PORTLAND — Vic Atiyeh, Oregon’s last Republican governor, who shepherded the state through a deep recession during two terms in the 1980s, died Sunday in Portland from complications from renal failure, a family spokesman said. He was 91.
The son of a Syrian immigrant, Gov. Atiyeh turned down an offer to play for the Green Bay Packers to take over his family’s rug business. He entered politics in the Oregon Legislature, then ran for governor and won on a platform of cutting taxes.
He wound up raising taxes because of the recession, but he was also remembered for cutting his own salary as governor three times to help balance the budget.
Gov. Atiyeh, a mainstream Republican who championed small state government and allowing citizens to be “left alone,” lost his first run for governor in 1974 to Democrat Bob Straub. He challenged Straub again four years later and won, taking office in 1979 as Oregon underwent what was then its most severe recession since the Great Depression.
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The state jumped from among the fastest growing in the country to one with a dwindling population as environmental regulations helped doom the once-mighty timber industry.
He championed a significant tax-cut plan that included both a rebate and a permanent reduction. Within a year, some supporters of Gov. Atiyeh’s tax plans had buyer’s remorse as the state budget took a hit.
After a bruising campaign, Gov. Atiyeh defeated Ted Kulongoski, then a state senator, to be re-elected with 62 percent in 1982.
Confined by term limits, he left in 1987 — with little goodwill left to help elect another Republican. Democrat Neil Goldschmidt gleefully compared Republican rival Norma Paulus to the unpopular Gov. Atiyeh, winning on the slogan, “the same old Salem crowd.”
To this day, Oregon hasn’t elected another Republican to the governor’s office.