THERE WAS A GOVERNOR out West in the early '70s who made quite a name for himself with a campaign to dissuades any potential immigrants to his state. "Come and visit us again and again," he always said, "But for God's sake, don't come here to live."
Tom McCall, the lanky Republican maverick who became nationally known as Oregon's "live ability" governor, died last Saturday after a long battle with cancer. He was 69. In McCall, the nation has lost one of its foremost environmentalists, a man whose main priority was to improve the natural environment of his state, and to spearhead a movement to do the same nationwide.
During his eight years as Oregon's chief executive, the outspoken McCall took several actions to improve live ability and preserve natural resources. He established a state department of environmental quality. He initiated the nation's first bottle bill. He reduced water pollution in the state's rivers, and passed a law requiring the removal of billboards near highways. And he instituted an innovative statewide land use planning law.
McCall's unique campaign to prevent people and industries from moving into his state was principally directed toward the toeing masses south of Oregon's border in California. McCall recognized the problem of that state--the overpopulation, the abuse of natural resources, the sprawling metropolises--and sought to prevent such a fate for his home.
The grandson of three-time Massachusetts governor Sam McCall, Tom McCall was a talented politician whose liberal leanings made him popular among Democratic as well as Republican voters. He was often mentioned in the mid-'70s as a potential Presidential candidate.
Though a dedicated Republican, McCall spoke against the party and its leadership. He was the first Republican leader to publicly tangle with Vice-President Spiro Agnew. At a 1970 governors' conference in Idaho. McCall received national attention when he called a presentation by Agnew a "rotten, bigoted little speech," and questioned the choice of Agnew as President Nixon's running-mate.
One of McCall's greatest political challenges came when in 1970, at the height of the Vietnam anti-war movement and in the midst of McCall's re-election campaign, the American Legion scheduled a convention in Portland. In response, a group called the People's Army planned a massive protest in the streets of Portland.
To avert a confrontation--and the violence and deaths that might have resulted--McCall, against the advice of all aides--planned a massive outdoor rock festival in a state park 20 miles outside the city. More than 30,000 youths attended the concert, titled "Vortex I", for which the state provided bands, and eating and medical facilities. State police were ordered to be especially lenient to avoid confrontation. The festival took place without incident, as did the convention in Portland. What became known as "The governor's pot party" failed to harm McCall's bid for re-election.
FOR ALL OF HIS maverick tendencies and keen political insight, McCall was best known as a founder of the environmentalist movement. Even in his dying months, he campaigned vociferously for legislation to save the environment, leading a battle against a November ballot measure that would have ended the land use planning policies he created in Oregon.
Last October, McCall flew to California, and, in what he knew would be the last trip he could ever take, campaigned for the passage of a bottle bill there. In a speech, he said, "You all know I have terminal cancer, and I have a lot of it. But what many of you don't know is that stress induces its spread and induces its activity. Stress may even bring it on. Yet stress is the fuel of activists."
And an activist McCall was--an activist whose concerns transcended the typical fare of political battles. Tom McCall was an activist and a realist, who recognized that if man is going to live much longer on this planet, he must learn to take care of it. In an age of overpopulation, starvation, and continual abuse of the natural environment, the importance of McCall's brand of far-reaching environmental planning cannot be overestimated. By initiating strict environmental controls on his own state, McCall set an example for the rest of the nation. Massachusetts and several other states have instituted bottle bills following Oregon's leadership, and national concern about pollution and conservation has increased.
Tom McCall surely will not be forgotten by the people of his state, by those who call themselves lovers of nature. What will be missed is his constant and outspoken voice, his reminders that we ought not to neglect this earth--for we have but one. One can only hope that those whom Tom McCall inspired will continue to speak out to save the environment of this country.