The Wait for Open Hearings on Packwood Keeps Going, and Going, and Going . . .

by Mea Arnold

In another of many efforts over the past two years to push the Senate Ethics Committee to hold open hearings on allegations of sexual misconduct by Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., NOW joined two of the "Packwood 29" women at a press conference on Mar. 1, at the U.S. Capitol.

NOW activists, along with the women accusing the Senator of sexual misconduct and their supporters, renewed the call for open hearings and delivered that message in nearly 3,500 letters from Oregonians to Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan.

The Senate Ethics committee has spent more than two years investigating the allegations against Sen. Packwood. Charges of sexual misconduct have been levied by 29 women and possible criminal violations are being investigated by both the committee and the Justice Department. The demonstration was planned to coincide with the ending of the Senate Ethics Committee's investigation.

As NOW's Government Relations Director, I led the press conference and the march to Sen. Dole's office -- conveying NOW's solidarity with the women and reminded the crowd that NOW had held a similar demonstration more than two years ago asking the Senate not to seat Packwood until the allegations of sexual misconduct were addressed.

Packwood accusers Gena Hutton and Mary Heffernan spoke of their frustration with the delay and their wish to have their stories heard. Reps. Peter DeFazio and Elizabeth Furse, both Democrats from Oregon, introduced the two women, and Jennifer Jackman and Molly Yard from the Feminist Majority also spoke.

The letters delivered to Sen. Dole were collected by Oregonians for Public Hearings. The nearly 3,500 letters came in response to an open letter printed in an Oregon paper in February. On Feb. 2 Oregonians for Public Hearings held a "Ground Bob Day" rally (playing off the traditional Groundhog Day celebrations) in Portland attended by nearly 2,000 people.

Hutton, perhaps the best known of Packwood's accusers, drew significant media attention at the Rally for Women's Lives on April 9th in Washington, D.C. Speaking before a crowd of more than 250,000, Hutton had yet another opportunity to call for public hearings on charges of sexual misconduct leveled against the senator, and the resounding applause showed that the rally participants agreed.

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