A nuclear power plant never befouled Cape Kiwanda, and off-road vehicles do not befoul many miles of Oregon beaches today, because of Norma Paulus. In addition, Oregon’s land use planning system, bottle bill, beach protection, billboard limits, bicycle friendliness, and other environmental achievements were mightily helped by Paulus while serving in the Oregon House of Representatives. Oregon’s air and water quality are the better for her work.
Yes, Norma is still with us but in frail health and afflicted with dementia. She’s turned eighty-five this month. This is my preremembrance, similar to what I have done for three other still-living great Oregon conservationists: Bob Packwood, Jim Weaver, and Barbara Roberts. It is an interesting exercise and a challenge to write a remembrance of someone not yet passed. This preremembrance is highly selective, focusing on two epic conservation controversies in which Paulus secured her place in history, one somewhat well known and the other little known. To learn more about Norma and her incredible and pathbreaking career in public service, read the authorized biography, The Only Woman in the Room: The Norma Paulus Story (OSU Press, 2017).
The heyday of Oregon’s environmental achievements at the state level was in the 1970s, when truly bipartisan majorities in the Oregon Legislature enacted the environmental statutes that Oregon is still known for. In 1971, during her first term in the Oregon House of Representatives, Paulus received a 100 percent rating from the Oregon Environmental Council; the other two with the same perfect rating were Democrats. Paulus introduced bills to ban off-road vehicles from public lands and limit snowmobiles in the backcountry, although they were never enacted into law.
Oregon Photographer Laureate Ray Atkeson called Cape Kiwanda “the most photogenic coastal area in America.” The problem then was it was private land and 302 acres were up for sale. Portland General Electric (PGE) fancied the area for an ocean-cooled nuclear power plant and had bought an option. Oregon State Parks didn’t want to buy the cape and adjoining beach frontage as the folks there couldn’t see how they could put in the massive and highly developed campgrounds they’d come to fancy and were known for. Paulus wanted Oregon State Parks to enlarge its mission to preserve natural areas for this and future generations.
Representative Paulus introduced legislation to acquire the Cape, to little avail. In the end, Governor Tom McCall also stepped up, PGE stepped down, and the Oregon Highway Commission (which then oversaw state parks) sidestepped and did buy 127 acres—using mostly federal Land and Water Conservation Fund monies. Norma’s leadership made and kept the fate of Cape Kiwanda an issue.
Off-Road Vehicles and Snowy Plovers
When you look at your trusty Official Highway Map of Oregon, on the left edge is a vertical bar colored either red, yellow, or blue. Most is red, which means that motorized vehicles are prohibited on most of Oregon’s beaches. As secretary of state from 1977 to 1985, Paulus was a member of the State Land Board (along with the governor and state treasurer), the body that has the ownership of Oregon’s beaches between low and high tide. What is now known as Oregon Wild successfully lobbied the land board to close beaches to protect the imperiled western snowy plover (and also visitor safety). Paulus was the land board member who led the effort.
Wrong Way on the Greenway
No great Oregon conservationist is perfect.
As Governor Tom McCall was pushing the Oregon Legislature to enact what became a renowned land use planning statute, he also wanted a very large state park (or parks) along the banks of the 187-mile-long Willamette River. This freaked out farmers who feared either the state taking their land by eminent domain or the state limiting their land use by regulation. (I have found that farmers are all for land-use restrictions on development when they want to farm their land, but all against when they want to develop it.)
McCall’s successor, Governor Bob Straub, also wanted a public park. Representative Paulus, representing farmers in Marion County, didn’t, nor did a majority of the Oregon Legislature. Paulus believed that for a statewide Oregon land use planning system to be successful, the farmers would have to be on board. Paulus’s faith in government regulation as adequate to preserve farmland and open space meant that the great dream and promise of the Willamette River Greenway has been lost for nearly two generations. (There is still time . . .)
The Race for Governor
In 1986, then former Secretary of State Paulus was the Republican nominee for governor. She faced Neil Goldschmidt, former Portland mayor, former U.S. transportation secretary, and rapist (she was thirteen; alas, it didn’t come out until much later, after the statute of limitations had expired).
Most of the conservation community went for Goldschmidt despite Paulus having a much better environmental and conservation record than he—not because he was a he, but because he was a Democrat. Though most Oregon and national Republicans were drifting to the right and to the wrong on the environment, my colleagues and I at what is now known as Oregon Wild strongly backed Paulus over Goldschmidt.
As for gender, it was a severe handicap for a woman running for governor in 1986. Paulus started out at least 10 to 20 points down because she was a she. (I recall my rock-ribbed Republican then-father-in-law rationalize his vote for Democrat Goldschmidt, whom he had previously loathed, by noting that the Oregon governor had to go on trade delegations to countries where a woman would not be well received.)
She lost. There is no one reason that an election turns out the way it does, but Norma made what turned out to be a large gaffe. You can read all about it in Brent Walth’s recent piece in Portland Monthly.
It doesn’t pay to dwell long on what-ifs, but we do know that after the northern spotted owl hit the fan in 1989, Governor Goldschmidt pimped for Big Timber and aided and abetted Senator Mark Hatfield in enacting legislation into law that resulted in the loss of much old-growth forest. Of course, I do not know that had Paulus been governor she would have taken a more rational and reasoned course—perhaps closer to the course that Oregon’s first woman governor, Barbara Roberts (see my preremembrance), took during her term (1991–1995)—but I believe she would have.
Later on, Norma told me that she could no longer win an Oregon Republican primary and later proved herself right by getting trounced by Gordon Smith in the Republican primary for the seat vacated upon the resignation of Bob Packwood in 1995.
Additional Public Service
Governor Goldschmidt appointed Paulus to the Northwest Power and Conservation Council, where Paulus fought for wild salmon and against the fish-killing dams on the Columbia River. To Paulus, if the dams had to go away so the salmon didn’t go away, so be it. Paulus later was elected the state superintendent of public instruction and after that served as the head of the Oregon Historical Society.
Norma Paulus was the last Republican I ever voted for (at least so far, but it really doesn’t look promising), in the 1986 governor’s race. That election, I also voted for Republican Bob Packwood, who successfully won re-election to the United States Senate (see my preremembrance), but that race was higher on the ballot and thus not the last Republican vote I cast. Paulus was the kind of Republican that is not just endangered today but extinct. She was pro-environment, for the Equal Rights Amendment, and fiscally conservative, and she believed that government was legitimate.