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We could use another Tom McCall

It is ironic that the most outspoken advocate of conservation of Oregon’s environment was Republican Governor Tom McCall.

Republicans did not like the word “conservation.” They labeled it “anti-business.” Before McCall’s election, the Republicans were not shy in blocking any conservation measure that raised its ugly head.

After McCall was elected, he hired Joel Schatz to begin research on the broad issues and challenges of a worldwide effort to protect the Earth’s environment. Schatz and a handful of his associates, mostly having Ph.D. degrees, took over a large office space in Salem several blocks from the Capitol. Out of this “McCall’s think tank” came the ideas that eventually became legislation, mobilizing thousands of households in the collection of large amounts of bottles, tin and paper.

Later, McCall’s signature conservation effort was Senate Bill 100, Oregon’s unique land use planning legislation, which Republicans largely ignored. This bill, among other things, prevented agricultural land from being developed for any other use. Also, the development of land was required to be in planned areas that would accommodate “light industrial” or “exclusive forest reserve.”

During McCall’s last months in office, and while he was battling cancer, he attempted to pass legislation that would greatly enhance the quality of Oregon’s public schools financed by a massive shift of the tax burden to Oregon’s wealthy. Republicans promptly defeated this bill. No wonder the Republicans kept McCall off the ballot when he attempted to re-enter politics by running two strong candidates against him in the primary.

McCall made his final contribution to the environmental movement after public support had largely disappeared and anti-planning forces were successful in getting on the ballot a measure to kill land use planning in Oregon. Public support for this bell was high. Some of Oregon’s largest corporations were leading the charge, and polls showed they had been successful.

McCall, who was physically wasted and clearly extremely ill, was not about to die without a fight. McCall was scheduled for one last public appearance, during which he was expected to merely introduce another speaker. Once McCall had his hands on the mic, he launched into a blistering attack on what had been predicted to be a successful effort to destroy Oregon’s land use planning law.

On Nov. 2, 1982, Oregonians voted down the attempt to repeal McCall’s work in preserving and protecting Oregon’s precious resources. McCall died Jan. 8, 1983.

McCall was able to make good on his promise to “clean up Oregon.” The Willamette River evolved from a polluted, germ-invested disgrace to a pristine river in which children can now swim. Oregon’s beaches are free and open for the public to enjoy. Oregon’s park system is one of this nation’s best. And we no longer had to worry about a manufacturing plant being located in our backyard.

While it is certainly true that Oregon has been largely blessed by some rather good governors, most Oregonians would agree that we sure could use another Tom McCall.

Stewart McCollom lives in Ashland.


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