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284 Epilogue professor mar k henkels western or egon univ ersit y, monmouth 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 challenges that required uniquely personal resolve and vision. His policy creativity and determination seem to reflect the repeated lesson of his private lifeandbusinesscareer:thingsworkedbestwhenheavoidedimitation.Despite years of partisan battling, Straub never really fit the “political insider” saddle comfortably. In an interview for this book, Straub’s former chief of staff, Bud Kramer, noting his former boss’ lack of political craftiness, remarked, “He was an unlikely politician.” This prompted a comment from the other room by his wife Ann: “That’s because Bob Straub WASN’T a politician.”1 The Oregon legacy of the 1960s and 1970s remains distinctive and powerful, exemplifying what American democracy can produce when the public and their elected officials share a vision and the willingness to break free of old policy assumptions and constraints. Any history of Oregon would be remiss to overlook the creativity Straub brought to state government and his enduring contribution to the vision and values Oregon embraced so forcefully in his era. His mark is seen in small stories and large public policies, and in the names of local schools and parks and the beautiful state beach park on Nestucca Spit. Governors are not presidents. Their public fame is rarely as bright and generally diminishes quickly once they leave office. Predictably, Bob’s visibility has faded, yet his character and accomplishments remain crisp to those who knew him well. What difference can a one-term governor make that lasts beyond his generation? In his excellent overview of Straub’s public career, Professor Richard Clucas of Portland State University asserts that “Even if Straub did not capture the public’s imagination, he left an indelible mark on Oregon, from state investments to the hiring of women and minorities to programs for senior citizens. For almost twenty years, he played a central role in shaping Oregonians’ attitudes and public policy on the environment and was the most important leader on several of the major environmental crusades of the time, from protecting beach access and bringing mass transit to Portland to shaping land-use rules.”2 Epilogue 285 The tendency of analysts and writers to focus on his governorship leads them to undervalue the audacity of Straub’s visions and his challenge of core policy patterns over his entire career. While his fellow one-term governor Oswald West is frequently credited with saving Oregon’s public beaches, candidate Straub was instrumental in reaffirming that public value and his contribution to the modern Oregon identity is undeniable. Oregon in the 1960s and 1970s was socially and politically turbulent and creative. The most visible politicians, notably Tom McCall, seemed to succeed because they could surf or sometimes guide the tide of openness and change. Outside of Oregon, McCall’s iconic statements about wanting people to visit—“But for heaven’s sake don’t come here to live”—were and remain emblematic of the times.3 Within Oregon, things looked a bit different. While McCall was a towering figure, it was the debates of the “Tom and Bob Show” that inaugurated the unparalleled public commitment to environmentalism. Straub’s competition with McCall was not built on ordinary pandering. The ideas and visions he brought to the table often presented novel visions of possibilities. The term “radical” might even come to mind when considering the long-term implications of some of Straub’s ideas. Straub as a radical? As odd as that phrase may sound, Straub was notable for getting past the superficial level of issues to directly consider problems or possibilities at the root level. Three episodes exemplify this point. First, how else can you label a state treasurer who challenged prevailing wisdom and habit concerning the historically staid field of state government finance? Second, it takes an iconoclastic vision for an elected official to stand up against the social, political, and economic forces pushing to streamline the Oregon coast’s critical tourist artery in the heyday of road construction. Finally, Straub’s persistent promotion of the Willamette River as a centerpiece of new vision of the valley was built from a deep recognition of the uniqueness of place. Straub’s (and McCall’s) Oregon...


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