Gridlock, slam-dunks and contradictions
In the legislatures, Republicans still control both chambers in Arizona, Idaho, Utah and Wyoming. In fact, some of their locks got tighter in this election. Montana Republicans, led by hard-liners, effectively gained control of their Legislature. That means state politics in those legislatures will likely be disconnected from federal politics -- a common problem in Western states -- because the Democrats hold Congress and the White House. Meanwhile, Democrats have a lock on legislatures in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.
In six of the states with such one-party locks, the governor belongs to the same party. Such complete dominance encourages show-offish slam-dunks rather than a politics of compromise and consensus.
In states where the governor belongs to the opposite party from the legislature's majority, the difference frequently means gridlock. Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, a Democrat dealing with a Republican Legislature for her six years in office, has vetoed more than 170 bills that took hard-line stances on immigration, gun rights, abortion and other issues. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican dealing with a hard-line Democratic Legislature, vetoed more than 400 bills this year alone, setting a new California record. Such collisions can eventually force consensus, but they waste a lot of time and effort.
Many more of the Western election results seem contradictory. Religious conservatives succeeded in writing bans on gay marriage into the California and Arizona constitutions. But they lost in Colorado, where voters rejected a tough anti-abortion measure, and in Washington, where voters OK'd a "Death with Dignity" measure that allows doctors to prescribe lethal drugs to terminally ill patients who want to kill themselves.
Earlier this year, Colorado agencies, spurred by the Legislature, imposed tough environmental regulations on oil and gas companies. But the voters decided not to impose higher taxes on those companies, even though Colorado's oil-and-gas tax rate is lower than the rates in neighboring states. Colorado's infrastructure and its public colleges have been strangled by a tax-limit passed in 1992, but voters also rejected a measure that would have relaxed that chokehold. Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter and some moderate Republicans and business groups backed both of those pro-tax measures.
Trend toward pragmatism, maybe
Some Western extremists were knocked out of office -- most notably, Republican Idaho Rep. Bill Sali, who was famously called an "idiot" by one of his party's leaders. But high-profile moderates also got booted out of federal and state offices, including Oregon's Republican Sen. Gordon Smith. And at least one extremist won a congressional seat: Jason Chaffetz, who defeated incumbent Utah Rep. Chris Cannon in the Republican primary, will take his uncompromising anti-immigration, anti-tax views to the U.S. House.
Wyoming's new Republican Congresswoman, Lummis, thinks the science isn't yet clear on global warming and wants to extend the Bush tax cuts despite a federal budget deficit bigger than the (shrinking) polar ice cap. Democratic Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, a few days after the election, vowed to continue pushing for a ban on handguns in city parks and buildings, despite opposition from his state's attorney general as well as from the hundreds of thousands of Washington voters who are staunchly for gun rights.
Even so, there is an apparent trend in the West toward pragmatism and populism, and voters seem eager to protect or improve local amenities and services.
In Sevier County, Utah, voters took a step toward voting down a Nevada company's plan to build a coal-fired power plant in the county: They OK'd a ballot measure that gives them the right to make the final decision. That battle extended as far as the Utah Legislature (which earlier passed a law saying the locals couldn't exercise such power) and the Utah Supreme Court (which ruled that the law was unconstitutional).
The animal-rights movement made progress in California, where voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to require more humane conditions for factory-farm chickens, pigs and calves. (Arizona, Colorado and Oregon have already passed modest versions.) In Utah, voters in metro Salt Lake County OK'd new taxes for improvements to the county's 48-acre zoo and 8-acre aviary, including new jungle exhibits with birds from Latin America.