Andy Kerr

Conservationist, Writer, Analyst, Operative, Agitator, Strategist, Tactitian, Schmoozer, Raconteur

The Browning of Bob Packwood

(This is the long-version of what was published in Cascadia Times. Mostly, the sex was edited out in the shortened version.)

By Andy Kerr

"Sometimes I'm a whore!" said a laughingly defensive Bob Packwood in his capitol office over a glass of wine with three shocked national environmental group leaders. I didn't go to the meeting, but I briefed and debriefed the chosen three who got the meeting to discuss log exports. I'd told them that the 4:00PM meeting was a good sign, that they would have not only time to discuss things with the Senator, but he'd undoubtedly pull out the box wine.

When I debriefed my colleagues all were amazed by the whoring remark. I wasn't. They had been trying to lobbying him on limiting log exports from public land (he was in favor) and saving our own forests (he was not in favor). A tried and true lobbying technique is to point out an inconsistency in the politician's position that you oppose with one of their position's you support. My colleagues thought they had him, but Packwood copped to the inconsistency in a vulgar, yet colorful and honest way.

They had never heard anything so forthright out of the mouth of a United States senator. I explained that it's part of what I called his "residual honesty." Packwood has never been pretentious. He sees politics as a street-fight and he's a street fighter. Not like his fellow Senator from Oregon who has adopted the saintly role. Packwood never sought money and he bought his clothes off the rack.

In the beginning he was as regular of a guy who ever thinks about running for office, except he used environmental issues. He was a liberal (then called a "moderate") Republican. He sought power because of a passionate desire to do good. Over time, like essentially every other politician, he sought power for its own end. He became not just another politician, but the consummate politician who will use any means to the sole end of staying in power.

What follows is a very personal and narrow look at Bob Packwood and the environment. I once respected him greatly. Later I lobbied him. Later I came to loathe him. Now I pity him.

This is a saga of two Pokeweeds: the Passionate Packwood and the Political Packwood. To do good in politics, one needs both. Pure passion makes one ineffective as equally as pure politics. Packwood started out with lots of passion, but passion's evil twin has won the dual for his soul.

When the charges of sexual harassment first surfaced, I was disbelieving. Why would he do these things? Hell, there is no easier way to get laid than to be a United States Senator, save for a sports hero or a rock star. "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac," observed Henry Kissinger. In my experience, there were always plenty of willing women lined up for senatorial consort. I've even personally known him to hit upon a colleague (and be rejected) in a more traditional manner than the clumsy grab-and-grope-and-stand-on-their-toes-and-pull-their-clothes-off-technique, forever to be known as "pulling a Packwood."

Then some friends (who happen to be women) made me get it: it wasn't about sex; it was about power.

As this tragic, comedic drama unfolds to its inevitable ugly conclusion, I want Packwood to get what he deserves. But I won't forget a time long ago, when the Passionate Packwood was stronger than the Political Packwood, and there was a senator who went to Washington to do some good.

1968 First Election: New and Unknown

In 1968, Liberal Democratic Senator Wayne Morris had been in the US Senate longer than I had been alive, which wasn't really that difficult since I was 13 years old at the time. The "Tiger of the Senate" was challenged by moderate Republican Bob Packwood.

It was the first political race in which I ever took an interest. Morse was being attacked for his staunch opposition to the Vietnam War and his age. The election was so close that it went into recount. I chose to support Packwood because he was young and an underdog. The Vietnam War was far too esoteric an issue to a pubescent teenager growing up in Creswell, a small lumber mill town south of Eugene. It was two years before the first Earth Day and the environment wasn't yet a political issue.

1969-74 First Term: Dark Green

In his first term and in those times, there wasn't an Oregon politician better on environmental issues than Senator Bob Packwood. Besides the usual environmental issues he was the first US Senator calling for population control. But the issue that has always separated the adults from the children in Oregon politics is trees: to keep any standing or not. It was then, as it is now.

As a very junior senator, Packwood came out in favor of returning the French Pete Valley to the Three Sisters Wilderness. This greatly annoyed Oregon's senior Senator, Mark O. Hatfield who was in favor of logging it, as was every other politician in Oregon, including the great liberal Wayne Morse before his defeat. Packwood was blocked by Hatfield from getting on the committee he wanted which had jurisdiction over natural resources. He couldn't get the committee (read Hatfield) to hold a hearing on his bill to save French Pete so environmentalists hired a stenographer, set up an empty chair for Hatfield and held one anyway in Eugene. Packwood later inserted the transcript into the Congressional Record.

