Once there was an effective governor and a middle ground

 

It's sobering to recall that, not that long ago, the West wasn’t labeled Blue or Red, but rather a shade of beige. Just a generation ago, centrists like Mike Mansfield, Cecil Andrus, Frank Church, Scoop Jackson, John Melcher and progressives like the cousins Morris and Stewart Udall represented Westerners in Washington. Today, if a Western candidate isn't talking guns, patriotism, “pro-life” and God, he or she doesn't stand a chance of getting elected.

Here in Oregon, many of us still talk proudly about former Democratic Sen. Wayne Morse, a maverick who started life as a Republican, and who famously cast one of two “Nay” votes in the U.S. Senate in 1964, opposing the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. Then there’s Oregon Sen. Mark Hatfield, the only Republican to vote against the first Gulf War.

But nobody transcended political boundaries with more flare and lasting effect than Oregon’s Republican Gov. Tom McCall. On March 22, the day McCall would have turned 100 had he lived that long, the students at Portland’s Newport High School celebrated his extraordinary achievements with a special edition of their school newspaper, the Harbor Light.

McCall's two terms in office spanned eight tumultuous years, from 1967-1975, a time when 54,000 American soldiers came home in body bags from a war that nobody in the government has ever been able to explain or justify.  Race riots turned dozens of cities into burned-out war zones.  The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, weeks apart in the spring of 1968  -- on top of the Tet Offensive -- unleashed violence at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The country was a mess.

A year later, President Nixon's secret decision to bomb Cambodia led to nationwide protests and the killing of four students by national guardsmen at Kent State University.  Then, in a brazen act of state-sponsored terrorism, Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger helped a thug named Augusto Pinochet overthrow Chilean President Salvador Allende in a violent coup, on Sept. 11, 1973, during which 3,100 people “disappeared” forever.  Meanwhile, back home, a group of petty criminals broke into Democratic Party headquarters, a bungled crime that eventually brought down the Nixon administration in the Watergate scandal.

It was a chaotic time, and that makes Tom McCall's achievements all the more remarkable.  In an article for The New Yorker, published in 1974, McCall modestly described his initiatives as "innovation and regeneration that can actually be used anywhere."

Guided by his leadership and vision, the Oregon Legislature passed a number of bills that today seem like notes from a lost world. They included:

* “The beach bill” protecting ocean beaches from commercial real estate development. Beaches would be treated like an undeveloped commons to be owned and enjoyed by all citizens, in perpetuity.

* A 1 percent set-aside of highway funds for bicycle and pedestrian paths.

*The first mandatory 5-cent deposit on returnable cans and bottles in the nation.

* A head-to-tail cleanup of the Willamette River.

* A comprehensive open-meetings law for all state and city government.

* Reform of the penal code and the decriminalization of marijuana.

* A statewide program of energy conservation.

* And, perhaps most importantly, Senate Bill 100, a visionary land-use law that continues to protect farm and forestland from real estate development.  Among many other things, this law is credited today with protecting the forested hilltops and oak savannahs, where Oregon's fabled wine industry took root and flourished.

This brief litany of remarkable achievements made by a Republican governor and a bipartisan legislature, is a reminder of how far we have fallen from the grace of progressive governance in one short generation. American progressivism, which once set the standard for the world in social innovation and problem solving, has devolved into a quagmire of American primitivism. We're experiencing an era of a social paralysis and ideological regression that we haven't seen since the years leading up to the Civil War.

We are no longer Democrats versus Republicans. We are now quasi-rationalists versus primitives, and nothing illuminates that contrast more starkly than the legacy of Gov. Tom McCall. I salute the students of Newport High School for reminding us what we are capable of achieving when all parties work toward the middle in the spirit of serving the people. At the bottom of the Harbor Light's masthead was this note: "Produced under the influence of Tom McCall, bipartisanship, Republicans, Democrats, mavericks, rain, beaches, The Cookie Crew, bicycles, pie, rock and the belief in print journalism."

Tom McCall would have cheered.

Paul VanDevelder is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). He is a writer in Corvallis, Oregon.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • WASHINGTON DC REPRESENTATIVE
    Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Washington, DC Position Reports to: Program Director The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is seeking a Washington, DC Representative...
  • REGIONAL CAMPAIGN ORGANIZER
    Position Title: Regional Campaign Organizers (2 positions) Position Status: Full-time, exempt Location: Preferred Billings, MT; remote location within WORC's region (in or near Grand Junction...
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]