Otto Passman

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Otto Ernest Passman

U.S. Representative for Louisiana's
5th Congressional District
In office
January 3, 1947 – January 3, 1977
Preceded by Charles Edgar McKenzie
Succeeded by Jerry Huckaby

Born June 27, 1900
Franklinton, Washington Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died August 13, 1988 (aged 88)
Monroe, Louisiana
Resting place Mulhearn Memorial Park Mausoleum in Monroe
Political party Democrat
Spouse(s) (1) Willie Lenore Bateman Passman (married 1920–1984, her death)

(2) Martha Passman, his former secretary

Children No children
Occupation Businessman

United States Navy service in World War II, 1942–1944

Religion Southern Baptist

Military Service
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
Years of service 1942–1944
Rank Lieutenant commander
Battles/wars World War II

Otto Ernest Passman (June 27, 1900 – August 13, 1988) was from 1947 to 1977 a conservative Democrat U.S. Representative for Louisiana's 5th congressional district, then anchored about Monroe in the northeastern part of the state. The district now stretches as far south as the Florida Parishes east of the capital city of Baton Rouge. Passman is primarily remembered for his detailed knowledge and mostly opposition to foreign aid.[1][2] He was unseated in the 1976 primary election by the more moderate challenger, Thomas Jerald "Jerry" Huckaby,[3] then of Ringgold in Bienville Parish but since retired in Lincoln Parish east of Ruston.​


Passman was the son of sharecroppers from Franklinton, the seat of government for Washington Parish in southeastern Louisiana. Washington Parish, where current Democrat governor John Bel Edwards is from, was the home of another political giant in Louisiana politics, state Senator B. B. "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.[4]

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. During his time in business, friends said that Passman learned the value of money and developed compassion for the poor. For a time, he was in business with a nephew, Charles Stanley Passman (1924–2009). He was twice married but had no children.[5]

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.[6]

Political career

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, Pennsylvania and supported then Governor Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, who opposed President Harry 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 then ten electoral votes, since eight electoral votes.[7]

In 1952, at the Chicago convention, Passman supported U.S. Senator Richard Brevard Russell Jr. (1897–1971) of Georgia, who was an unsuccessful contender for the nomination. Passman was a delegate to the 1956 convention, also held in Chicago, where delegates re-nominated former Governor Adlai Stevenson of Illinois to once again to challenge Republican nominee Dwight Eisenhower. That fall Stevenson became the first Democratic presidential nominee since Reconstruction to lose in Louisiana.[8]

Thirty years in Congress

Otto Passman.jpg

Passman was first elected to the 80th United States Congress in 1946, when he unseated two-term incumbent Charles Edgar McKenzie (1896–1956) 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 5th congressional district seat with minimal or no opposition for thirty years.​

In 1956, District Attorney Ragan Madden of Lincoln and Union parishes filed candidacy papers to oppose Passman.[9] 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.[10]

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 as essential to defeating communist aggression during the overall Cold War.[11] He took the "My country, right or wrong" mantra first voiced in the Barbary pirates war by Stephen Decatur.​

Democratic colleague Joe Waggonner of Plain Dealing in northern Bossier Parish, said that no one in Congress knew more about foreign aid than Passman.[12] According to Waggonner, 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 downtown Monroe to a senior citizens home.[13]

Passman was active in making the Ouachita River navigable for barge traffic.[14]

He made financial contributions to leprosy colonies in Hong Kong and in Carville in Iberville Parish, 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.[15]​ ​

Passman and Dodd 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, who was then term-limited.[16]

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 … [17]

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."​[18]

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.[19]

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.[20]

For several years on the subcommittee, Passman clashed with Congressman Walter Henry Judd (1898–1994), 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.[21] 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."[22] President Johnson, who inadvertently displayed his lack of knowledge of Louisiana geography, lambasted Passman as "a cave man, a goddamned Cajun from the hills of Louisiana."[23][24]

An intraparty critic, Representative Jack Brooks, from Beaumont, Texas, noted that Passman succeeded in cutting foreign aid by some 25 percent during the early 1960s.[25]

Segregationist in his time

Like nearly all of his southern colleagues, Passman in 1956 signed the Southern Manifesto to voice objection to the desegregation decision of the United States Supreme Court, Brown v. Board of Education.[26] Like most of his constituents, Passman supported segregation. Congress struck down racial discrimination in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and by August 1970, all of the public schools in Louisiana had been desegregated, and the issue quickly waned.​[27]

Charged with sexual discrimination

In 1974, Passman dismissed a female employee from his office, Shirley Davis, because he preferred a man in 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.[28]​ ​

Legal troubles

In 1978, Passman was implicated in the Tongsun Park scandal, by which time his congressional service had already ended a year earlier. Media reports of the scandal began in 1975–1976, and they worked to sink Passman's reelection. A South Korean businessman, Tongsun Park 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."[29] 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.[30]

