It had been nearly two weeks since the Senate Finance Committee chairman left Washington, his head full of exemptions and expensing, fringes and first mortgages.
Now, Sen. Bob Packwood (R-Ore.) was back home, primed with the minutiae of the debate over tax reform, and hardly anyone was interested. Oregon senators have often found their work in Washington rendered meaningless at the end of the long, multistop plane trip home, but on this white-hot August day in these rolling foothills, the contrasts were particularly striking.
At a radio talk show, at a speech at the Red Lion Motor Inn, at a briefing to the Medford Mail Tribune, one issue shouted and groaned and drowned almost all the others out: abortion.
About 60 picketers lined entrances to the motor inn as guests arrived to hear the senator on threats to the Bill of Rights. An anti-abortion demonstrator dressed as the devil accosted him at the entrance to the newspaper and shouted, with satanic sarcasm, "You're my man!"
In any other state, the news the day before that Packwood had a $2.65-million campaign chest, much of it from out-of-state political action committees, might have raised eyebrows. Here, the well-organized antiabortion forces have created such expectations of a political armageddon over Packwood's reelection next year that most took the huge figure as a given. Packwood had no apologies: "They're capable of raising $1.5 million, then I'll have to raise $3 million."
The tax-revision debate in Washington has barely dented public consciousness here. "Tax reform is not the issue," said Medford insurance agent Nancy Leonard, 38. "One way or another, it doesn't seem to affect me," said orthodontist Wayne A. Frostad, 52, who was waiting at the Rouge Valley Country Club for a Packwood address.
"The only questions I get on tax reform are from people who don't like some part of it," Packwood said. He slumped in a chair after hearing 45 minutes of complaint from representatives of the Oregon's shaky timber industry. He had promised to try to preserve the tax breaks they need, but that issue was not at the top of the list of most voters he met.
"The leading local issue is jobs, the national issue is the deficit," he said. Medford residents stopped at random seemed to support that. Businesses are not growing fast and people blanch at the thought of a government so deep in the red.
But none of them were spending their day on the hot sidewalks to call Packwood's attention to jobs and deficits. Packwood has made himself the Senate's leading spokesman for women who want the right to abort fetuses, and that has enflamed political passions in this allegedly low-key state in a way mere pocketbook issues never could.
Some opponents of abortion, Packwood told morning radio listeners, "are very decent people, but there are some who say no other issue counts." "That's just the way I feel," said Right to Life organizer Adriana Pearson, mother of 11, readying her crew to move to the next stop.