The significance of an Oregon politician in 1970 coming out for French Pete must be emphasized. At that time, French Pete held a symbolic importance to the environmental movement nationally at least 10 times what the threatened Opal Creek ancient forest holds today. The Forest Service had plans to cut essentially every old growth tree in the state. None were to be saved, even as museum pieces, let alone a functioning forest across the landscape and over time.

I think that Packwood came out for French Pete because (1) in his heart, he knew it to be right; and (2) even though it annoyed the hell out of the political status quo it put him in good stead with the emerging and increasingly influential environmental movement. (He probably didn't mind sticking it to the timber industry given that when the Oregon Forest Industries Council merged with Columbia Pacific Industries into what is now known as Associated Oregon Industries, Big Timber insisted on the dismissal of long-time CPI lobbyist Fred Packwood, father of Bob.)

Bob Packwood is the consummate politician. He is extremely smart and plays political chess several moves ahead of the rest of us. In his early years, the political moves he had to make coincided with his head and heart. The passionate and political sides of Packwood were in harmony.

He pushed bills through Congress to designate the Cascade Head Scenic-Research Area and the Oregon Dunes and Hells Canyon National Recreation Areas. The latter prevented the damming for hydroelectric power the last 100-miles of the free-flowing Snake River. In particular he fell in love with the landscape of Hells Canyon and became friends with the few, but courageous environmentalists then out of the closest in Northeast Oregon.

I first saw Packwood in the flesh at the dedication of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area in 1976. His bill had finally become law the year before, after having been blocked by an obnoxious member of the House in the waning days of 1974 congressional session. Packwood had very much wanted to save Hells Canyon before his first re-election bid.

The dedication was at Hat Point, elevation 6982', overlooking the Snake River a mile below us and three miles to the east. Of all the politicians that spoke, Packwood was the most passionate. He said these words that I will never forget: "If we save all the wilderness still left today, in it won't be half enough 50 years from now." At that point, I, and the environmental movement, would have walked through hell for the junior Senator from Oregon.

1975-1980 Second Term: Hesitation

In 1974, the man he defeated in 1968 tried to take back the "Morse" seat and died trying. His stand-in was Democratic State Senator Betty Roberts, who was ranked as voting right 86% of the time by the Oregon League of Environmental (now Conservation) Voters. (Roberts is now a leader in today's get Packwood effort.)

OLEV chose to give a joint-endorsement, which deeply offended Packwood. He thought he deserved the sole endorsement, after all he had done for environmentalists. The street fighter in Packwood valued loyalty and the environmentalists let him down. As a result, during his second term, the junior senator was very quiet on environmental issues. He still supported French Pete, but not much else. Senator Hatfield got the glory and held the power on the Endangered American Wilderness Act of 1978, which returned French Pete to Wilderness status. Ironically, the senator who stood in the way the longest, after having changed his position, got more credit than the senator who was there before all others on behalf of a threatened piece of the wild. (I have no evidence, but it appears that Hatfield and Packwood made some deal in which Hatfield got to take the lead on the wilderness issue, in exchange for only God and those two senators know what else.)

In his second term, Packwood concentrated on some very safe environmental issues, like whales (not a lot of people in Oregon who want to cut up whales, like they cut down forests).

Be end the end of his second term, a clearly discernible voting pattern was beginning to emerge. Dubbed the Packwood Curve, his national League of Conservation Voters record peaked in the years of his re-election and were the lowest the year afterward (see graph). The political Packwood was beginning to dominate the passionate Packwood.

The election of 1980 brought forth another Democratic state senator with an even better OLEV voting record (95%). Ted Kulongoski (now Attorney General) in 1980 was showing more passion than Packwood on environmental issues. Wary of ever co-endorsing again, the OLEV board voted the necessary two-thirds majority to endorse just Kulongoski.

It was the Republican landslide year of Ronald Reagan, the first President to make the environment a partisan issue. Packwood was still in the Senate and increasingly distanced from environmentalists, whom he increasingly viewed (and in my opinion, accurately) as knee-jerk Democrats.

1981-1986 Third Term: The End of the Packwood Curve

The biggest and; most difficult issue in Oregon environmental politics was still wilderness for federal lands. Packwood took no significant role in what became the Oregon Forest Wilderness Act of 1984. What role he did take was negative, the former great lover and defender of wilderness, increasingly becoming a detractor. Ronald Reagan's coattails in 1980 were long enough to take the Senate Republican and Packwood became chair of the finance committee. His greatest "accomplishment" that term was tax "reform" in 1986.

