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Standing at the Water's Edge

Bob Straub's Battle for the Soul of Oregon

Charles K. Johnson

Publication Year: 2012

Standing at the Water’s Edge chronicles the life of a unique, and perhaps unlikely, political figure in Oregon’s history: former Governor Robert W. Straub.

A man of intelligence, drive, creativity, and fascinating contradictions, Straub overcame personal challenges and inevitable comparisons to his charismatic predecessor and friendly Republican rival, Tom McCall, to have a lasting impact on Oregon and the nation. Charles Johnson shares insights into Straub’s significant legacy, focusing on his leading role in the state’s financial and environmental issues and his influence on McCall. Johnson also reveals much of Straub’s warm personal story, along with his secret struggles, including his battle with depression while Governor.

Standing at the Water’s Edge offers rich descriptions of other intriguing political figures of the time as well, capturing the flavor of what has been called Oregon’s political “golden age” of the sixties and seventies—created in part by the symbiotic relationship between Straub and McCall—and describing how and why it ended.

Standing at the Water’s Edge is an essential addition to the literature about Oregon’s political leaders for historians, political scientists, and general readers interested in Oregon history.

Published by: Oregon State University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. x-xi

Bob was a doer, not a talker. He had a vision for Oregon. He knew what needed to be done and he just went about doing it—with no fanfare, no study groups, and no blue ribbon committees. I guess that was one of the reasons I grew to like him so much. He was, in his style anyway, a conservative...

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pp. xii-xiv

Robert W. Straub is best remembered today as a warm and genuine human being, a first-rate state treasurer, and an average governor. He served a four-year term as governor after what are generally viewed now as the eight glorious years of Tom McCall. McCall was, without a doubt, the toughest act to follow...

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1. Lessons of the Prune Orchard

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pp. 1-16

Bob Straub chose to see himself as a simple man of the soil, but the maze of fascinating contradictions that make up any person’s life seem particularly complex in his case. Growing up the youngest in a rough-and-tumble household of competitive, prankster brothers, a father who...

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2. The Road Less Traveled

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pp. 17-35

Surely it seemed that way to him as a young man and perhaps even more so years later. Looking in from the outside, one could ascribe his growing successes partly to good fortune, but just as much to following heartfelt choices. It was in enduring his setbacks and overcoming his difficulties...

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3. Answering the Call

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pp. 36-54

With this imperative to relocate, Bob found a five-acre plot in the Thurston area, east of Springfield. They immediately bought it and moved the small trailer onto it, relieved to escape the fear of losing their family dog, and happy to be making a start on their own land. Bob was working as a supply clerk...

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4. Jumping in with Both Feet

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pp. 55-75

Midway through Bob Straub’s term as Lane County Commissioner, in the 1956 election, the Democrats built upon their successes in 1954 and managed a tremendous breakthrough, winning the governorship for the first time in twenty years with their candidate Robert Holmes, from Gearhart, on...

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5. Get Our Money Out of the Mattress

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pp. 76-94

One thing that most Democrats didn’t know about Bob Straub in those days, because he seldom discussed it, was that he had extensive experience in finance and investment. Straub had been successfully investing his money in the stock market for many years, beginning as a teenager. His Dartmouth...

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6. Nature's Warrior

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pp. 95-107

Straub’s first opportunity to challenge McCall came within two weeks of the announcement of his race for governor. On February 2, 1966, newspaper reporter Jim Long from the Oregon Journal called Straub at home in the evening. Long was just back from attending a highway commission hearing...

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7. From State Street to Wall Street

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pp. 108-119

Straub resumed lobbying key Oregon legislators to help him create what he called the Oregon Investment Council, whose members would preside over the expansion of the state’s financial capacity to include investment of state funds in the stock market and other potentially more profitable ventures...

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8. A Line in the Sand

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pp. 120-144

While Bob Straub was assembling his revolutionary plan to put state trust funds into the stock market, he continued to press the new governor, Tom McCall, on environmental issues, sparking controversy and enlivening Oregon political life. As the two men grappled with one another, they...

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9. From Backwater to Vortex

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pp. 145-166

Oregon contained a rich mixture of passionate, creative political activists giving voice to a local citizenry that had traditionally seen itself as living in an oasis, and was now feeling an even greater imperative to preserve and protect it from a lurching national chaos. By 1970, the year of the first Earth...

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10. A Darkened Victory

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pp. 167-193

Coming off the 1970 campaign thrashing by Tom McCall in their governor’s race rematch, Bob Straub was at a curious moment in his career. He would still be state treasurer for two more years, but his political momentum was gone and the question loomed of where to go from there. He felt some...

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11. Utopian Dreams, Economic Realities

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pp. 194-219

Striding up the marble steps of the Capitol to the governor’s office on Tuesday morning, January 14, the day after his inaugural speech to the incoming 1975 Oregon Legislature, Governor Bob Straub had a mix of proposals waiting on his desk intended to help the state’s economic recovery, to provide...

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12. Fighting Against the Tide

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pp. 220-253

As the first year of Bob Straub’s governorship was coming to a close, Governor Straub had reason to believe that his administration was gaining its footing and getting on track. Personally, he was now more knowledgeable about the functioning of the state bureaucracy and was, as he had been as an activist...

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13. A Graceful Departure

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pp. 254-276

Bob Straub’s political journey was over. It was now time to turn his full attention to his wife, his family, and his business enterprises. As dispiriting as it was to lose the 1978 election to Vic Atiyeh, Straub knew that no longer would his daily habits, off-hand comments, or smallest decisions be...

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14. The Arc of Bob Straub's Life

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pp. 277-283

One of the marvelous things about Bob Straub was his persistence in the face of his vulnerability. Bob was a human being first and had the humility to understand and accept his own flaws—and frequently laugh at them. So many humorous stories have been left out of this book that it bears listing a...

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pp. 284-290

Robert Straub embraced and sometimes created policies that ran against the grain of the state’s existing political class, reflecting his lifelong propensity to cut his own path. The demands of the Depression and World War II may partially explain Straub’s decisiveness and character, but he also faced specific...


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pp. 291-327

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pp. 329-331

This biography would not have been possible without strong support from the Straub family. From the start, Pat Straub, her son Mike, and the rest of the family made it possible for me to tell the true, complete story of Bob Straub. Their decision to share Bob’s struggles as well as his successes was brave and rare. During the six years it took to...


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pp. 332-338

E-ISBN-13: 9780870716706
E-ISBN-10: 0870716700
Print-ISBN-13: 9780870716690
Print-ISBN-10: 0870716697

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • Straub, Robert W.
  • Governors -- Oregon -- Biography.
  • Oregon -- Politics and government -- 1951-.
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