A short essay comparing and contrasting two of Oregon's environmental champions
When we think of Oregon, one of the things we think of is our environmentally friendly way of life. Tom McCall tends to get the vast majority of the credit for creating an environmentally concious Oregon. While McCall's contributions to Oregon cannot be understated, another man played an equally important role: State Treasurer and later Governor Robert Straub. McCall and Straub collaborated on many issues yet the former gets most of the credit. How is it that Tom McCall gets more credit than Straub, and how come Tom McCall is seen as more effective than Straub?
One of the biggest reasons is the stark contrast of charismatic skills between the two men. Tom McCall was an extremely charismatic man, combined with his passionnant tone and sharp wit; he was able to rally most of the state behind his causes. Prior to being Governor, he was a journalist for KGW and in 1962 became known throughout the state when he narrated the documentary: "Pollution in Paradise". "Pollution in Paradise" gave McCall a reputation across the state as a charismatic and passionnant speaker and a champion for the enviornment. Straub on the other hand, had a problem with public speaking. Early in his life he struggled with a stuttering problem and during his tenure as State Treasurer and Governor often sounded awkward and clearly uncomfortable when he spoke to a crowd.
The two men succeeded in passing unprecedented reforms in the state, however they went about them in different ways. McCall was very good at taking an idea and making it his own. A lot of laws that were passed during the McCall era were not solely his idea. However, McCall recognized a good idea when he saw one and he was a mastermind at championing good ideas. Straub was actually the one who started the Beach Bill when he was State Treasurer and McCall worked with him closely on the bill. McCall used his charisma, outgoing personality, and publicity stunts such as touching down on the beach on a helicopter to champion the Beach Bill while the introverted Straub played an important role behind the scenes such as helping to secure funding for public beaches. Another example that wasn't quite as successful as the Beach Bill was Straub's Willamette Greenway Project. Again, both McCall and Straub championed the idea with McCall receiving more attention due to his ability to relate to the public better than Straub. Had Straub's version passed, the entirety of the Willamette River bank from Eugene to Portland would have been turned into a park. While the Greenway Project passed the legislature, only $800,000 of the requested $15 million was granted due to pressure from land owners who didn't want to give up their property. Nonetheless, the bill passed which became known as the Willamette Greenway Act and to this day many parts of the Willamette River between Eugene and Portland are public parks.
While McCall and Straub were both visionaries who shared a lot of the same goals, their terms a governor differed vastly. With the help of his unified staff, excellent public relations, and public speaking skills, McCall laid the groundwork for Oregon's reputation of conservation and environmental consciousness. McCall was also more of a risk taker. A prime example of this occurred towards the end of his first term in 1970 when Richard Nixion was schedualed to speak in support of the Vietnam War at an American Legion rally in Portland. In response to anticipated violence, McCall organized the first and only state sponsord rock concert to date: Vortex I. Thanks to McCall and Vortex I, violence was prevented as the American Legion held their rally (which Nixion never spoke at) without any major incidents.
When Straub became governor in 1975, he focused on continuing McCall's work and also worked to restore faith in the government after the Watergate Scandal. Unfortunately, Straub's tenure as governor was not as successful as McCall's. Straub's idealism and benevolence can't be understated; with that being said he lacked the skills and resources to be as effective as his predecessor. One major problem was that Straub's staff was inexperienced, often at odds with each other, and lacked real direction. His staff also was weakest in public relations, the one thing Straub needed the most assistance with. Even though Straub successfully continued McCall's work he had a poor public image and his tenure was marred by recession and an energy crises. He was defeated by after one term in office by State Senator Vic Atiyeh in 1978 when running for reelection.
Together Tom McCall and Robert Straub wrote the Oregon Story. While McCall used his public speaking skills as his ability to make good ideas his own, Straub worked behind the scenes and helped craft legislation which McCall championed. We tend to give McCall more credit since he was better at creating a positive public image, but we cannot forget nor underrate Straub's contributions to the Oregon Story. In many ways he was just as important to the story as McCall was.