Goodbye, New West; hello lords of yesterday: Dispatches from the field


Wyoming geared up for war

In Wyoming, "It wasn't the year to be seen as a thoughtful problem-solver," says Sierra Club Northern Plains representative Larry Mehlhaff. "It was the year to have a bumper-sticker campaign."

Wyoming's new senator, Republican Craig Thomas, lambasted Democratic Gov. Mike Sullivan during the campaign by associating him with President Clinton and range reform. His message was simple: the Democrats were waging a war on the West's traditional economies of ranching and mining. The result: Thomas won by a 19 percent margin.

Sullivan's secretary of state, Kathy Karpan, running for governor, also lost, falling to Republican Jim Geringer. Geringer's victory ends a 20-year Republican drought in the statehouse.

In an even stronger show of Republican strength, state Representative Barbara Cubin beat Democrat Bob Shuster in a contest for the state's lone House seat, vacated by Thomas. Cubin prevailed despite waging a negative campaign where she made apparently unsupported charges against Shuster and admitted to sending cookies shaped like male genitals and other unsavory pranks during her stint in state government.

"Cubin constantly put her foot in her mouth, but this year it just didn't matter," says Mehlhaff. Environmentalists say Cubin can be expected to vote in Washington for measures that help extractive industries in the West.

Overall, the Wyoming congressional delegation looks much as it did before the election, with two conservative senators and a conservative representative. The same can be said about the Republican-dominated state legislature, though the GOP made significant gains in the House of Representatives, winning in traditional Democratic strongholds such as Sweetwater County in the state's southwestern corner.

Environmentalists say they are long accustomed to working with Republicans to defeat anti-environmental legislation in the state legislature. Four times they have convinced state lawmakers to reject regulatory "takings' initiatives, including a measure sponsored last year by governor-elect Geringer.

"We've worked with both sides of the aisles for years," says Stephanie Kessler, a staffer with the Wyoming Outdoor Council. "But we've also had a fairly accessible governor's office. I think Geringer will give us a fair hearing."

Voting on ballot issues, Wyoming voters rejected an anti-abortion initiative and an initiative that would have legalized slot-machine gambling in the state.

Clinton's coattails hurt in Utah

The biggest blow to Utah's environmental community was the loss of first-term Rep. Karen Shepherd in the state's 2nd Congressional District. Shepherd lost by 10 percent to Enid Green Waldholtz, a conservative who received significant financial backing from her party. Polls show Shepherd held a moderate lead just three weeks before election day, but saw it quickly evaporate.

"She was definitely hurt by Clinton's negative coattails," says Lawson Legate, Sierra Club's Utah representative based in Salt Lake City. The Republican fever sweeping the electorate overcame Shepherd's "strong reputation as a person who followed through on her promises and got things done," Legate says.

The poor showing of third-party candidate Merrill Cook also hurt Shepherd. Voters expected to support Cook went instead with Waldholtz, political analysts say.

Utah's two most prominent Republicans, Sen. Orrin Hatch and 1st District Congressman Jim Hansen, easily won re-election. Hansen, in line to chair the House Natural Resources subcommittee on national parks and public lands, could use his position to push for a tiny state wilderness protection bill that would release most of Utah's remaining roadless areas to mineral development and other uses.

Republicans also prevailed at the state level. The party now has a veto-proof two-thirds majority in both the senate and house.

"Our people weren't motivated," says Legate. "The gun nuts who hated the Brady bill and the assault weapons ban were. Maybe this election will get us jazzed again."

Yes and no on incumbents in Colorado

Democrats had a bit of good news in Colorado. Gov. Roy Romer rebuffed a challenge by Republican oil man Bruce Benson to win a fourth term. Romer campaigned on crime and the need for "smart growth."

Although voters approved an initiative setting term limits for members of Congress and most state and local officials, all incumbents in the U.S. House of Representatives, including Democrats Pat Schroeder and David Skaggs, kept their jobs.

In western Colorado's rapidly growing but still largely rural 3rd Congressional District, Republican Scott McInnis soundly defeated Democratic newcomer Linda Powers. Powers pounded away on what should have been a popular theme: protecting agricultural lands from uncontrolled development. Her message was apparently lost on a mainly conservative electorate that still believes the rugged individualism conveyed in: "Don't tell a man what to do with his land."

At the state level the GOP made sweeping gains, winning elections in former Democratic strongholds. In the heavily Democratic 45th District, which includes portions of the city of Pueblo, city council president Joyce Lawrence upset incumbent Rep. Mildred Mattingly.

"We were steamrollered, pure and simple," Mattingly told the Denver Post. "The Democrats took control of this town in 1932 with FDR. Sixty-two years is a long time for a party to control a town. Maybe it's time for a scare."

Republicans picked up seven seats in the house to extend their majority to 41-24; and they retained a 19-16 advantage in the Senate.

