Election day highlights from around the region

  • Western states and their political issues

    Diane Sylvain

Republicans continue their lock on Wyoming: They maintained two-thirds majorities in the state Legislature while sweeping state offices, and Barbara Cubin easily held onto her at-large seat in the U.S. House. Leading this year's windmill-tilting for the Democrats was bar owner, law student and state Sen. John Vinich of Hudson, who took on incumbent Gov. Jim Geringer without buying a single television ad. The campaign focused on Wyoming's economy, but voters apparently didn't blame Geringer for its sluggish growth; they elected him by a 15 point margin. Vinich sounded tired but optimistic several days after the election, saying, "It doesn't have to be a Republican state ... Someday it will change, if we don't get old waiting."


Voters in Bozeman narrowly passed a citywide initiative shifting the burden of constructing roads, sewers and other infrastructure onto developers. Despite being outspent 10-1 by a coalition of pro-development interests, the Bozeman Electors for Sensible Taxes prevailed by a 122-vote margin. Organizer Steve Kirchhoff thinks the people of Bozeman said "enough is enough," and that it's time for developers to pay their way. Impact fees for new homes will rise from $2,700 to $6,500. In Montana's only House district, Republican Rick Hill handily defeated Democrat challenger Dusty Deschamps.


One of the West's few successful Democrats, Sen. Harry Reid, squeaked by his challenger, Republican Rep. John Ensign (HCN, 9/28/98). Reid waited until 7:15 a.m. Wednesday to declare victory, making the contest the last of this year's 34 Senate races to be decided. The race was also the closest: only 401 votes separated the candidates. While not the most expensive election in the country - together the candidates spent $7 million - it shattered state records. "I feel elated," Reid told the Las Vegas Sun. "I have the best supporters in the world. I'm going to do everything I can to represent the state of Nevada."


Pulled by progressive voters in urban areas along the Pacific Coast, Washington has moved to the left. Democratic Sen. Patty Murray staved off a challenge from former congresswoman Linda Smith, and, combined with the upset of Republican Revolution poster-boy Rick White, Murray's party now holds a majority in the state's congressional delegation for the first time since 1994. Democrats also regained the state Senate and may control the state Legislature. But in some more rural areas, such as Lewis County south of Olympia, a different story unfolded. Republican Glenn Aldrich, an incumbent county commissioner, was ousted by Dennis Hadaller, an even more conservative challenger. An observer says after Aldrich was elected in 1994, he realized "he couldn't fire every county employee," and thus grew soft in the eyes of many constituents.


In Idaho, cows remain as popular as Republicans. A successful referendum, House Joint Resolution 6, removes the requirement for competitive bidding on allotments and allows the state land board to extend grazing leases indefinitely. "There are no rules anymore - it's totally at the discretion of the land board," says Gene Bray of the Idaho Watersheds Project, a group that has tried unsuccessfully to give state grazing allotments a break from cows by acquiring available leases. Idaho remains a one-party state: Gubernatorial candidate Dirk Kempthorne and Senate candidate Mike Crapo won their races handily, and Rep. Helen Chenoweth managed to win the 1st District seat over Democrat Dan Williams - the same candidate she faced two years ago - by taking 55 percent of the vote.


The most interesting thing about New Mexico's 1st Congression District race is not who won - Republican Heather Wilson - but who lost. Observers figure that if Democrat Phil Maloof could have captured a third of the votes that went to the Green Party's Bob Anderson, the Democrat would be on his way to Washington. In the 3rd Congressional District, Democrat Tom Udall beat both a Green candidate and the incumbent, Republican Bill Redmond. Green Party hopeful Sam Hitt (HCN, 10/26/98) polled a respectable 16 percent to earn second place in a three-way race for state lands commissioner. Rick Lass of the New Mexico Green Party says the races, especially Anderson's strong showing, take the Greens a step closer to eventual victory: "We can't go from 0 percent to 40 percent - which is what we'd need to win - without running and losing first." In the decade it will take to win, Lass says, they will continue to challenge Democrats - even progressive ones. This year, the Greens didn't choose to take on Republicans Gov. Gary Johnson or Rep. Joe Skeen, who successfully fought off Democratic challenges.


A Western Democratic family expanded its reach when Colorado state legislator Mark Udall beat Republican Bob Greenlee by less than 3 percent to represent the 2nd Congressional District, which encompasses the Boulder area and Denver's northern suburbs. During the campaign, the Greenlee camp said victory would be theirs because Boulder's newcomers would cast conservative votes. Carmi McLean of Clean Water Action says they're partly right: Republicans are moving in, but "conservative voters moved here for a reason: open space and the environment." Elsewhere, Democrats were not successful. Republican Ben Nighthorse Campbell easily beat back a challenge for his Senate seat from columnist and former Colorado First Lady Dottie Lamm, while Republican Bill Owens squeezed into the governor's office with just 1 percent to spare over Democrat Gail Schoettler.


Gov. John Kitzhaber (HCN, 10/26/98) cruised to easy re-election over Republican Bill Sizemore. After the trouncing, The Oregonian reported, Sizemore complained that he had "needed another $500,000 to run a real campaign against Kitzhaber." Republicans remained endangered species in the state's congressional delegation with Sen. Ron Wyden's victory and Democratic wins in all districts except the huge, rural 2nd District of eastern Oregon. Greg Walden will represent this Republican critical habitat.


You'll see a couple more Democratic senators walking the halls of the Arizona state Legislature in the next session, but Republicans still run the Grand Canyon State: Jane Hull won the governor's seat, Sen. John McCain was easily re-elected, and the GOP majority in the Arizona House of Representatives remains a mighty 40 to 20. Arizonans don't see their Legislature's roster changing until the intricately gerrymandered legislative districts are redrawn, and so Common Cause hopes to put the issue of redistricting on the ballot in 2000.

"It's tough no matter how you cut it," says Bob Beatson of the Arizona League of Conservation Voters. "But then when you gerrymander on top of it, you pretty much put a nail in the coffin."


In Salt Lake County, Democrat Jackie Biskupski was elected by a 2-to-1 margin to the Utah House District 30 seat, becoming the state's first openly gay legislator. Her opponent, Republican Bryan Irving, refused to make Biskupski's personal life a campaign issue, but Gayle Ruzicka, head of the right-wing Utah Eagle Forum, distributed an anti-gay flier to 6,000 district residents on Irving's behalf. "I don't think I would have won," Irving told the Salt Lake Tribune after the election. "But (Ruzicka) cost me at least 10 points. Somehow, the party has got to get a leash on her."

The state's delegation to Washington, D.C., remains Republican: Bob Bennett was re-elected to the Senate and Jim Hansen, Merrill Cook and Chris Cannon all returned to the U.S. House.

*Dustin Solberg,

Gabriel Ross, Stanley Yung, Michelle Nijhuis

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