Recalling a great Republican governor

I mentioned the late Tom McCall in a recent blog post, citing him as the type of Republican politician I admired. The more I think about it the more I feel compelled to elaborate on the great man.

McCall was born in Massachusetts but moved to Oregon as a youngster. He divided his time between the coasts. Even as he grew into adulthood, McCall never seemed to lose his New England accent.

McCall got his degree in journalism from the University of Oregon and reported for newspapers in Idaho and then Oregon before entering politics.

Oregon voters elected him to two terms as governor in 1966 and then in 1970. Then he had to bow out because of term limits.

I want to mention McCall because of the makeup and tenor that we hear from today’s Republican Party. McCall was not a doctrinaire Republican politician. I don’t recall him adhering to rigid ideology, other, I suppose, than being tight with public money.

He developed many friends in both political parties. He remember him as being affable and easygoing. I never met the man, as my journalism career began the year after he left office in January 1975.

But in 1971, McCall blurted out something to a CBS News reporter that has become legendary in Oregon. He told the reporter that visitors were welcome to “Come visit us again and again. This is a state of excitement. But for heaven’s sake, don’t come here to live.”

Now, I cannot prove this, but my hunch all along was that when Gov. McCall made that statement in 1971, he did so to lure more residents to the state. His seeming snobbishness ignited the boom that continues to this day.

Many folks around the country — particularly in California — took McCall’s statement seriously, that he really didn’t want people to move into Oregon. I have asked for decades: What politician worth a damn is going to tell people to stay away and, thus, deprive his state government of vital tax revenue?

That isn’t my favorite anecdote about Gov. McCall, though. The topper occurred the previous year, in 1970, when he essentially legalized marijuana for a day when tens of thousands of young people gathered in rural Clackamas County for an event called “Vortex: A Biodegradable Festival of Life.” They played rock music and, shall we say, enjoyed each other’s company while the American Legion was meeting in Portland for its annual convention.

The Vietnam War was still raging and those students had been killed by National Guardsmen at Kent State University in Ohio. McCall thought when decided to have a state-sponsored rock festival that he had “committed political suicide.” His aim was to avoid a clash between anti-war protesters and the Legion convention attendees.

As the saying goes: mission accomplished. And, yes, McCall was re-elected in 1970 with 56 percent of the vote.

Imagine for a moment a Republican politician — or a Democrat, for that matter — doing something so audacious today.

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