to write it up.
Williamson hesitated. Anita Hill’s televised ordeal had given her an idea of the flak she could expect if she went public. She agreed to talk, but only on background.
Duin wrote a column about Williamson’s allegations, but since she did not want her identity disclosed, he did not name her--or Packwood. The paper ran no other stories on the subject; two months later, Packwood defeated his chief opponent. AuCoin won the Democratic primary, and a tough general election battle loomed ahead. “I wondered why the Oregonian was not following up on the story,” Williamson says. She thought no one cared about what happened years ago.
But the Oregonian was not ignoring her story. A police reporter, Holley Gilbert, who had recently completed a prizewinning series on rape, spent several weeks on the phone to some of the more than 800 people Packwood has employed over the years, but no one was willing to go public.
Gilbert had never heard the story of Roberta Ulrich, the paper’s 64-year-old Washington correspondent. In early March, 1992, when Ulrich had gone to Packwood’s office for a routine chat, Packwood offered her a drink from the box wine he kept in his office cooler, and as it was late in the day, she accepted. The senator drank two or three glasses himself, and when Ulrich got up to leave, he came around his desk and kissed her on the lips, she says. Ulrich considered the kiss improper, she says, and reported it to her editor, but word of the incident did not reach the paper’s top editors.
The search was taken up by Florence Graves, a former editor of Common Cause magazine, who was doing a story for Vanity Fair about sexual harassment in Congress. Graves interviewed Williamson in April and began to focus on Packwood and to look for a new publisher after Vanity Fair proved unwilling to indemnify her against possible legal costs. It wasn’t until late September, when Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie teamed her with investigative reporter Charles Shepard, that she was given a green light. One reason the Post took Graves seriously was that one of its own reporters had told her editors about a similar experience with Packwood.
With the election little more than a month away, Graves and Shepard tracked down and interviewed nine more women who related personal incidents of sexual harassment or misconduct by Packwood. The women, all former Packwood employees, campaign volunteers or lobbyists, told of being grabbed, fondled and kissed by Packwood in his office, in Capitol corridors and in motel rooms to which he had invited them on false pretenses. All said they had resisted the advances and did not formally complain or report him because they were embarrassed and feared damage to their careers or causes.
“It’s very dismaying,” says abortion-rights activist Mary Heffernan, one of Packwood’s accusers. “You think you have one kind of relationship with a man, based on your work, and then you realize it’s about sex.”
Ten days before the election, Packwood got wind of the Post story and complained to publisher Katharine Graham, who passed on his concerns to Downie. Downie suggested that Packwood talk to the Post’s reporters.
Packwood put Graves and Shepard off for a week, finally meeting them five days before the election. Told that the Post was planning to run its story Nov. 1 (a bluff, Downie now says), Packwood denied the charges and demanded more time to respond.
On Oct. 30, he launched his counterattack, peppering the Post’s downtown office as well as Downie’s home with faxes suggesting that several of his accusers were either deranged, carrying grudges or had invited his advances. The Post postponed the story until after the election.
Meanwhile, the Oregon media were rife with rumors of the Post investigation, which both Packwood and Franklin denied knowing about. (Those successful attempts to forestall a breaking news story became the basis of several petitions to the Senate Rules Committee to have Packwood’s election victory thrown out.)
On Saturday, Oct. 31, after hearing that the Post story was delayed, Julie Williamson pondered how to get the issue before the voters in time for the Tuesday election. Charles Williamson, a Portland attorney she had married after her divorce from Doug Myers, impulsively wrote the copy for a full-page ad in the Sunday Oregonian on his computer. But when he called the newspaper, he was told it was too late--the advertising deadline had passed. And so, on Nov. 3, Oregon voters reelected a United States senator, unaware of the cloud of suspicion hanging over him.
GEORGIE PACKWOOD HAD been vacationing in Copenhagen and didn’t get back to Washington until after the election. Penny Durenberger, the estranged wife of Sen. Dave Durenberger, picked her up at the Baltimore airport. “While you’ve been gone, what have you heard?” Durenberger asked.
She’d heard everything. A reporter had contacted her and in the course of an interview had filled her in on the scandal that was about to break. Georgie was not surprised, she says. She was only sad that tragedy had engulfed the man she had loved--and overtaken her friend’s life, in the form of the rape-paternity suit against Dave Durenberger, as well. “Now how,” she asked ruefully, “did a couple of nice old ladies like us get involved in a mess like this?”
Georgie didn’t know how badly her husband was faring until January, when she saw him on TV. There was Bob on his first visit to Oregon since the election, surrounded by screaming demonstrators in Eugene. “I could see the fear in his eyes; he looked like a treed animal,” she says. She turned the set off.
The usually sure-footed senator is sliding in this new territory, and it’s clear he realizes the depth of his troubles. At Christmas, Packwood had told his son that he still hoped to run one more time. In late March, however, he quietly took steps to sell his only Oregon property, 20 acres with a trailer south of Portland. For Oregon politicians, lack of legal residence is often viewed as a fatal defect, even for the most powerful. “It’s a sure sign,” says a friend, “that Bob knows his political career is over.”
Another prominent longtime friend, though, isn’t so sure. “I would bet anything,” says the friend, “that he will not quit.”
Packwood now finds himself in the odd position of having to scramble for allies. Abandoned by the women’s movement, he recently reversed himself on a couple of issues important to Republicans, voting against a job-benefits extension and the “motor-voter” bill in an apparent attempt to strengthen his GOP ties. It is Republican support he must count on in the showdown that lies ahead. He has retained attorney James Fitzpatrick, an intelligent and engaging veteran of Capitol Hill battles, to represent him.
Only 15 senators have ever been expelled, all because of felony convictions or charges of treason; most were senators who sided with the Confederacy during the Civil War. Many observers of the Packwood battle consider expulsion unlikely. Nor does it seem likely that the Senate Rules Committee will unseat a senator because he misled reporters. Realistically, censure by the full Senate, with possible loss of seniority, is the harshest penalty Packwood faces. He might receive a reprimand, or, in the event the Ethics Committee chooses not to believe almost two dozen women, many of them Republicans, he might be found innocent.
In an odd way, Packwood is more important to the women’s movement now, in flagrante delicto, than he ever was in the past. If a senator can be made to toe the line, feminists believe, it will set a standard for the whole country.
Bracing for what may be the Capitol’s most dramatic witnessing since Anita Hill’s, Julie Williamson is feeling the stress. “I thought I was tough,” says the 53-year-old political consultant. “I had no idea how difficult it would be.” What keeps her in the fight is the belief that she is not alone, that others had their toes stepped on, that no one was immune.
It isn’t flirting or office romance that Williamson and company want to end, but abuse of power, the sexual harassment of subordinates that continues to plague the world of work. “This is bigger than Packwood,” Williamson says. “It’s an opportunity for the Senate to show the people of this country that they get it.”