|Otto Ernest Passman|
|Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 5th district
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1977
|Preceded by||Charles E. McKenzie|
|Succeeded by||Jerry Huckaby|
June 27, 1900|
|Died||August 13, 1988
Monroe, Ouachita Parish, Louisiana
|Resting place||Mulhearn Memorial Park Mausoleum in Monroe, Louisiana|
|Spouse(s)||(1) Willie Lenore Bateman Passman (married 1920-1984, her death)
(2) Martha Passman, his former secretary
|Service/branch||United States Navy|
|Years of service||World War II, 1942-1944|
Otto Ernest Passman (June 27, 1900 – August 13, 1988) was a conservative Democratic congressman from Monroe in northeastern Louisiana, who served from 1947 to 1977. He is primarily remembered for his detailed knowledge and mostly opposition to foreign aid. He was unseated in the 1976 primary election by the more moderate challenger, Thomas Jerald "Jerry" Huckaby of Ringgold, a town in Bienville Parish.
Early years and military service
Passman was the son of sharecroppers from Franklinton, the seat of Washington Parish in southeastern Louisiana. Washington Parish was also the home of another political giant in Louisiana politics, State Senator Sixty Rayburn of Bogalusa. Passman dropped out of school to work odd jobs but enrolled in night school thereafter to complete his high school education. He later studied at Soule Business College in Bogalusa. "He was a smart man, a self-educated man," said Paul Fink, Passman's attorney for more than four decades.
In 1929, having relocated to Monroe, he formed Passman Equipment Company, which was involved in the manufacture of commercial refrigerators and distributed hotel and restaurant supplies and electrical appliances. Passman's nephew, Charles Stanley Passman (1924–2009), also a Franklinton native, was his partner in Passman Equipment Company. Charles Passman sold the business in 1972 and began a long-term employment with the State of Louisiana, including service as Commissioner of Commerce and Industry under Governor Edwin Washington Edwards, a friend and colleague of Otto Passman. He was also the owner of Passman Investment Company. During his time in business, friends said that Passman learned the value of money and developed compassion for the poor.
In World War II, Passman was commissioned a lieutenant in the United States Navy and served from October 11, 1942, until his discharge as a lieutenant commander on September 5, 1944. He returned to his mercantile business and remained a staunch advocate of a strong U.S. military force.
Attending Democratic conventions
Passman became politically active as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions in 1948, 1952, and 1956. In 1948, delegates from Mississippi and Alabama walked out of the convention in Philadelphia and supported then Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who opposed President Harry S. Truman and instead ran for president as the nominee of the new States' Rights Party. The Thurmond forces opposed the civil rights plank inserted in the Democratic national platform. In Louisiana, Thurmond and his running-mate, Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright, were the official Democratic nominees and hence won the state's ten electoral votes.
In 1952, at the Chicago convention, Passman supported U.S. Senator Richard Brevard Russell of Georgia, who was an unsuccessful conservative contender for the nomination. Passman was a delegate to the 1956 convention, also held in Chicago, where delegates renominated former Governor Adlai Stevenson, of Illinois, once again to challenge Republican nominee Dwight David Eisenhower. That fall Stevenson became the first Democratic presidential nominee since Reconstruction to lose in Louisiana.
Thirty years in Congress
Passman was first elected to the 80th United States Congress in 1946, when he unseated two-term incumbent Charles E. McKenzie in the Democratic primary. In the nationally Republican year, numerous returning veterans, including John F. Kennedy in Massachusetts and Richard M. Nixon in California, were chosen for congressional duty.
Passman held his Fifth Congressional District seat with minimal or no opposition for thirty years. Not once did a Republican candidate oppose Passman in his fifteen terms in office; the GOP at the time was a mostly moribund institution in Louisiana.
As a representative, Passman concentrated on national defense and veterans' issues as well as his scrutiny of foreign aid programs. He supported the American military in the Vietnam War under both Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard Nixon. He took the "My country, right or wrong" mantra first voiced in the Barbary pirates war by Stephen Decatur.
Democratic colleague Joe D. Waggonner, Jr., of Plain Dealing, said that no one in Congress knew more about foreign aid than Passman. According to Waggonner (1918–2007), Passman was "tight with a buck and tight with taxes. He had good fundamental instincts ... He had a sense of compassion for people who were downtrodden. He was worried about the welfare of older people. He was a pretty sensitive man." Passman obtained $900,000 in federal funding to convert the Francis Towers Hotel in Monroe to a senior citizens home.
Passman was active in channelizing the Ouachita River for barge traffic.
