Packwood Resigns

by Kyle Velte
 NOW President Patricia Ireland led NOW's final demonstration for open hearings in Washington D.C. shortly before Packwood announced he would step down.

"It is my duty to resign. It is the honorable thing to do for the country, the Senate" were the long-awaited words from Sen. Bob Packwood Sept. 7. The resignation ends a struggle by NOW and other women's rights organizations around the country that began nearly three years ago.

 Packwood's resignation came just hours after the Senate Ethics Committee unanimously recommended he be expelled from the Senate for sexual and official misconduct. Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the chair of the Ethics Committee, said at a news conference, "No work-place in America ought to tolerate the kind of offensive, degrading sexual misconduct that the ethics committee finds Senator Packwood to be guilty of. And it certainly cannot be tolerated in the United States Senate either."

 Packwood accuser Gena Hutton's reaction was, "He finally did it! It's finally over. I'm sorry he didn't do it sooner . . . This is the best of all possible scenarios that I would have thought of: Be expelled or resign."

 The ethics committee in July rejected public hearings by deadlocking in a tie vote along party lines. A resolution on the floor by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Ca., calling for public hearings was defeated 48-52.

 "The Senate is halfway there on the issue of sexual harassment," NOW President Patricia Ireland said in media interviews on the resignation. "They understand that their constituents will no longer tolerate the abuse of power or the abuse of women by those in power. However, the Senate let us down by refusing to hold open hearings."

Packwood's political demise began in November 1992, when The Washington Post outlined detailed allegations of sexual misconduct by Sen. Packwood. By threatening legal action, Packwood was able to delay publication of the story until after he defeated NOW-endorsed Les Aucoin by a razor-thin margin. In January 1993 on opening day of the new term, NOW staged a demonstration and organized a phone and fax campaign demanding the Senate not seat Packwood until all allegations were investigated and public hearings were held.

 NOW consistently pressed for public hearings from the time Packwood was conditionally seated until his resignation. Hutton, one of Packwood's most vocal accusers, spoke at NOW's April 9 Rally for Women's Lives. She called for justice for all of the accusers, including the opportunity to tell their stories in public and receive due process.

 Most recently, NOW held a zap action outside the Senate office buildings protesting the Ethics Committee's decision against public hearings and the defeat of Sen. Boxer's resolution. Later that day the Ethics Committee had to abruptly end a meeting set to determine Packwood's punishment when two new allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

 The Ethics Committee delayed a decision on Packwood's punishment until after the Senate recess in order to fully investigate the new allegations one of which involved a 17 year-old intern in Packwood's Senate offic. During the recess, NOW activists around the country generated calls and visits to their senators, demanding open hearings.

 The political repercussions of Packwood's resignation are far reaching because he was the chair of the powerful Senate Finance Committee. The committee will play a large role in key upcoming legislation, including welfare reform, Medicare and the budget. Majority Leader Bob Dole is expected to take on a stronger role on the committee after the appointment of the less aggressive Sen. William Roth, Jr., R-Del., as chair.

 Packwood's resignation also creates an open seat. What a great opportunity to replace a philandering man with a feminist candidate. (See PAC story).

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