Two weeks in the West

 

November is the most political month, for better or worse, even in odd-numbered years. 

Thus we've just learned that two more of the West's top Republicans are quitting: Wyoming Rep. Barbara Cubin and Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo both announced that they won't run for re-election when their terms expire next year. They're joining a crowd on the sidelines, as four other party leaders - Idaho Sen. Larry Craig, Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, New Mexico Sen. Pete Domenici and Arizona Rep. Rick Renzi - have already announced they're quitting. 

Cubin says she needs to spend time with her husband, who is ill. Tancredo says he's done all he can in the House (mostly trying to choke Latino immigration, unsuccessfully) and now he'll focus on running for president (a race he'll almost certainly lose). Some of the other quitters are mired in scandal. General message: It's a bad time to be a Republican candidate, with President George W. Bush's ratings as low as a sunset. 

They announced their decision to be toast - far in advance of next November's big election - in order to give their party a chance to settle on good replacement candidates. Still, those six Western seats in Congress will suddenly have no incumbents. It raises Democrats' hopes of taking one or more in the swirl of the region's political swing dance. 

Meanwhile, in actual elections, there were two intriguing themes: Voters in fast-growing Western communities - rural as well as urban - showed support for land-use planning and candidates who would manage development. The other theme could be called convergence politics. 

Foremost, Oregon voters passed Measure 49, restoring many land-use regulations that had been blown apart in 2004 by the West's most famous ballot initiative ever, Measure 37. Now the regs are like the porridge Goldilocks settled on - not too hot and not too cold - and Oregon landowners can build modest developments that suit the character of neighborhoods. 

Then there's the convergent part: Measure 49 was endorsed by the Oregon Farm Bureau, which often spurns regulations but now wants to protect farmland. It won a majority of votes in several conservative rural counties. Statewide, it won an impressive 61 percent, largely thanks to the usual green suspects in Portland and Eugene. 

Elsewhere, voters in Helena, Mont., and Boulder County and Longmont, Colo., decided to tax themselves to buy more open-space lands or improve parks. Candidates who took pro-planning positions won local races in Idaho's Teton County (recently discovered by developers) and in metro Boise. Three such candidates won city council seats in Las Cruces, N.M., including Nathan Small, who's a "wilderness protection organizer" for the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance. 

Seattle had a different kind of convergence. Two ballot measures there would've addressed transportation gridlock with new mass transit and roads, funded by new taxes. The Sierra Club joined conservative anti-tax folks in opposing the package, and voters rejected it. The Sierra Club, concerned about emissions that cause global warming, wants new mass transit without new roads. The group's exit polls showed that most voters feel the same way. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and the enviros vow to present voters with a light-rail proposal next year, hoping it'll pass on its own. 

Nearly every Westerner in Congress voted for the oasis-like Water Resources Development Act, which would spend $23 billion on water projects scattered from Florida's Everglades to the Yakima River port in Washington. They piled on as Congress overrode Bush's veto of the bill. This is the same Congress that can't override Bush on Iraq policy. Water-project convergence is truly unstoppable. 

In Montana, moderate Republican legislator Bill Jones of Bigfork announced he won't run for re-election next year, because he thinks the Republican Party has gone too hard-line right. "My party has pushed a lot of people like me out," Jones told the Billings Gazette. The 68-year-old dentist opposes abortion, but converges with independents and Democrats on education and health-care issues. 

In Arizona, first-time congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Democrat, married a NASA astronaut, in a ceremony at an organic farm south of Tucson - a personal convergence. And in Nevada, Las Vegas magicians Siegfried & Roy announced their endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.