As he considered his re-election bid for 1986, Packwood knew he needed to split the liberals (In order to win, statewide Republican candidates in Oregon always have to do this. Witness Mark O. Hatfield, whose career can be characterized as a pacifist timber beast). Challenging him this time was Jim Weaver, populist Democratic Congressman from southwest Oregon and darling of the environmentalists. With Packwood's withdrawal from Wilderness issues, Weaver had championed French Pete and many other areas through the House of Representatives. That the Oregon Wilderness Act of 1984 contained nearly one million acres is testimony to the tenacity of the man.

Packwood was confident of beating Weaver as the incumbent had tons of money and a better campaign organization. But he still wanted to split Weaver's base, just to be sure.

Sensing this, I and two other Oregon Natural Resources Council staff seized an opportunity. James Monteith, then Executive Director and Chair of Conservationists for Packwood; and still a Republican); Tim Lillebo, ONRC's Northeast Field Representative (most times a Democrat, occasional Republican); and myself (then a reluctant Democrat and much more so now, but sure as hell not leaning Republican) concocted a scheme to designate and additional 300,000 acres of Wilderness in the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area. The first Packwood bill had saved the river from dams, but not the forest from chainsaws.

Our strategy was to bring Bob Packwood back to the environmental fold. We were comfortable doing so because we were aware of tragic personal and professional situations regarding Jim Weaver, which would come out later, but what we knew then made any chance of Weaver winning a senate race an impossibility. We also knew Packwood was damn good when he was your champion and we hadn't yet "lost" him.

We persuaded Packwood to introduce the Hells Canyon Wilderness bill in early 1986. We had held a 10-year anniversary re-dedication of the Hells Canyon National Recreation Area, this time at Buckhorn Lookout, to the north of Hat Point, but equally spectacular. Packwood said it again: "If we save all the wilderness still left today, in it won't be half enough 50 years from now." This time I was wouldn't walk through Hell for the guy, but it was politically necessary for him to say it and for me to act like he meant it." He further said he didn't want his place in history to be the passage of the Tax Reform Act of 1986; he wanted it to be Hells Canyon. (At this writing, I'm sure he'd settle for the tax act.)

In the late Spring, Senator Hatfield, did what he said two years before, he'd never do again: hold another wilderness hearing in Oregon. It was highly controversial and Packwood was taking flak. Before the La Grande hearing, Senator Hatfield told Monteith that he had two priorities for this hearing: 1) Bob Packwood wasn't embarrassed; and 2) no one got hurt.

The evening before the hearing, a party was held in Packwood's honor at Bill and Bernice Brown's in LaGrande. Bill was the retired regional director for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and longtime Packwood ally. The senator arrived in his famous moving office, a lumbering Winnebago-like creature, that we had named "Packy." Packwood sought me out and said hello and my lobbying ego expanded significantly. In hindsight, I must admit it was probably more that I was standing over the cooler of beer.

"Can I get you a beer, Senator?"

"Anything but a Coors," he replied.

He had quite a few beers that evening, but who was counting. He was among friends and we all wanted something from the Senator. We wanted him to use his power to save Hells Canyon from logging.

After the hearing in LaGrande, the three of us, as principles in the Conservationists for Packwood political action committee (all on our own time, since ONRC's tax status prohibits participation in electoral politics) met up with Packwood and Elaine Franklin (his infamous aide and protector) in John Day. Tim Lillebo was his Grant County campaign chair, and we were helping him hustle votes at the county fair.

When it was time for Packwood to leave we went up the hill to John Day International Airport. The pilot was late, but we had to drive a few cows off the runway anyway (I wanted to shoot them, but Lillebo prevailed on me that it wouldn't be politic).

While waiting for the plane, we Packwood huddled and worked out the deal. Packwood would move the bill through the Senate immediately after the Senate reconvened after Labor Day. A frank discussion was had about potential opposition of Hatfield, no fan of wilderness. Packwood most confidently and clearly said, "I'll handle Mark. It won't be a problem." As we watched the Senator and his aide fly off, we were feeling pretty good. We'd wired up another wilderness bill for Oregon, just two years after Hatfield said, never again. We we're pumped. We went off and had a beer or two, maybe three (but who's counting).

