Campaigns Are Not Elections


The Senate Rules Committee was absolutely correct to reject the challenge to Sen. Bob Packwood's election. That is true even if Senator Packwood, the Oregon Republican, lied about having sexually harassed numerous women -- including employees -- while a senator. Neither the lying nor the harassment itself would justify the Senate's overturning the results of a bona fide election.

It is not sexist to say so. The most forceful argument against those who wanted the committee to urge the Senate to overturn the election was presented by one of the committee's newest members, freshman Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California. She is a Democrat, so her coming to the aid of Senator Packwood was hardly partisan.

Nor was it a defense of his behavior. It was, rather, as she put it, a fear of "opening a Pandora's box." This was an illusion to a story in Greek mythology in which taking a step that seemed logical resulted in serious unforeseen difficulties. If the Senate set a precedent that a campaign falsehood was grounds for negating the election results, no one can predict where that would lead. What is a lie to one woman is equivocation to another.

Those who brought the complaint to the Rules Committee cited the Constitution as justification for Senate action: "Each house shall be the judge of the elections, returns, and qualifications of its own members." Pretty clear. But as Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, said, the Packwood case is about a campaign, not an election. And the Supreme Court has said (and most members of Congress agree) that Congress may not "impose substantive qualifications the right to hold [congressional] office." That's what requiring candidates to be truthful in campaigns would be.

Those who find Senator Packwood's past dealings with women hateful and his apologies insufficient to wipe the slate clean have other avenues to seek his punishment. The Senate Ethics Committee has broad powers to investigate and can recommend to the Senate a wide variety of individualized punishments. It is looking into the Packwood case. That's where the senator's critics should make their arguments.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad