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194 chapter 11 Utopian Dreams, Economic Realities If you see a whole thing—it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives ... But up close a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. —Ursula K. LeGuin 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 human services to those in need, and to protect the state’s scenic beauty and environmental heritage. Bob Straub began his governorship hemmed in by a recession, an energy crisis, and double-digit inflation. Governor Straub, by necessity, was forced by outside events to focus on efforts to stimulate Oregon’s economy and deal with competing demands upon a financially strained state budget. Straub’s Natural Resource Advisor Janet McLennan remembers in the first weeks of the new administration “Bob invited me to come out with him for lunch at the farm, and the specific message which he delivered as we walked to his car afterwards was that, in light of the economy, we could not expect to undertake any new environmental initiatives. I didn’t argue with it and kept it in mind.”1 Much of the expansive nature of Oregon’s governance that had made the 1960s and early 1970s such an exciting time for those in politics had been made possible because of a growing economy. Prosperity, and the expanding tax revenues that came with it, during those years, allowed for the creation of myriad new state commissions, blue ribbon panels, and programs addressing each new challenge the state leaders chose to engage. The expectation of the liberal Oregonians who favored improving environment quality, or improving care for the elderly, for example, was that existing programs would continue to grow and new ideas would continue to generate further innovations. This belief among activists, whose causes Straub had previously championed, that Oregon was a natural leader in unlimited governmental progress was beginning to crash into the reality of a severe economic downturn. The Utopian Dreams, Economic Realities 195 new governor would have to make uncomfortable funding choices between favored programs and among long-term allies. According to Janet McLennan, Governor McCall “was addicted to executive orders setting up task forces, committees, and commissions he couldn’t or didn’t think he could get legislative approval on. Early in my career in 1975, I had the dubious pleasure of closing down the McCall Commission on Livability and the Willamette Greenway Committee,” among others, McLennan recalls. “I am sure I did not do it with anywhere near the finesse the job called for.”2 The recession had started with a sudden lurch in the fall of 1973, when Arab oil-producing countries established an oil boycott against the United States. At the time, Arab oil producers supplied most of the 28 percent of America’s oil that was imported, and their shutoff was intended to punish President Nixon for supporting Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Through a combination of these oil-producing nations cutting back production by 20 percent and enforcing the new boycott, the price of crude oil on the world market quadrupled from $3 to $12 a barrel,3 and the oil price shock sent the U.S. economy into the most dramatic nose dive since the 1930s, as measured by the stock market, which lost 45 percent of its value.4 In the first quarter of 1975, the nation’s unemployment rate reached 8.5 percent (up from 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 1973) and inflation, eating into everyone’s budget, had peaked at 12.2 percent per year in the fourth quarter of 1974 and was just starting to ease downward.5 By January 1975, Oregon was weathering a brutal unemployment rate of 12.1 percent6 —much higher Governor Straub looks over some papers with Pat. Photo by Gerry Lewin 196 Standing at the Water’s Edge than the national average—and the local annual inflation rate from the same period, though slightly lower than the national level, was still a crippling 11.5 percent per year.7 Coping with Oregon’s hobbled economy gave Governor Straub plenty to worry about, but looming over the new governor, and further...


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