How the West fared in the midterms

Summary: It's mighty red out there.


Unless you woke up this morning in a tent in the desert, you know by now that last night was a bloodbath for Democrats: Republicans maintained their majority in the House as predicted, and took control of the Senate with seats to spare. In the West, Republicans Cory Gardner of Colorado, Steve Daines of Montana, Mike Rounds of South Dakota and Dan Sullivan of Alaska all snatched up Democratic-held seats. Here’s the lowdown on other issues, races and states that HCN has been watching: 

Flickr user Micheal / tbirdshockeyfan
The ‘new West’ looks a lot like the old West. Colorado’s purple-trending-blue trajectory took a red turn last night, with Gardner defeating incumbent Democrat Mark Udall 49 to 45 percent in what everyone expected to be a much closer race. Speaking of close races, Governor John Hickenlooper barely squeaked past Republican Bob Beauprez. Meanwhile, GOP Reps. Scott Tipton and Mike Coffman easily kept their House seats, a GMO labeling initiative failed, and so did a retail pot measure in HCN’s hometown, Paonia. Besides Hickenlooper’s narrow victory, the one bright spot for Colorado liberals was the failure of a “personhood” amendment that could’ve potentially criminalized abortion and contraception. A similar measure failed in North Dakota. 

The environment wins a few, loses a lot more. North Dakota voters overwhelmingly opted not to dedicate oil and gas revenue to land and water conservation, and Nevada nixed raising the cap on mining taxes. In Alaska, though, a measure allowing lawmakers to block Pebble Mine if it’s found to harm salmon won with 65 percent of the vote. And in California, Prop 1 — the $7.5 billion water bond that could fund a mountain of environmental projects but also build new dams — also won handily. 

Overwhelmingly, though, the nation’s abrupt lurch toward conservatism is not likely to help clean water, clean air or climate policy. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) will likely replace California environmentalist Barbara Boxer to chair the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, which has oversight over the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA’s ability to prosecute environmental crimes has already been hamstrung by sequestration and a seemingly endless parade of lawsuits, but under Inhofe — who calls global warming a hoax — and new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), its power will likely be eroded even further.

Even the Northwest couldn’t stem the red tide. California billionaire Tom Steyer poured millions into state-level races in Washington and Oregon to secure Democratic state legislatures willing to help governors Jay Inslee and John Kitzhaber pass progressive climate and environmental policies. But even Steyer’s money wasn’t enough to turn Washington’s red Senate blue. Oregon, on the other hand, turned out to be his saving grace: Democrats “gained at least one and maybe two seats in the Senate,” reports The Oregonian. “In the House, they held on to their 34-26 lead and might well wind up gaining a seat.”

Baked Alaska. Though Democrat Mark Begich hasn’t formally conceded, returns show Begich out, Sullivan in, and Republican Rep. Don Young — quite possibly the craziest politician in a chamber with no shortage of competition — sailing to an easy victory. Nonetheless, the 49th state also legalized marijuana (along with Oregon), chose salmon over mining and showed a lot of love to Independent/Democratic gubernatorial mashup Bill Walker and Byron Mallot. It’s unclear whether Walker and Mallot have beat incumbent Republican Sean Parnell, but the fact that they’re currently winning signals a growing disgust for both partisanship and Parnell’s coziness with the oil industry.

Doc and Henry’s replacements. Congress’ leading anti-wilderness voice, Republican Doc Hastings of Washington, and its most dynamic environmental supporter, Democrat Henry Waxman of California, will be succeeded by either Dan Newhouse or Clint Didier (both Republicans) and Ted Lieu (D), respectively. Though the newcomers come with neither the clout nor the charisma of Hastings and Waxman, they’re also unlikely to stray far from the elder statesmens' politics.

Different climates on gun control. In the Northwest, Washington voters chose to close a loophole that let firearms be sold without a background check at gun shows and over the internet, plus defeated a measure that would’ve limited background checks. But in Arizona, even campaign money from the Super PAC formed by Gabby Giffords, the Representative shot in the head three years ago, may not keep keep her seat blue: Giffords’ former aid Rob Barber is said to be losing an extremely tight race to Republican Martha McSally, who opposes most gun control. But a technical glitch means the final results may be days away.

Krista Langlois is an editorial fellow at High Country News. She tweets @KristaLanglois2.

High Country News Classifieds