About James Douglas McKay
James Douglas McKay (June 24, 1893 – July 22, 1959) was an American businessman and politician from Oregon. A native of the state, he served in World War I before he became a successful businessman, mainly as a car dealership owner in the capital city of Salem. A Republican, he served as a city councilor and mayor of Salem before election to the Oregon State Senate. McKay served four terms in the state senate, served in World War II, and was then elected as the twenty-fifth Governor of Oregon in 1948. He left that office before the end of his term when he was selected as the thirty-fifth U.S. Secretary of the Interior during the Eisenhower administration.
Early life and business career
Born in Portland, Douglas was the son of E. D. McKay, a farmer, and the former Minnie A. Musgrove. His family's limited means required him to work while still a schoolboy. After his father's death in 1911, McKay was forced to leave school before receiving a high school diploma. He was admitted to Oregon State College as an agriculture student at age 20. McKay was elected student body president in 1916. He graduated in 1917 with a Bachelor of Science degree. That same year, McKay married Mabel C. Hill on March 31. Over the years, they had three children.
During World War I, he served with the United States Army in Europe, where he advanced to the rank of First Lieutenant. He sustained an injury in battle to his leg, right arm and shoulder, which earned him a Purple Heart. Upon discharge, the disability prevented his performing the strenuous activities of farming, as he had planned, so he began a business career in Portland selling insurance, and then automobiles, rising to the position of sales manager. After the move to the sales manager position, the company sent him to Salem, Oregon, where he was in charge of their dealership in that city.
He opened Douglas McKay Chevrolet Co. in 1927, and later started a Cadillac dealership as well. McKay later served as president of the Oregon Automobile Dealer's Association.
Early political career
McKay won election to several local political offices as a Republican, becoming mayor of Salem, Oregon in 1932, and guided that city through fiscal troubles in the wake of the Great Depression. Steering his city into recovery, according to a contemporary journalist quoted by biographer Herbert S. Parmet, made McKay "a firm advocate of government as well as business preserving and guarding its financial foundation."
McKay was elected to the Oregon State Senate in 1934, serving four terms interrupted by service as a major in the army during World War II. In 1940, he was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention from Oregon.
He was elected Governor of Oregon in 1948 on a platform of fiscal conservatism and economic development. As Governor, McKay took a balanced approach to state government. He was a strong advocate for resource conservation; however, he also supported cutting of old growth timber to create jobs for Oregonians. McKay actively opposed the Federal Government's plan to create a Columbia Valley Authority. He supported legislation to turn over 95 percent of the profits from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission to the state’s general fund with the remaining profits going to Oregon cities based on population. He advocated expanding Oregon's highway system, supporting a successful bond issue that raised $75 million for the Oregon State Highway Department. McKay won reelection as governor in 1950.
Tom McCall, who would later become Governor, served as McKay's Executive Secretary and press officer between 1949 and 1951.
Secretary of the Interior
He and General Dwight D. Eisenhower had significant ideological differences, the General being identified with the Republican moderates, and McKay with the conservative wing. Fearing that conservative Senator Robert A. Taft had little or no chance of winning the presidency in 1952, and admiring Eisenhower for his military record and leadership qualities, McKay supported the General's candidacy early in the campaign. Upon his election, Eisenhower appointed McKay as Secretary of the Interior. McKay resigned as Oregon governor on December 27, 1952.
As Interior Secretary, McKay proved himself a political asset and an effective administrator, largely because of his concern for natural resources in the western states balanced by fiscal and business acumen. As an administrator, he worked hard to balance the interests of conservationists and developers. He fostered partnerships involving the states, local public groups, private enterprise, and the Federal Government in building facilities and developing natural resources. During his tenure, McKay worked to prevent the Columbia Valley Authority and public development of the Hell's Canyon project. McKay created nine new wildlife reserves and he opposed the transfer of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge property to the Army. However, he also advocated building a dam at Echo Park which would have flooded Dinosaur National Monument. In Oregon, he allowed an Alabama mining company to harvest timber. For that, his critics dubbed him "Giveaway McKay." He also supported 1954 Indian termination policy.
In Washington, McKay abolished five divisions within the Interior Department, cutting 4,000 positions and reducing the budget by nearly $200 million. In 1954, McKay was featured on the cover of the August 23 edition of Time. On March 9, 1956, McKay resigned from the post, effective April 15, 1956.
McKay resigned as Secretary of the Interior in order to challenge incumbent Wayne Morse for his seat in the United States Senate. McKay lost what became a fierce campaign, in no small measure because of the opposition he had engendered among Oregon conservation groups.
McKay died in Salem and and is interred there at Belcrest Memorial Park. Salem's Douglas McKay High School, built in 1979, bears his name.