Packwood's Travails Stir Early Speculation of Successor in Oregon
FOR many voters in Oregon, this week's jaw-dropping news about Bob Packwood simply reaffirms their lackluster faith in their senator.
Mr. Packwood's political days have seemed numbered here for more than a year. Recent polls show about half of Oregonians wanting him to resign and no more than 25 percent saying they would vote to reelect him in 1998.
The Senate Ethics Committee on Wednesday unanimously recommended that Packwood be expelled from the Senate, declaring that he had ''engaged in a pattern of abuse of his position ... [by] making at least 18 separate unwanted sexual advances between 1969 and 1990.''
The committee also accused Packwood of ''withholding, altering, and destroying relevant evidence, including diary transcripts and tapes'' and soliciting lobbyists for a job for his former wife.
When charges of the sexual misconduct started to emerge shortly after his reelection in 1992, Packwood began keeping a very low profile in his home state.
He refused to talk to the state's largest newspaper (the Portland Oregonian, which called for his resignation), and he carefully selected friendly audiences for public appearances.
When Republicans won control of the House and Senate last year, it seemed to boost Packwood's standing. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he had considerable power. He also cultivated the friendship and support of Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R) of Kansas.
But his recent call for public hearings on charges against him (after months of fighting such hearings) apparently was seen as a threat by fellow Republicans, weary of a story that had become increasingly embarrassing.
''He's been extraordinarily clever and a tremendously skillful game-player in politics for years and years and years,'' says Oregon State University political scientist William Lunch. ''But his ability at game-playing finally caught up with him.''
The surprising turn of events also has shaken up Oregon politics. It opens up the possibility that the state could be crucial to the balance of power in the US Senate.
If the full Senate follows the Ethics Committee's lead and expels the five-term Republican for sexual and official misconduct, or if Packwood resigns (it was unclear at this writing what path the drama would take), a special election would be held here to fill the post through 1988.