They're both right!

  Dear HCN,

I find the exchanges between Tom Power and Ed Marston perplexing (HCN, 8/2/99). They are both right! My colleagues and I have surveyed over 7,000 randomly selected persons in the West over the last 10 years. In all these surveys people consistently say they either moved to or live in the West for quality of life considerations. A majority of new migrants have lower incomes as well. Other recent studies reach similar conclusions. Clearly, as Tom Power stresses, they are trading off income for lifestyle considerations.

This is not to say they are content with all aspects of life. Ed Marston is correct in that the level of education and other services are not what they should be, and that we should not be satisfied with what we have. My surveys and others show that around 75 percent of people in the rural West are not satisfied with the current level of educational and other services. In my state of Idaho, which nationally is consistently at, or near, the bottom of the amount of per capita funds allocated to education, there are schools in danger of physical collapse, and colleges are woefully underfunded. This negatively impacts the state's quality of life.

I also agree with Ed Marston that the people we send to Washington, D.C., seem to thrive on generating conflicts and have little vision for what the future of the West could be. After every election I have an undeniable urge to head for the border as my former "neighbor," Stephen Lyons, has done for reasons he has outlined in HCN.

I am appalled that people in Idaho elect representatives who, at times, intended or not, use racist code language. Such language can have unintended results. My colleagues and I, in a survey of reasons why people moved to Idaho, found that over 30 percent cited racial and ethnic factors as a reason. Not a reason, I am sure, the leaders of Idaho want for people moving here.

As to whether some of our politicians are similar to those of the Old South, Ed Marston might consider a dialogue with Tom Power on this. Tom took a year out from his graduate studies at Princeton to participate in the civil rights actions in the deep South and should have a valuable perspective on this comparison.

I wish, like Ed Marston, I could believe that unions are still the answer here in the Interior West. Perhaps too optimistically, I hope the recent migrants into the West will create the kinds of jobs and demand the services of a Future West many of us want. These new people bring energy and capital, and are not wage-slaves of the older Western corporate order which held so many people in economic bondage. However, as Ed Marston reminds us, if history is any guide, we must actively fight for a West we can be proud of.

Gundars Rudzitis

Moscow, Idaho

The writer is a professor of geography at the University of Idaho.

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