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 Gravel, to get the case transferred to Monroe. While Passman had been defeated for reelection in 1976, there was still a reservoir of good feeling for him in many quarters of Monroe.[31] Passman's physician said that the former representative suffered from organic brain disease and depression and preferred suicide to standing trial.[32]

Attorney William George Hundley (1925–2006), a former investigator of organized crime for the U.S. Justice Department, 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.[33]

Passman lived another nine years after the acquittal.​ ​

Anger over primary defeat

Passman faced few election challenges over the years.[34] In 1970, with 47,172 votes, he easily defeated two challengers, Monroe attorney Paul Henry Kidd, Sr. (1935–2011) and State Representative David Ivy Patten (1923–1998) of Catahoula Parish, who received 15,391 and 13,855, respectively.[35] In 1972, Patten again challenged Passman, as did State Senator Charles M. Brown (1919–1992) of Tallulah in Madison Parish. Passman prevailed that year too with 67,176 votes (60.6 percent), to Brown's 34,314 (30.9 percent) and Patten's 9,299 (8.4 percent).[36][37]

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 5th congressional district, had no previous political experience but had been a dairy farmer in Bienville Parish. As an ally of Georgia's Jimmy Carter, who was running strongly in Louisiana at the time, Huckaby upset Passman in the Democratic primary,[3] 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.[38]

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 as a result of reapportionment by Moderate Republican James Otis "Jim" McCrery, III.[39]

Passman's Monroe friend Garland Dee Shell (1918–1998) 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."[40]

Death and legacy

Passman was a Southern 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.[41]

He died of an apparent heart attack in Monroe. Services were held in the First Baptist Church in downtown Monroe. He and Willie are interred at Mulhearn Memorial Park in Monroe.[41] 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.[42]


  1. Lueck, Thomas J. (August 14, 1988). Otto Passman, 88, Louisiana Congressman Who Fought Spending. The New York Times. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  2. Former Congressman Otto Passman Dies At 88. Associated Press. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 LA District 5 - D Primary Race - Aug 14, 1976. Our Campaigns. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  4. Billy Hathorn, "Otto Passman, Jerry Huckaby, and Frank Spooner: The Louisiana Fifth Congressional District Election of 1976," Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, LIV No. 3 (Summer 2013), p. 333; hereinafter cited as Louisiana History.
  5. Louisiana History, p. 333.
  6. Louisiana History, pp. 333-334.
  7. Louisiana History, p. 334.
  8. Louisiana History, p. 334.
  9. Madden to run for Congress. The Ruston Daily Leader (May 17, 1956). Retrieved on January 8, 2020.
  10. Louisiana History, p. 335.
  11. Louisiana History, p. 335.
  12. Randolph Jones, "Otto Passman and Foreign Aid: The Early Years," Louisiana History 26 (Winter 1985), pp. 53-62.
  13. Louisiana History, p. 337.
  14. Louisiana History, p. 338.
  15. Louisiana History, p. 338.
  16. Ellen Blue, "The 'Political Animal' Otto Passman and the 1952 Gubernatorial Race in Louisiana," North Louisiana History (Fall 2000).
  17. Bill Dodd, Peapatch Politics: The Earl Long Era in Louisiana Politics (Baton Rouge: Claitor's Publishing, 1991); hereinafter cited as Peapatch Politics.
  18. Peapatch Politics.
  19. Louisiana History, p. 338.
  20. Louisiana History, pp. 335-336.
  21. The Congress: The Rivals. Time (August 10, 1959). Retrieved on February 9, 2013; no longer accessible.
  22. Louisiana History, p. 336.
  23. Lyndon B. Johnson presidential tapes. Retrieved on June 20, 2014; no longer accessible.
  24. Louisiana History, pp. 336-337.
  25. Louisiana History, p. 336.
  26. GPO-CRECB-1956-pt4-3.pdf. Congressional Record. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  27. Louisiana History, p. 339.
  28. Louisiana History, pp. 340-341.
  29. Koreagate. congressionalbadboys. Retrieved on January 8, 2020.
  30. Louisiana History, p. 341.
  31. Louisiana History, pp. 341-342.
  32. "Doctor says Passman prefers suicide to trial," Minden Press-Herald, June 22, 1978, p. 1.
  33. Louisiana History, p. 342.
  34. Candidate - Otto E. Passman. Our Campaigns. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  35. LA District 5 - D Primary Race - Aug 15, 1970. Our Campaigns. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  36. Louisiana Almanac, 2006.
  37. LA District 5 - D Primary Race - Aug 19, 1972. Our Campaigns. Retrieved June 13, 2021.
  38. Louisiana History, p. 342.
  39. Louisiana History, p. 343.
  40. Louisiana History, p. 343.
  41. 41.0 41.1 "Passman Victim of Heart Attack," Monroe News Star, August 14, 1988, p. 1.
  42. Louisiana History, pp. 343-344.

External links

  • Profile at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress
  • Profile at Find a Grave