for 3 Female Incumbents
By Terry M. Neal and Ceci Connolly
The sex and perjury allegations against President Clinton are causing much awkwardness for Democrats, none more than the three female senators who rode into office on Anita Hill's coattails six years ago.
Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Carol Moseley-Braun (Ill.) and Patty Murray (Wash.) are finding that the issue of sexual harassment could work against them this year, with all three involved in tough reelection campaigns.
The three benefited in 1992 from the outrage of women over Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court confirmation hearings and Hill's sexual harassment allegations. All three senators have been outspoken about sexual harassment, particularly regarding Thomas and former senator Bob Packwood (R-Ore.), who was accused of making passes at female subordinates. But now they're being accused of going easy on Clinton because of a partisan double standard an accusation they vehemently deny.
Boxer in particular has come under attack. On March 19, Rep. Frank Riggs (R-Calif.) organized a news conference outside of Boxer's Manhattan Beach, Calif., office to protest "her long silence." Riggs is one of three Republicans trying to challenge Boxer in this year's election.
"We saw the hypocrisy of Barbara Boxer when she remained so silent about President Clinton when she was so vocal in the past about Bob Packwood and Clarence Thomas," Riggs campaign manager Pam Simpson said yesterday.
Boxer has also taken a beating in the California media for dodging questions about the Clinton case. The Los Angeles Times, covering her speech to the state Democratic convention last weekend, noted that she did not address the controversy and skipped the traditional news conference afterward. "Her staff cited a leg injury," the paper wrote, "though the senator began her appearance by shimmying on stage to the sounds of singer James Brown and dancing off to the pulsing beat of Sister Sledge."
In 1991, Boxer, then a House member, led a march of female lawmakers from the House to the Senate to demand a hearing on Hill's allegations that Thomas had harassed her. The issue became an effective campaign tool in her Senate race the next year. Once in the Senate, Boxer led the crusade against Packwood.
Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters wrote March 22 that "she appears more and more to be a hypocrite and if Saturday's [state convention] sorry performance is any guide, a cowardly one."
In a telephone interview yesterday, Boxer vigorously defended herself, saying she has not avoided the subject. In fact, she said she has addressed the topic numerous times, generally categorizing the allegations against Clinton as "serious" charges that should be thoroughly investigated. She has refused to say whether she thinks he should be impeached or resign if the allegations are proven true.
Boxer said she did not know about the news conference at the event last week and was not trying to avoid Clinton questions. Boxer yesterday repeated what has become the defense du jour of Democrats and feminists accused of ducking the allegations against Clinton: that the Clinton case differs from the Packwood and Thomas cases, where women spoke out to demand the male-dominated Senate hear claims from their accusers. In Clinton's case, no one is concerned that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr is sweeping allegations under the rug.
"Yes, the tone is different," Boxer said. "These are two separate issues. We were fighting for a process and a platform for their voices to be heard."
The Clinton matter has not exploded as a campaign issue for Moseley-Braun and Murray, but they have taken some hits from the media and state GOP officials.
ABC reported that Moseley-Braun who is being challenged by Republican state Sen. Peter Fitzgerald had to be "coaxed" to the microphone during a Capitol Hill news conference to make a statement two days after Kathleen E. Willey's appearance on "60 Minutes."
Moseley-Braun, who in 1992 said of Hill: "Everyone knew this girl wasn't making it up," had this to say of Willey: "Inasmuch as there is a process at work, I think we have a responsibility to take him at his denial."
"Her position has been that he's not above the law, but he's not below it either," Moseley-Braun spokesman Michael Briggs said yesterday. With the Packwood and Thomas allegations, "she argued in favor of giving people due process and opportunity to go forward."
In Washington state, Murray could face a tough challenge from GOP front-runner Rep. Linda A. Smith, who told the Seattle Times she "believes Kathleen Willey," a message reminiscent of the "I believe Anita Hill" buttons that appeared during Thomas's confirmation hearings. Murray has said that she takes Willey's allegations "very seriously" and that women who allege sexual harassment should be "given fair and open hearing."
Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
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