He made financial contributions to leprosy colonies in Hong Kong and in Carville, Louisiana. "He saw those poor people, and it just worked on his heartstrings. He was a tough businessman, but a lot of things touched him," said Paul Fink.
Dodd and Passman come to blows
Passman did not run for any statewide office, but he became involved in the 1951–1952 gubernatorial campaign as a supporter of outgoing Governor Earl Kemp Long.
William J. "Bill" Dodd, a long-time observer of Louisiana politics, mentions his relationship with Passman in Dodd's memoirs Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics. There is a humorous discourse that occurred in 1947, when Passman tells Earl Long and companions that he paid $4,000 for new dentures, as if the friends were to be impressed with Passman's wealth. According to the Dodd narrative:
- Passman went into a long and very detailed discussion about his new teeth. He explained how the dentist had manufactured them to look just like his original teeth – had duplicated the defects and had even copied the eroded tobacco stains and chips of those being replaced. As he talked, he would pull his lips back and show us how perfect the imperfect teeth were. And they did look natural, not even and pearly white as most false teeth are... Otto said that he could eat anything, bite through the toughest steaks and toughest celery... [When Earl made a profane remark in the discussion], Otto, who always tried to be formal and correct, acted like he was shocked, and scolded Earl for injecting vulgarity into the session...
In 1951, Passman spoke out against Dodd's gubernatorial candidacy and accused Dodd of having enriched himself while in office. Dodd said that Passman "got hyped up during the campaign and said things he wouldn't even think about under normal circumstances." As Passman's attacks continued, Dodd confronted him on the mezzanine of the Virginia Hotel in Monroe. There, Dodd claimed to have given Passman "a good old-fashioned whipping."
Thereafter, Passman sent Dodd an apologetic letter: "I have always considered you one of my best friends ... Bill, I am sorry that the unpleasant incidents of the last gubernatorial campaign had to mar our long friendship. I hope that our differences have been resolved, and we may now renew our friendship." Passman also issued a public statement saying that Dodd had not enriched himself while in public office, despite contrary reports presented to Passman. Such reports had come from Earl Long, who was then temporarily estranged from Dodd, but Passman never mentioned the source.
Opposition to foreign aid
Passman chaired a pivotal House subcommittee that ruled on foreign aid appropriations. He took the view of Doug Bandow, a former scholar with the Cato Institute, that foreign aid involves "taking money from poor people in rich countries and giving it to rich people in poor countries." He claimed that foreign aid is often harmful because it propped up despotic regimes that might otherwise have collapsed from corruption, failure, or unpopularity. Passman could not remove foreign aid from the budget, but he frequently was able to cut the program wherever he could.
For several years on the subcommittee, Passman clashed with Congressman Walter Judd, a Minnesota Republican and a former medical missionary to China, who was frequently the point-man to argue for expanded foreign aid to needy countries. Judd had even been considered for the vice presidency by Richard Nixon in 1960. Passman also disliked the Peace Corps, which was championed by President Kennedy. Passman's critics, mostly within his own party, claimed that the Monroe Democrat was trying to "bleed" the Peace Corps of sufficient appropriations to make the program work. Passman said at the time, "If I had three minutes left to live, I'd kill the Peace Corps."
Segregationist in his time
Like nearly all of his southern colleagues, Passman in 1956 signed the Southern Manifesto to voice objection to the U.S. Supreme Court's desegregation decision, Brown v. the Board of Education. Like most of his constituents, Passman supported segregation. By 1970, however, all of the public schools in Louisiana had been desegregated, and the issue quickly waned.
Charged with sexual discrimination
In 1974, Passman dismissed a female employee from his office, Shirley Davis, because he preferred a man to hold her position. Davis sued Passman and won a judgment, affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1979 (Davis v. Passman), which held that Passman's action constituted sexual discrimination. The case remains an important precedent in holding that there is an implied right of action against U.S. congressmen for such discrimination. As such, it recognized a citizen's right to bring a suit against elected federal representatives for violation of constitutional rights.
Passman was legally implicated in the Tongsun Park scandal in 1978, by which time his congressional service had already ended. Media reports, however, of the scandal began in 1975–1976, and they worked to sink Passman's reelection.
Park, a South Korean businessman, described himself as an "American success story," when he came to the attention of the FBI. Park lavished valuable gifts to prominent politicians in an influence peddling scheme known as Koreagate. The scandal involved alleged bribery of over a hundred sitting or former members of Congress, including Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards. In April 1978, Park sat before television cameras in a U.S. House hearing and listed a long list of payments—mostly in cash—to some thirty members of Congress. He said that he had given the money in little white envelopes. Only ten members of Congress were seriously implicated. Three avoided prosecution through the expiration of the statute of limitations. Passman was not immediately prosecuted because of illness.
