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Otto Ernest Passman

In office
1947 – 1977
Preceded by Charles E. McKenzie
Succeeded by Thomas Jerald "Jerry" Huckaby

Born June 27, 1900(1900-06-27)
Franklinton in Washington Parish
Died August 13, 1987 (aged 87)
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) (1) Willie Lenore Bateman Passman (married 1931-1984, her death)

(2) Martha Passman, his former secretary

Children No children
Occupation Businessman
Religion Baptist

Otto Ernest Passman (June 27, 1900 – August 13, 1988) was a conservative Democratic congressman from Monroe, Louisiana, who served from 1947 to 1977. He is primarily remembered for his expert knowledge and mostly opposition to foreign aid. He was unseated in the 1976 party primary 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 a tenant farmer from Franklinton in Washington Parish. A road in Franklinton bears Passman's name. Washington Parish was also the home of another political giant in Louisiana politics, State Senator Sixty Rayburn of Bogalusa. Passman dropped out of school in the fourth grade to work odd jobs for some $5 per month. He enrolled in night school years later 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, who had been 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. He was also the owner of Passman Investment Company. 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.[1] During his time in business, friends said that Passman learned the value of money and developed compassion for the poor and dispossessed that would carry over into his political career.

In World War II, he 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 but 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 deserted President Harry Truman and the national party to run as a new States' Rights Party nominee for the presidency in the November general election. The Thurmond forces opposed the civil rights plank inserted in the party platform through the efforts of then Minneapolis Mayor (and later U.S. Senator and Vice President) Hubert Humphrey. In Louisiana, Thurmond and his running-mate, Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright, were the official Democratic nominees and hence won the state's then ten (now nine) electoral votes, along with the support of Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

In 1952, at the Chicago convention, Passman supported U.S. Senator Richard Brevard Russell of Georgia, who was an unsuccessful conservative contender for the party's nomination. Passman was a delegate to the 1956 convention, also held in Chicago. The delegates renominated former Governor Adlai E. Stevenson of Illinois, once again to challenge Republican presidential nominee Dwight David Eisenhower. That fall Stevenson became the first official Democratic nominee since Reconstruction to lose the electoral support of 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 (1896–1956) in the Democratic primary. It was a Republican year nationally and also one in which many 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 (the Republican Party was more or less nonexistent in Louisiana for much of his tenure).

Mostly, he concentrated on foreign aid, national defense, and veterans' issues. He strongly supported the American military in Vietnam 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.

Passman worked to convert the Francis Towers Hotel into a senior citizens home

Democratic colleague Joe D. Waggonner, Jr., of Plain Dealing in Bossier Parish, 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 in Monroe to a senior citizens home.

Passman's Monroe friend Garland Shell said that as "chairman of the appropriations subcommittee, he was always very stingy and a very good administrator of foreign aid. He was always reluctant to give it."

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 his attorney, Paul Fink.

Dodd and Passman come to blows

Passman did not run for any statewide office, but he became heavily involved in the 1951–1952 gubernatorial campaign, when he spoke out on behalf of candidates supported by Governor Earl Kemp Long.

William J. "Bill" Dodd, a long-time observer of Louisiana politics, mentions his topsy-turvy 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: "using public office for private gain at the expense of the taxpayer." It was Earl Long who told Passman's about Dodd's acquisition of valuable properties while Dodd was lieutenant governor. 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. "I met him and cured him of any further temptations to lie about me. I gave the congressman a good old-fashioned whipping."

Thereafter, Passman sent Dodd an apologetic letter, which said, "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 came from Earl Long, but Passman never mentioned their 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." In other words, he did not believe that the aid was used as intended by Congress and that such aid was 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. Ironically, the Democrats in Minnesota gerrymandered Judd out of his House seat in the 1962 elections. Liberal Democrat Donald M. Fraser succeeded Judd, but there was no forceful defender of foreign aid on the House subcommittee from either party willing to step forward to fill Judd's shoes.

Passman also disliked the Peace Corps, an original idea of Hubert Humphrey which was implemented by President Kennedy. His critics 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."

