Governor Douglas McKay's Administration
James Douglas McKay was Governor from January 10, 1949 to December 27, 1952.
McKay was born in Portland, Oregon on June 24, 1893. He was named after Sir James Douglas who succeeded Dr. John McLoughlin in 1845 as supervisor of the Hudson's Bay Company. Throughout his childhood McKay worked to help support his family. His father abandoned them, leaving his mother with little money. She found a job as a seamstress and McKay sold candy at a local theater. Later he delivered newspapers and drove a meat wagon which helped pay for his education at Oregon State College.
In 1917 McKay began his political career when he was elected Student Body President of Oregon State College. He also married Mabel Hill. McKay majored in agriculture the hope of one day owning a farm. World War I shattered his agrarian dream.
When the United States entered World War I, McKay enlisted in the army and was sent to Europe where he advanced to the rank of lieutenant. In December of 1918 he was injured by an exploding German shell. Shrapnel ripped open his leg and tore off part of his right arm and shoulder. For the rest of his life, McKay was 66 percent disabled. McKay was awarded the Purple Heart for the wounds he suffered.
Upon returning to Oregon, McKay lived with his wife and children in Portland where he sold insurance and worked as a car salesman. In 1927 he moved to Salem and purchased his own car dealership, which he called Douglas McKay Chevrolet. After living in Salem for five years, he was elected mayor.
In 1934, McKay was elected to the Oregon Senate. McKay was a moderate Republican. He was able to draw support from Democrats as well as Republicans. Perhaps this was due to the Democratic influence of his family. McKay once said, "My folks were Democrats. I come from a long line of Democrats, but I left home and learned how to read."
McKay was a State Senator until 1943. During his Senate career he was on the Roads and Highway Committee. He worked to tighten traffic regulations in the hope of making roads and streets safer. He especially focused on regulations relating to the safety and operation of school buses. McKay also sponsored legislation to lower interest rates on small loans.
McKay re-enlisted in the army during World War II and served at Camp Murray and Camp Adair. He was discharged at the end of the war as a major.
McKay's interest in politics was renewed in the late 1940's. With enormous local support he launched his campaign for governor with the slogan "You Can Count on Doug McKay." In 1948 he ran against Democrat Lew Wallace and won the election with 271,295 votes against 226,958.
As Governor, McKay supported the conservation of land and forests. He also supported employment for Oregonians. He advocated the cutting of old growth timber so that it would not hinder new growth. This policy also sustained jobs in the timber industry. McKay pushed for private ownership of land. He opposed the proposed Columbia Valley Authority because he was against federal ownership of Oregon's land. On September 11, 1952 McKay wrote, "The development of the Columbia Valley is a large project and the state must have the cooperation of the Federal Government to build the large, multi-purpose dams on the Columbia River, but I do not care to sell out my birthright for that assistance."
Significant legislation advocated by McKay during his term as Governor included: an act which would turn over 95 percent of the profits from the Liquor Control Commission to the general fund. The remainder of the profits went to cities in proportion to their population. As Governor, McKay continued the work he began during his legislative career to develop Oregon's highways. He supported a successful bond issue that gave $75,000,000 to the Highway Department. The bond raised $15,000,000 a year for the next five years.
McKay left the governorship in 1952 when President Eisenhower appointed him Secretary of the Interior. McKay's popularity dropped after accepting the appointment, because many felt he was abandoning his state for the federal government.
As Secretary of the Interior, McKay was nicknamed "The Old Car Peddler from Oregon." Upon arriving in Washington D.C., he took immediate action. McKay abolished five divisions of the Interior Department, dropped 4,000 workers, and cut the budget by nearly $200 million. He once remarked that the Interior Department has as many parts as a Chevrolet. He knew the car parts were essential, but wasn't too sure about the Interior's.
In 1956 McKay resigned from his post to run for United States Senator. He lost to the Democratic incumbent, Wayne Morse, by 61,444 votes. McKay retired from political life and the car business in the late 1950's. He spent his last years in Salem with his wife. McKay died on July 22, 1959 after an extended illness.
McKay is remembered for the time he devoted to his community. He was active in a number of community based organizations. Time magazine wrote of him in 1952: "He is short, jaunty, friendly, and folksy. He has a zest for people and politics, a talent for off-the-cuff oratory and off-the-cob jokes."