The August recess passed quietly for us, but not for Jim Weaver. He unexpectedly (even to us; we thought his political suicide run would last until the election) dropped out of the race for Senator. The Democrats chose State Representative Rick Bauman (yet another state legislator with a good environmental record) as the fill-in standard-bearer. Unless Packwood died, he would win the election. It was no contest.

When Lillebo and I went to see Packwood in his Capitol Hill the day after Labor Day, we got the run-around. "The senator is quite busy...." We knew something was up, but we were in denial. Lillebo, who has haunted the halls of the Hill more than any of us, stakes out a place he knows Packwood must pass in the course of his business. He buttonholes Packwood in the hall and the ugly truth becomes evident. There will be no Hells Canyon Wilderness bill. There is no (political) need now that Weaver is out of the race. The 300,000 acres of insurance that Packwood (and Hatfield) were willing to pay the premiums for to ensure a split environmental community no longer had to be paid.

We were in shock. We were hurt. We were mad at Packwood and ourselves. We'd been had.

We stumbled out of the Russell Senate Office Building and into the pleasant DC day. We walked north to a little park where we screamed out our anger and our hurt. After about 30 minutes of ranting, we headed toward the closest public watering hole on the Senate side, the Irish Times (yes, where Packwood often went and re-wrote the Tax Reform Act of 1986 over several beers). We got good and drunk.

1987-1992 Fourth Term: Dark Brown

The political Packwood has crushed the passionate Packwood. Packwood, at least for now, is through with environmentalists. They can't be relied upon (nor could we rely upon him). He considers his potential next election opponents (the guy's default setting in running his political calculus is, like any other politician, the next election) and they all appear to be greener than he. Of course, we're talking relative here, but Reps. Les AuCoin, Peter DeFazio or Ron Wyden or Governor Neil Goldschmidt had all out-greened Packwood (not by much for half of them).

In 1989, environmentalists were successful in their first big court injunctions and the fecal matter hit the fan. The entire delegation and the governor felt the need to appear to have sawdust coursing through their veins, but Packwood went the extra mile.

At the timber industry's peak moment, speaking to an estimated 10,000 disgruntled timber workers in Pioneer Square in Portland, Packwood conveniently painted environmentalists as the same people as those who opposed the Vietnam War and favor gun control.

Environmentalists had no friends in the Northwest Delegation that year and was a long way from Hat Point overlooking the Snake.

In 1992, in his fifth bid for election to the Senate, Packwood made no pretense of courting the environmental vote this time; in fact he ran against the environment and environmentalists.

He was also beginning to show the effects of excessive drinking. We'd always marveled at his capacity to hold alcohol, but he was starting to lose control. He would have angry outbursts, such as at that year's Oregon AFL-CIO convention.

The Democrats had chosen—by just a few hundred votes over Harry Lonsdale—Les AuCoin to challenge Packwood. Packwood had gobs more money than AuCoin, even though the latter was no slouch either on behalf of well-funded causes of Israel and a woman's right to choose.

Environmentalists were backing AuCoin as the lesser of two evils, but with none of the vigor they would have had for Harry Lonsdale, forest lover and former board member of ONRC. (AuCoin always had a smile that never reached his eyes.) In October, I'd heard that the Washington Post was going run the sexual harassment story; if it ran before the election, it could change the course of the election. I'd figured that AuCoin would be better than Packwood, even though both had whored for Big Timber (such have historically been the choices facing Oregon environmentalists.) The fact that Packwood once really believed in Wilderness was immaterial. He didn't any longer.

But the Post didn't run with the story before the election as hoped. With Packwood and his lawyers at full bark, the paper were extra nervous about checking the facts, which delayed the story. (The Oregonian had finally caught on to what the Post was on to, but its political reporting was extremely incompetent in this matter. At one point, a reporter from their environmental beat [sensing their pending embarrassment, the Oregonian's editors had drafted every reporter {and every source} it seems] called me to see what I knew. I could only repeat what I heard, as I knew nothing first hand.)

1993-199? Killed Off or Born Again?

The morning after his re-election, in his inimitable way, Packwood mused to the press that we could no longer cut as much timber as we once did in the Pacific Northwest; that Big Timber would have to compromise. As I heard this, I marveled at the man. What a consummate politician! He sleeps with Big Timber for the election and doesn't even have breakfast with them in the morning! He was already positioning himself for 1998, when he would run again for the Senate, in a time when he knew that Big Timber would be a much smaller political force, both in absolute and relative terms.

