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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.

April 11, 1993|TOM BATES | Portland-based Tom Bates, a former senior editor of this magazine, last wrote about the Spanish priest Bartolome de las Casas.

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.

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.)

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.

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.

Williamson resigned.

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.

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