Thereafter, the Justice Department in 1978 indicted Passman, the biggest recipient of Park's largess – $213,000. He was charged with conspiracy, bribery, and accepting an illegal gratuity. The indictment was expanded to include tax evasion. Because of the tax evasion charge, Passman was able, through his Alexandria attorney, Camille F. Gravel, Jr., to get the case transferred to Monroe. While Passman had been defeated for reelection two years earlier, there was still a reservoir of good feeling for him in many quarters of Monroe.
Attorney William G. Hundley (1925–2006) offered these observations of the Passman trial:
- I went there for the trial and I'd go into restaurants with Park and people would get up and leave. I called the defense lawyer, who happened to be a pretty good friend of mine, and said, "What do you think a Monroe, Louisiana, jury is going to think of Tongsun Park?" He said, I don't know. I was taken aback. What do you mean you don't know? You've tried a million cases here. "I don't think they've ever seen a Korean before," he said.
- I thought the prosecution presented a pretty good case. But when the defense attorney got up to cross-examine Tongsun Park, he carried a big map of Korea. He didn't even touch the merits of the case. He identified South Korea and noted that it's right under North Korea and next to China. Then he pointed out that North Korea and China are totalitarian communist states. The jury was out less than 90 minutes, and they [sic] acquitted Passman on every charge.
Passman lived another nine years after the acquittal.
Anger over primary defeat
Passman faced few election challenges over the years. In 1970, with 47,172 votes, he easily defeated two challengers, Monroe attorney Paul H. Kidd and State Representative David I. Patten of Catahoula Parish, who received 15,391 and 13,855, respectively. In 1972, Patten again challenged Passman, as did State Senator Charles M. Brown of Tallulah. Passman prevailed that year too with 67,176, to Brown's 34,314 and Patten's 9,299.
In 1976, after thirty years in Congress, Passman faced an unexpected challenger who seemed unlikely to pose a serious problem for his renomination. Jerry Huckaby, a native of Jackson Parish and a 1959 graduate of Minden High School in Minden in Webster Parish, which was outside the Fifth District, had no previous political experience but had been a dairy farmer in Bienville Parish. As an ally of Jimmy Carter, who was running strongly in Louisiana at the time, Huckaby upset Passman in the Democratic primary, largely because of charges of influence peddling that had engulfed the congressman in his last term in office but which had not yet led to indictment.
Passman was so incensed over his primary defeat that he "threatened" to endorse Republican congressional nominee Frank Spooner, a Monroe oilman who challenged Huckaby in the general election. However, the endorsement never materialized. Years later, Huckaby said that Passman never spoke to him after the 1976 primary. Huckaby went on to defeat Spooner and to hold the seat until 1993, having been defeated in 1992 by Republican James O. McCrery, III, of Shreveport, as a result of reapportionment.
Passman's friend Garland Shell said that the loss of the congressional seat was the turning point in his life. "When the old gentleman was defeated, that was it. He's been inactive since."
Passman was a Baptist. He once served as grand master of the Louisiana Masonic Lodge. He was also a member of the American Legion. A tall, lanky, ectomorphic man who wore dark-rimmed eyeglasses. Passman was twice married. In 1931, he wed the former Willie Lenora Bateman (1900–1984). After Willie's death, he quickly moved out of their home and sold it. In the latter part of 1985, he married his secretary, Martha.
He died of an apparent heart attack in Monroe. Services were held in the First Baptist Church of Monroe. He and Willie are interred at Mulhearn Memorial Park in Monroe. His congressional papers, minus some of the sensitive Tongsun Park material removed by his staff, are in the archives of the University of Louisiana at Monroe.
- "Passman Victim of Heart Attack," Monroe News-Star, August 14, 1988
- http://www.ulm.edu/~dosmith/archives/passman.htm, with photo
- William J. "Bill" Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics, Baton Rouge; Claitor's Publishing, 1991
- Jones, Randolph. "Otto Passman and Foreign Aid: The Early Years." Louisiana History 26 (Winter 1985): 53-62.
- FastCase: The United States v. Otto Passman
- Ellen Blue, "The 'Political Animal' Otto Passman and the 1952 Gubernatorial Race in Louisiana," North Louisiana History (Fall 2000),
|United States House of Representatives|
Charles E. McKenzie
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 5th congressional district