An intraparty critic, Representative Jack Brooks, from Beaumont, Texas, noted that Passman succeeded in cutting foreign by some 25 percent during the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, as compared to the JFK years. Johnson in fact derided Passman as a "cave man," a "goddamned Cajun from the hills of Louisiana." (Cajuns are normally from south Louisiana, not north Louisiana. While Passman was born in south Louisiana, he came from the non-French Florida parishes to the east of Baton Rouge.) Johnson's outrage made one believe that Passman may have, like most of his constituents, voted for Republican Barry M. Goldwater in 1964.

Segregationist in his time

Passman, like nearly all southern colleagues, signed the Southern Manifesto in 1956 to voice formal objection to the U.S. Supreme Court's desegregation decision, Brown v. the Board of Education. Passman supported segregation, as did the majority of voters in his district, until the federal courts and civil rights laws rendered the issue moot.

In the 1964 presidential campaign, Passman took no public stand. Two Democratic congressmen from the South, Albert Watson of South Carolina and John Bell Williams of Mississippi, openly endorsed Goldwater and were consequently stripped of their seniority in 1965. Passman, by keeping silent, therefore preserved his valuable seniority and foreign aid subcommittee chairmanship. Watson later became a Republican and lost a high-profile race for governor in 1970; Williams remained a Democrat and was handily elected governor of Mississippi in 1967.

Passman never considered switching to the Republican Party, which remained small and uncompetitive in Louisiana during his congressional heyday. Thurmond and Watson did switch, but in South Carolina the party was more competitive than it was in Louisiana. Passman also stayed Democrat so that he could preserve his seniority within the House majority.

In time, he saw that segregation as a recurring issue had ended by 1970, when the last of the previously segregated public schools in Louisiana were desegregated.

Charged with sexual discrimination

In 1978, Passman dismissed a female employee from his office named Shirley Davis solely because he preferred a male 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, in this case the right to be free of sex discrimination that violates the Fifth Amendment.

Legal troubles

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 prospects for 1976.

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, and most of those had already decided not to seek reelection in 1978. Three avoided prosecution through the expiration of the statute of limitations. Passman was not immediately prosecuted because of illness.

Thereafter, the Justice Department indicted Passman, the biggest recipient of Park's largess – $213,000. He was formally charged in 1978 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 high-powered 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. Ironically, Gravel had been in the same Democratic delegation with Passman at the 1948 national convention in Philadelphia.

Attorney William G. Hundley (1925–2006), who had defended United States Attorney General John Newton Mitchell in Watergate, 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.

Gravel's success in defending Passman caused Gravel's own legendary reputation to soar to even greater heights. It was often said in Louisiana that a person did not retain Gravel unless he was in "real trouble."

Passman lived another nine years after the acquittal.

Anger over primary defeat

After 30 years in office, Passman faced an unexpected challenger, who, on paper, seemed unlikely to pose a problem for the veteran congressman. Jerry Huckaby, a Jackson Parish native and a 1959 graduate of Minden High School in Minden in Webster Parish, which was outside the district, had no previous political experience but had first-hand expertise with agriculture, a mainstay of the Fifth District. 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. Huckaby was also helped by the opposition of many African American voters, the most loyal of Democrats, to Passman's renomination.

Passman was so incensed over his primary defeat that he "threatened" to endorse Republican congressional nominee Frank William 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's obituary

Passman was a Baptist. He was a most active member of the Masons and 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 bore a resemblance to the popular character actor Edward Andrews (1914–1985), who starred in film and television during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

Passman was twice married. In 1931, Passman wed the former Willie Lenore Bateman (born August 2, 1900). The marriage lasted until her death in January, 1984. After Willie's death, he was so distraught that he moved out of their home and sold it almost immediately. In the latter part of 1985, Passman married his secretary, Martha.

He died of an apparent heart attack in Monroe. Services were held in the First Baptist Church of Monroe. He is buried in the Mulhearn Memorial Park Cemetery 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.


United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Charles E. McKenzie
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Louisiana's 5th congressional district

Succeeded by
Jerry Huckaby


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