I called Lillebo to discuss this and we decided that we should go see Packwood. As Ted Kulongoski once told me, "With Bob Packwood you have a 50-50 chance on any issue at any time." This totally amoral politician was floating and we saw the opportunity for him (the political Packwood, not the passionate Packwood [we'd learned our lesson]) to start greening again.

But then the Washington Post story did finally hit and the firestorm began. It would not have been politic of us to start siding up to Packwood again, and in fact I joined the pile on to try to force him out of office.

Packwood's political friends were abandoning him in droves. Nobody wanted to be associated with this philandering political pariah. Nobody except Big Timber who was as badly in need of friends as Packwood. Packwood thus was thrust back into the arms of the clearcut crowd, who offered sanctuary where all others were either calling for his head or were running for political cover.

I have only observed Packwood from afar in recent years, but it seems to me he's getting his edge back. He appears to be sober, or at least in control again. The very real specter of not being a US Senator scared him sober. As a result, the senator's brilliant political mind is back in fighting shape and working full-time to save the senator's butt. If anyone can politically survive this ordeal, Packwood can.

He has no life outside the Senate; he has said he wants to die in the Senate. He is sharp, shrewd and ruthless; beneficial traits when working on your political survival.

If he is finally brought down by indictment and/or conviction, or expulsion from the Senate (reprimand or censure won't be enough to force him to resign), it will not be because he didn't have the political ability to survive. If any politician can survive, it is the sober, street-fighting Bob Packwood.

If he is expelled from the Senate, it will be because his peers feel that they need a fall-"guy." If they must hang one of their own to save themselves, that will be done. But not because most of the Senate believed him to do anything really wrong. "There, but for the grace of God, go I" is on most their minds. The real rules of the Senate—the unspoken rules that Packwood violated—is that he got caught.

Packwood is known for his predictions. He often starts a statement as "I predict...." In that spirit I will make a prediction: If the Senate Ethics Committee and/or the Justice Department don't bring him down first, after having passed the Packwood Sexual Harassment Elimination Act of 1997, Bob Packwood will stand for election again to the Senate in 1998.

Lord Acton told us: "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." If ever there was a poster child for constitutional term limits it is Bob Packwood.

Four 24 straight years Bob Packwood was constantly surrounded by sycophants who wanted something; wanted something so bad that they overlooked and/or enabled his excessive behaviors, be they of the flesh or of the flask. It doesn't make any different what these sycophants wanted; whether it was noble and just (wilderness) or greedy and self-serving (tax-breaks), no one—not staff, not lobbyists, not colleagues, not media, not lovers, not the victims—would confront him.

I observed Packwood make his move on my colleague. At that time, I was not aware of "pulling a Packwood", nor did he use such a crude overture with her, if for no other reason than others were around. However, it was clear to both her and me what the Senator wanted. Not that I wanted her to do anything she didn't want to do, but I must admit as a political hack, I was thinking that could be helpful to the cause of the wild if indeed she did turn out to want to roll in the hay with a United States Senator. I didn't say anything at the time (I rationalized at the time they were both consenting adults) because I believed (1) it sure as hell would not help the cause of wilderness protection; (2) it wasn't my place to interfere in the personal affairs of others; and (3) I knew she could take care of herself. In a later discussion in preparation of this article, she said, like me, we both had a mission that we didn't want to jeopardize, even though she ended up taking more hits than me.

This is why term limits are necessary. Because the cost to a staffer, a lobbyist, a colleague, a reporter (his victims were mostly distributed among these types) making a solitary scene at the time is too costly, to career, cash or cause.

No wonder the poor pathetic wretch is confused and says he just doesn't get it. He doesn't. Because, until recently, no one ever was honest with him. And, until recently, there was a different set of rules (the unwritten ones, remember; the ones that count).

Packwood is like a dog confused when its master starts behaving differently. The system made Packwood the sorry mess that he is. He's guilty of course, in that he couldn't overcome his addictions and get out (like apparently former Oregon Congressman Mike Kopetski did after he got caught in a questionable situation). But the system is also guilty.

Unfortunately, like ruining a dog, even though it was your fault, sometimes you just got to shoot it anyway and try not to have it happen again with the next one.

Andy Kerr is Executive Director of ONRC, the Oregon Natural Resources Council. Afraid of nothing he can wash off or throw up, he has wrestled in the mudpit of politics on behalf of the wild and the future since the Ford Administration. He lives in Joseph and works in Portland.