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A firsthand telling of the 'Oregon Story'

Veteran journalist Floyd McKay recalls a historic era in a new book.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP: PETER WONG - While signing his new book at Powell's Hawthorne store, journalist Floyd McKay visited with state Rep. Lew Frederick who, like McKay, worked for KGW. For the better part of two decades, Floyd McKay was a familiar face in Oregon households, first as a reporter and then as a news analyst for Portland television station KGW.

McKay sat in the chair once occupied by Tom McCall, who went on to be governor.

Together with Bob Straub — a frequent ally and sometime rival who became governor himself — McCall helped shape the groundbreaking environmental changes that transformed Oregon and resulted in the “Oregon Story.”

Now McKay, who began his journalism career at the Oregon Statesman — a predecessor of the Statesman Journal newspaper in Salem — offers his perspective on the era in a personal memoir, “Reporting the Oregon Story: How Activists and Visionaries Transformed a State.”'Reporting the Oregon Story: How Activists and Visionaries Transformed a State' is published by OSU press.

McKay, now a retired journalism professor at Western Washington University, will appear at 6 p.m. Tuesday, June 7, at the Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave., Portland. His talk is free; books are available for sale and a book signing will follow.

McKay responded to questions from the Portland Tribune:

Question: The Oregon Story has been told through biographies of two of its principal figures, Tom McCall and Bob Straub, but as far as I know, not by any of the reporters of that era. So are you the first to do so?

Answer: I had a unique perspective in that I was there at the beginning of it in 1964, and what I call the end of it in 1986. Those were bookends I set, and not everyone might agree. But I think most people would agree that the major parts of what we came to call the Oregon Story took place during that period. I doubt that anyone else (reporter) was there at the beginning and at the end, and also what I call the Portland renaissance.

Q: What was it like to have two major figures in Oregon politics step onto the statewide stage at the same time? McCall and Straub had had previous public and political experience, but both were elected to statewide office in 1964. (McCall as secretary of state, Straub as state treasurer)

A: I think it was particularly interesting because the two of them were in agreement philosophically on most of the major elements of the Oregon Story. That was unusual. We have had other major players on the field at the same time, but it’s generally been a different relationship.

At the time McCall and Straub were so prominently placed, we had other really large political figures on the scene — Mark Hatfield, Wayne Morse, Bob Packwood and Bob Duncan. Later on, you had Betty Roberts and Norma Paulus as more women started coming into the scene. So it was a period when Oregon had an unusual number of first-rate politicians.

Q: Another story, which is obviously not told fully in the biographies but which you tell, is the evolution or devolution — depending on what word you want to use — of the role of the news media, and particularly television, in state politics.

A: I think the period was really the high point of broadcast media in the state. I doubt there was a period before or afterward when local television played such a big role in Oregon affairs. It was before the deregulation of broadcasting (in the 1980s), and all of us were doing a lot. I produced 15 or 16 documentaries over the years; I do not imagine that anyone does any anymore. No one does commentary.

To its credit, Oregon Public Broadcasting has done some nice documentaries with the Oregon Historical Society. But as far as local commercial television news is concerned, it just is not a factor anymore in the coverage of politics.

Q: Do Oregonians, particularly young people and newcomers, appreciate all the history and hard decisions that made the state what it is today?

A: One of the reasons I finally decided to write this book was that I was hoping some of the newcomers would pick it up out of curiosity, read it and learn there was a lot of history that basically shaped not only the state of Oregon but also Portland. So many of the things Portland now takes for granted were up in the air in the 1960s and 1970s, particularly those that involved highways.

What I wanted to do was make connections between people — particularly activists and activist organizations — and some of the themes, such as highways in particular and the environment in general, that totally changed the face of Portland.

Q: For example, if Frank Ivancie had been mayor in the 1970s instead of Neil Goldschmidt?

A: I absolutely, totally believe that. Frank never changed his views. There is something to be said for consistency, but he just never got it that Portland could not stay in its 1950s mold when the rest of the world was changing.

He was considered the heir apparent to Terry Schrunk. Everyone thought he would be the next mayor, but Neil came out of left field and took his legs out from underneath him. Neil won easily (in 1972 against Bill DeWeese) and it was never really close. When he ran for re-election in 1976 against Frank, he beat Frank decidedly (53 percent to 42 percent).

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