Open-space ballot measures continued to be popular: There were 17 major proposals to impose new taxes for buying open space lands and improving parks in the West, and voters OK'd 14 of them, according to the Trust for Public Land, which worked on many of the proposals.
Mass transit also continued to be popular: Voters in California, Seattle, Wash., and northern New Mexico approved new taxes to expand commuter rail and bus systems. California's proposal is especially ambitious: The state plans to issue nearly $10 billion in bonds for a down payment on building a high-speed rail network linking Los Angeles to San Francisco and Sacramento.
Among the other reasons for Obamaesque optimism: American Indians won 10 seats in Western legislatures. Denise Juneau, a member of the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes, fended off racial slurs to earn a statewide office, Montana school superintendent. Lena Fowler, a Navajo, won a seat on the Coconino County Board of Supervisors in Arizona. Todd Gloria, of the Tlingit-Haida tribes, won a seat on the San Diego, Calif., City Council.
In another sign of diversity, wealthy Internet entrepreneur Jared Polis won the U.S. House seat representing the liberal enclave of Boulder, Colo.; Polis is the first openly gay man elected as a freshman congressman. (Other gays in Congress have come out after they were elected.)
On the horizon, the Obama wave may lead to future Democratic wins in the West and increasing political alignment of moderates in both parties. Young voters (under 30 years old) went for Obama 2-to-1, as did Latino voters (another fast-growing segment of the electorate).
But in the short term, it will be difficult for the region -- and for any particular state -- to truly unify around any plans to address today's huge crises, including the global economic meltdown. Many people in the Republican redoubts approved of the Bush administration's relaxation of environmental regulations, and they're already wary of Obama's plans to restore such rules.
Some of the new players appear determined to find middle ground. Oregon's new senator, Jeff Merkley, is the "son of a millworker (and) the first in his family to attend college," says the Associated Press. Merkley has proven effective as a leader in the Oregon Legislature, pushing for living wages, affordable housing and consumer protection; AP calls him a "populist."
The new Democratic congressman from southern New Mexico is oilman Harry Teague. He's a high-school dropout who earned his money in an oilfield services business, and he gives his employees good benefits, including college tuition and health insurance. He calls himself a pragmatic populist.
Idaho Democrat Walt Minnick won the House seat that had been held by Bill Sali. Minnick -- a former timber company executive and onetime Republican, who'd received endorsements from business groups -- is an avowed centrist. The day after he got elected, Minnick pledged to take a bipartisan approach.
Meanwhile, journalists around the West reported a surge in gun sales right after Obama got elected. Some Westerners fear that Obama and the Democratic Congress will pass more gun-control laws. They're buying semi-automatic assault rifles, Glock pistols and ammo so fast that gun stores are running out and manufacturers are straining to keep up. Apparently, the Old West stereotypes are still alive.