“The overriding challenge of the decade is quality — quality of life in Oregon,” that was true when Gov. McCall first voiced those words in 1967, as well as when he repeated the phrase in 1971, and it rings true today.
Quality-of-life concerns are top of mind for Oregonians. A full 51% of Oregonians identified homelessness as the single most important topic for the state to address, according to a recent Oregon Values and Beliefs Center survey.
Similarly, Oregonians identified affordable housing as a priority — 49% percent of respondents listed it as one of the top three issues they’d like leaders to take on. Finally, another 10% of Oregonians listed other quality of life issues as the most important issue: traffic congestion (3 %, vandalism and graffiti (3 %), and litter (1 %).
“Quality of life” isn’t an easy concept to define, but people know it when they experience it, and, perhaps even more so, know when it’s on the decline. McCall broadly referred to quality of life as “the sum total of the fairness of our tax structure; the caliber of our homes; the cleanliness of our air and water; and the provision of affirmative assistance to those who cannot assist themselves.”
Sensing a potential decline in the 1970s, McCall acknowledged a “war against the despoilment of nature.” His response was a list of more than 30 measures to protect the state’s air, water and lands. He also advocated for sustainable economic growth, going as far as to ask Oregonians to “extend [a warm] welcome to Hollywood producers” to bring more motion picture production to the state; an economic sector that had grown as more filmmakers tried to capture Oregon’s “scenic wonders.”
Finally, he convened corporate executives and local officials in these efforts — leaning on them to spot waste in state government and solutions for making Oregon an even better place to call home.
Contemporary Oregonians can and should learn from McCall’s actions to restore and maintain Oregon’s quality of life. The same “love for  traditions and beauty of our home” that allowed for progress in the era of McCall exists today. That love, once tapped into, can unite Oregonians around meaningful efforts to ensure housing security for every resident of the state.
The first step to preserving quality of life in Oregon is making it a priority. McCall could have chosen to let myriad cultural and political issues distract his administration from focusing on the state’s “social, economic, and environmental climate,” which he listed as the core aspects of quality of life.
Instead, McCall specified to the Legislature and the people of Oregon that he was not capable of solving every problem; he admitted that the legislature could not solve every problem in one session.
That sort of honesty and humility is too frequently missing in politics today, but it can be restored.
Once Oregon’s leaders embrace the people’s desire for substantial action on homelessness and housing affordability, they’ll be better able to earn the people’s trust in making big decisions.
Oregonians are ready for major action to solve these major problems. For instance, we’re ready for a regional approach to housing affordability — no one community can build enough housing to lower rents across the state. We’re also ready for more collaborative and consolidated government action — having every city and county develop their own strategies is duplicative and wasteful. Finally, we’re ready for actions that prioritize individuals, not institutions. McCall frequently cited the strong individualistic streak in Oregonians — he didn’t see it as a fault, but rather as a strength to embrace and invest in. Today’s leaders should do the same by listening to what individuals need rather than what special interests demand from the state.
Oregonians want to do more than just get by. As McCall made clear, we want to “earn a living [and] have living that is worthwhile.” The OVBC survey didn’t report surprising information — for decades Oregonians have signaled that quality of life concerns are their priority. It’s long past time that the state’s leaders listened and followed McCall’s playback for providing a better social, economic, and environmental climate by taking immediate and drastic action to put roofs over heads, and drive rents below paychecks.