"I wanted to be in the Senate and I figured Sen. Morse might be vulnerable," Bob Packwood says, explaining why he ran at age 36 in 1968. "But everything had to go right, including things beyond my control." Everything did go right, and Packwood won in the year's biggest political upset. Now he's chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and will be seeking a fourth term next year.
Packwood's interest in politics came from his father, who from 1925 to 1957 was a lobbyist for the Associated Oregon Industries in Salem. He came from an old Oregon family; Packwood's great-grandfather deserted the Army to become a '49er in California, was caught and ordered to Oregon, and finally swam ashore when his ship was wrecked. Bob Packwood grew up on the east side of Portland -- not the fashionable heights overlooking the downtown on the west side of the Willamette River. Journalists came to dinner, politics was always discussed, but his father also had a scholarly bent. "My dad had a small library, with a lot of history and philosophy; and if I was hepped up on some idea, he'd say, 'Well, now, let me get you to read this' -- and he'd pick out one of the classics, which would utterly devastate my argument."
His father was always a Republican and was liberal on civil rights. "I recall my dad explaining very firmly the unfairness of the relocation of the Japanese in World War II. It was brought home to me when kids were just suddenly gone from school, though I didn't fully grasp it" -- he was about 10 -- "until he explained. Especially during my high school years he drove it into me how wrong a majority could be, and that that was the reason our Bill of Rights was codified." The senior Packwood was so widely trusted that in 1929 the legislature gave him an office and secretary to write the one-sentence description of bills everyone relied on; after 32 years, he was fired by the AOI because he insisted on opposing their proposal to end the state monopoly on workmen's compensation insurance. The next couple of sessions he worked for the AFL-CIO.
Meanwhile, Bob Packwood, after a stint studying math at Caltech, went to Willamette College in Salem, where one of his teachers was Mark Hatfield; he was a Young Republican and worked on Hatfield's first legislative campaign in 1950; he was president of a new Beta Theta Pi chapter his senior year. He went to New York University Law School, his first trip east of Boise.
He was always a Republican. "I was raised in it. You find hundreds of rationalizations, but people don't change." He ran for the legislature in 1962. His strategy: "walk and talk" in "the land of the aluminum door." He ran second for four slots in the primary and first in the general, "by a rather wide margin." Impressed, the state Republican Party hired him to recruit legislative candidates, and they captured the House in the very un-Republican year of 1964. "It made my sponsors ecstatic," he says. His campaign successes (15 of 18 recruited candidates won) contrast with his legislative record: "I had modest committee assignments."
By late 1967 he was running for the Senate himself. He thought Morse, a Vietnam dove, might have a tough primary; Morse won it by 1 percent over a Vietnam hawk "I could not have beaten." Packwood got some breaks: a newspaper poll showed them even, inaccurately Packwood says now; a businessman came forward and raised all the money Packwood needed; Morse's refusal to debate proved embarrassing when Hubert Humphrey came to Oregon and attacked Richard Nixon for ducking debates. The issues? "Ineffectiveness, the usual charges: unable to deliver for Oregon. Vietnam was not much of an issue; I was a relative moderate." He won by 4,000 votes.
At first his legislative output was modest and his key success, as in Salem, was electing more Republicans. On the Commerce Committee, he came increasingly to see government regulation as "inept" and as impinging on civil liberties; on Finance, Russell Long took him under his wing. His instincts are for free markets and deregulation. On other issues -- notably abortion -- he has skillfully taken the lead on what is called the liberal side. He has capitalized politically on both, raising much of his 1980 campaign treasury from a women's movement grateful for his opposition to abortion curbs and raising much of the $2.6 million or so he has amassed for 1986 from business interests. He knows he could have a tough challenger next year: it's hard to get back to Oregon a lot, and "that devil can be in Pendleton 12 or 15 times a year."
In the current tax reform battle, this son of a scholarly lawyer takes a view that is not cynical but is certainly detached. He knows all the complex aguments and political ramifications, and assesses them with the cool eye of the young loawyer who figured out how to win elections and capture a Senate seat no one thought could be taken.