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145 chapter 9 From Backwater to Vortex This year it’s “Give Peace a Chance.” Remember love. The only hope for any of us is peace. Violence begets violence. If you want to get peace, you can get it as soon as you like if we all pull together. —John Lennon, statement to the press, July 1969 At the beginning of 1969, it was apparent that Oregon’s political landscape— indeed, Oregon itself—was undergoing a rapid transformation. The spacious natural landscape that Oregonians treasured was threatened by population growth and booming development. In addition to the changes brought on by rapid economic and technological growth, the nation itself was in the throes of a tectonic social shift. Though not located on a central fault line for these upheavals, Oregon could not avoid getting caught up in the national turbulence over civil rights and the Vietnam War. 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 Day, Oregonians were, through some sort of public relations alchemy, on the verge of unfamiliar notoriety. Unbeknownst to the residents of this traditionally ignored state, Oregon was about to become the national media’s “flavor of the month” at the forefront of a newly created international environmental movement. The late 1960s in the United States was an extremely emotional time and highly politicized. Beginning in the 1950s with the historic, nonviolent struggle for civil rights, and continuing in the 1960s with the free speech movement and opposition to the Vietnam War, an increasing number of Americans became disillusioned with the national mythology and came to question authority generally on a vast range of topics. The nation became deeply polarized as people chose sides to passionately argue in favor of change versus the status quo, each claiming the mantle of true American patriotism. These arguments frequently spilled out into the streets and onto the campuses of America in the form of riots and protests, and by 1970, that included Vietnam War confrontations between police and youthful protesters in 146 Standing at the Water’s Edge Oregon that were as fierce and violent as any in the rest of the country. As was true in other parts of the country, something transformational was happening in Oregon, changing a sleepy, backwater state into one on the cutting edge of social change. In the midst of this political turmoil, Bob Straub and Tom McCall prepared for their next collision in their upcoming gubernatorial rematch in the fall of 1970. State Treasurer Straub continued in the role of the aggressive insurgent, a provocateur pushing Governor McCall forward on a gathering host of environmental issues. But these two political leaders, who genuinely liked one another, managed to avoid the nasty, name-calling tit-for-tat political spiral that was tearing the rest of the nation apart. Rather, Straub and McCall’s incessant competition clarified state issues and forged a new vision for Oregon, the result of which was the most fruitful period of environmental policy making in Oregon’s history. How does one understand and characterize the development of a healthy rivalry? What is it that allows certain competitions to make both of the competitors better, improving the quality of their work? In political combat, it is disturbingly frequent to watch candidates, bent on winning, gratuitously lay waste to one another, exposing and exaggerating their opponent’s weaknesses, resulting in a triumphant, but scarred, winner and a bitter loser. It is rare to see two passionate politicians, scrapping in political campaigns over a number of years, actually force one another to develop strengths and blend their voices Bob Straub campaigning for governor. Photo by Gerry Lewin From Backwater to Vortex 147 to express truths that benefit the greater society. Yet, this was the case with the political rivalry between Bob Straub and Tom McCall. For these two men, it started with mutual respect and the sense to understand what was fair game to raise as a campaign issue, and what was irrelevant. It was rooted in knowing that it is more important to serve the cause you believe in with honor than to disgrace yourself in order to gain an electoral advantage. Bob Straub vividly remembered the first time he met Tom McCall. It was when Bob...


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