Feb 8, 2023
Why Tom McCall still matters: A conversation with Brent Walth | EP 92
Brent Walth is one of Oregon's most decorated journalists. Now a professor at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, he previously worked as a reporter for the Register Guard, Willamette Week, and The Oregonian. In 2000, he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and in 2001, he won the prize, along with three colleagues at The O.
Walth is the author of Fire at Eden's Gate: Tom McCall and the Oregon Story, one of the best books about Oregon ever written. It tells the story of the man who may be the most influential governor in modern Oregon history: Tom McCall. McCall was a giant personality with an outsized impact on the state. He is best remembered for a series of groundbreaking environmental policies, including Oregon's public beach bill, the bottle bill, the Willamette River cleanup, and--perhaps most relevant today--Oregon's land use planning system.
Here's the thesis: if you want to understand contemporary Oregon politics, you have to understand Tom McCall and his legacy. Most governors that followed McCall have tried, in some way, to emulate his image, oratory, style, or policy impact. A progressive Republican, McCall helped establish Oregon's identity as a place with independent spirit and a heart for environmental protection. He helped build our reputation as place where innovation and creative policy-making happens.
McCall was not perfect. He cold be thin-skinned, had a quick temper, and craved the validation of voters. But he also consistently stood up to powerful interests and always spoke his mind--and no one loved Oregon more than Tom McCall. In this episode with McCall's biographer, we discuss his lasting legacy--and why he still matters today.