Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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The bill did not survive its baptism of fire. But it came close enough to leave the industrial concerns badly rattled. Indeed, it might have worked out — but when Hanneman reached out at the eleventh hour to Tom McCall to ask for support, McCall responded by squashing it with a letter sent to all parties that simply said he wanted no bottle legislation “in the current session.”
Boom: The bill was dead. But Hanneman did not at first realize why McCall did it. McCall knew that if he threw his support behind the bill now, it might not fly. Its momentum was all downward; lawmakers would have to weasel out of freshly made promises to constituents and contributors; it was far from a sure thing. And if it died now, it would be very hard to revive.
So with an eye on 1971, McCall coyly threw the project into the freezer and set about convincing the opposition that it was actually dead.
He seems to have been pretty successful at this. When, two years later, it roared back to life with McCall’s name emblazoned all over it, it took the opposition very much by surprise. This would be a signature piece of legislation for him, a follow-up to his success with 1967’s Beach Bill.
The industries that opposed the bottle bill now made some very significant mistakes — mostly in the form of hiring decisions. The lobbyists and political operatives they hired to represent their interests in Salem seemed to regard the Beaver State as a cultural backwater peopled with ignorant hicks, and behaved accordingly.
“They did the most awful job,” Sen. Betty Roberts told Brent Walth. “It was like, ‘Here we are from back in the East, and this is little dinky Oregon.’ That was their attitude: ‘You don’t understand this bill. Trust us.’”
Apparently working on the theory that these rubes were too ignorant to know better or too poor to be able to resist the temptation, several lobbyists actually offered to straight-up pay legislators for “no” votes. One called Roberts the night before the vote and promised “plenty of money for Democratic candidates” if the bill died. Roberts, shocked, simply hung up on him.
The same night, Sen. Ted Hallock got a phone call from a lobbyist who actually named a figure: $5,000 for each “no” vote. Hallock, doubtless both offended by the attempt and insulted by its diminutive size, cussed the caller out and slammed down the phone.
After word of that got around, there could be no doubts about the outcome. And the next day, Oregon became the first state in the country to require a deposit on beverage containers — and to experience the “halo effect” of this little nudge on its citizens’ attitude toward litter in general.
AS FOR RICHARD Chambers, he refused all requests for interviews or other forms of media attention. He just wanted to live in a less-litter-strewn state, and he’d gotten what he wanted, so he was done. People urged him to campaign for bottle bills in other states; Chambers replied that he didn’t care what other states did — he’d mind his own business and they could mind theirs.
Several years later, McCall heard he was dying of cancer, and recognized him with the state’s new Clean Up Pollution Award. He must have been pleased to receive it; but, stoic to the end, all he would say on the subject was, “I am in no way qualified to receive this award.”
He was almost certainly the only person alive to hold that opinion.