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220 chapter 12 Fighting Against the Tide If it is dangerous to suppose that government is always right, it will sooner or later be awkward for public administration if most people suppose that it is always wrong. —John Kenneth Galbraith 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 state treasurer, more comfortably engaged in expressing state policy in public. Nevertheless, governing remained extremely challenging. Oregon was changing and the changes were not favorable to Bob’s basic values and agenda. The most dramatic and looming change to Oregon’s economy was the growing knowledge that the state would soon be unable to rely upon timber as its only backbone industry. The early 1970s recession was just beginning to show some signs of recovery, but Oregon’s economy remained sluggish and many in the state and in the nation remained dubious concerning government regulation and taxes. Opponents of activist government readily exploited this public shift in attitude. Bytheendof1975,despitethefactthatthestockmarketwastickingupward, Oregon still struggled with monthly seasonally adjusted unemployment figures that stubbornly hovered above 10 percent.1 The U.S. Labor Department put Portland on the national “critical list,” along with New Haven, Connecticut, Wheeling, West Virginia, and Youngstown, Ohio. Oregon had “higher unemploymentthanatanytimesincetheGreatDepression .”2 Thisunemployment was also accompanied by persistent national inflation, creating a “stagflation” that haunted the entire American economy. The ongoing rough economic situation fueled a second major problem confronting Governor Straub: a growing public disenchantment with government political activism. Paying for Oregon’s activist policy making was pinching ordinary taxpayers. A variety of new regulations and laws, particularly environmental, meant individual Oregonians suddenly faced new limits on their rights to develop property or had to have their vehicles Fighting Against the Tide 221 tested for pollution emissions. A new split was emerging in Oregon politics as blue collar and rural Oregonians developed powerful misgivings about regulation and taxation. These growing concerns were reflected in public opinion throughout the country and would help propel Ronald Reagan into the presidency in 1980. As a long-time advocate of government intervention on behalf of the environment and for the public good in general, Bob Straub faced a serious dilemma: how to maintain his political viability, while standing up for the things he had espoused throughout his career. Oregon’s greatest challenge and transformation was beginning to manifest itself in the area of timber policy. The lumber and wood products industry (including nurseries, tree farms, paper and allied products) was, by far, Oregon’s largest employer, with over eighty-eight thousand workers and a payroll of over $1.2 billion dollars, around 10.6 percent of Oregon’s covered workforce, earning nearly 14 percent of its wages.3 The changing economic and environmental landscape of this major industry would require Straub to make some of his most difficult political choices. By the late 1970s, assumptions regarding the desirability of increasing timber harvest on the vast expanse of federally owned public forest lands in Oregon were colliding with a growing interest in preserving old-growth forests and adding substantially more acreage to wilderness areas. The employment implications were obvious. Oregon’s timber harvest, post recession, was bouncing along at about 8 billion board feet per year between 1976 and 1979, down from pre-recession peaks of 10 billion board feet in 1972 and 1968.4 Four trends made long-term employment prospects poor: 1) increasing mechanization of lumber mills, vastly reducing the need for hands-on mill workers; 2) the over-harvesting of easily accessible, low-elevation timber, especially the high-value old-growth trees, which was exacerbated by; 3) the increasingly robust export to Japan of raw, unprocessed, old-growth logs from the Pacific Northwest; and, finally, 4) the prime reason given by the timber companies for economic distress in their industry—recreational and preservationist demand for expanding Oregon’s wilderness and habitat protection. The premise in Oregon’s timber policy had been that the private companies would cut their own lands as demand required. The public lands would serve small mill owners who lacked private forest land holdings and be the reserve the larger companies could turn to while the newly planted private lands regenerated. By the mid 1970s, it was increasingly apparent that this policy had...


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