My hometown newspaper, the (Portland) Oregonian, is taking a look back at one of modern sports’ seedier events: the whacking of Olympic figure skater Nancy Kerrigan’s knee by thugs hired by her rival Tonya Harding’s former husband.
Why the interest in Portland? Harding’s a hometown girl, born and reared in Portland. She’s my homey. I grew up there, too. She makes me proud, yes? No.
I noted yesterday that 20 years ago I would answer questions about where I grew up by saying, “Portland, Oregon, hometown of Tonya Harding and Bob Packwood.”
Harding got into trouble over the Kerrigan knee-bashing. She ended up getting stripped of her world figure skating title. Her troubles made international headlines. She became a disgrace.
And then we had Sen. Packwood, who got into trouble about the same time.
I’ll talk just a bit about Packwood here.
He was a brilliant guy. He was part of a potent U.S. Senate tandem with fellow Republican Mark Hatfield. They sat on important committees and looked after Oregon interests in the Senate.
Then his career began to unravel in 1992. He got caught making unwanted sexual advances on female staffers, who filed complaints with the Senate Ethics Committee. He would resign in 1995, but not after he, too, embarrassed those who had watched him come of political age in Oregon.
He defeated one of the Senate’s true lions, Wayne Morse, in 1968. Morse had the distinction of being one of precisely two senators — the other being Ernest Gruening of Alaska — to vote “no” on the Gulf of Tonkin resolution in 1964. Packwood would win re-election in 1974; Morse, by the way, was the Democratic nominee that year, but died shortly after the primary, leaving it up to the state Democratic Party to select a replacement candidate.
I met Packwood in 1980 while working for a small suburban daily paper in Oregon City. He was an impressive fellow, quick-witted, razor sharp, glib, articulate, intelligent and a guy with such a rapid-fire delivery I had difficulty taking notes.
But he turned out to be a disgrace long after I left Oregon for Texas.
It’s still intriguing to me, though, to look back on those days and remember how my then-fairly placid hometown could produce such widely disparate scoundrels.