Greens hang tough in the Southwest

Arizona and New Mexico elections were a washout for environmentalism. Conservative Republicans with ties to the wise-use movement captured both governorships, and Arizona Republicans took over the state's congressional delegation.

Yet environmentalists in both states still had something to celebrate.

In Arizona, a "takings" ballot proposal requiring state agencies to study the effects of new regulations on private property crashed 60-40. The vote was a setback for the growing national property rights movement, which opposes federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act. The movement had seen the Arizona measure as a possible national model.

Although rural Arizona has become an anti-environmentalist stronghold, the measure flopped even there. Not one of the state's 14 counties approved it. The defeat also came even though supporters outspent opponents about $700,000 to about $340,000. Animal-rights activists also secured a ban on steel-jaw leghold trapping by a 58-42 margin.

Arizonans for Private Property Rights, which vowed to push the Legislature to pass the property-rights bill again next year, blamed the defeat on "confusing" ballot language. Backers had wanted the measure to be called "Legislation Protecting Private Property Rights;" but the secretary of state's office changed it, referring to it as "Regulatory takings."

"A lot of people went into the polling booth saying, 'What in the hell is a taking?' " says Linda McClure, the group's director.

But opponents seized on a conservative argument: that the measure would be too costly and bureaucratic and require too many regulations and lawyers.

"The voters understood it was a scam," says Joni Bosh, campaign committee chairman for the opposition. "The supporters had two years to sell it and they couldn't."

In New Mexico, Green Party workers celebrated a strong showing, winning 10 percent in the governor's race, the biggest percentage a third party has won since statehood in 1912. The party platform emphasized community values and respect for the land.

Their strong finish culminated a campaign in which the Democrats sued unsuccessfully to keep the Greens off the ballot. The party campaigned on a $50,000 budget and with no help from the Sierra Club.

The Green Party's candidate for governor, Roberto Mondragon, a former two-time lieutenant governor, almost abandoned the race near the close for fear he would hurt Democrats. Mondragon decided to stay in; he and incumbent Gov. Bruce King, D, won more votes combined than the victor, Republican Gary Johnson.

Green candidates also won 30 percent in the state treasurer's race against a Democratic incumbent with no Republican opponent, and 12 percent in the land commissioner's race.

The Greens apparently tapped into the same kind of anxiety and anti-government sentiment that fueled the national Republican sweep. The Green Party platform - the only detailed platform of any New Mexico party - calls for decentralized economic power, help for small business, property-tax relief and a single-payer health plan.

"The vote was frustration at things seeming to be out of control: crime, deterioration of the cities, family problems, random violence and the educational system," says University of New Mexico political science professor Chris Garcia.

New Mexico voters easily re-elected Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman, two incumbent Republican congressmen and an incumbent Democratic congressman. Environmentalists worked hard to re-elect Bingaman, who is a rare Senate ally in the West.

Arizona Gov. Fife Symington, R, won re-election despite an almost endless series of scandals. Republican Jon Kyl won the Senate seat held by scandal-plagued Democrat Dennis DeConcini, who didn't seek re-election. Republicans won back the two congressional seats they lost to the Democrats in 1992, and now control all but one of seven seats.

Nevada's Democratic governor survives

Fear and loathing crept into the Silver State in this fall's election, but the fringe candidates who pushed fear of big-brother government, gun control, homosexuals, and immigrants failed to gain office.

In statewide races, the radical right-wing candidates of the Independent American Party - an amalgam of Christian fundamentalists, the wise-use movement, and gun fanatics that fielded candidates for most offices - proved unable to garner more than 6 percent. The party did better on a local level, topping out at 16 percent in one state legislative race in Las Vegas.

Nevada voters, who narrowly elected Bill Clinton in 1992, decided to stick with the state's top "friend of Bill." By a 53-41 margin, Democratic Gov. Bob Miller survived a challenge from Republican state assemblyman Jim Gibbons, whose campaign combined an anti-tax initiative with states' rights rhetoric. Miller survived because of Gibbons' lackluster campaign and the electorate's perception of the governor as a competent leader. Now in his second term, Miller finds himself in a similar predicament to President Clinton: His opponents control the legislature.

Republicans widened their previous one-vote majority in the state Senate, taking two seats to gain a 13-8 advantage. And Democrats lost their more than two-to-one edge in the State Assembly, which is now deadlocked in an unprecedented 21-21 tie. The legislators' first battle will be over rules to determine leadership positions and committee assignments in the Assembly when the legislature convenes in January. The environment played a secondary role in most races, but the new state legislature will likely be more sympathetic to anti-environmental measures, including regulatory takings bills to protect private property rights.

Republican gains in the state legislature forestalled the inexorable southerly tilt of power in Nevada toward Las Vegas. Incumbent Republicans representing Reno and rural counties were re-elected, maintaining their seniority and control over key budget and finance committees.

While Gov. Miller and Sen. Richard Bryan, the two Democrats at the top of the ballot, escaped being swept out of office, Rep. Jim Bilbray, a Democrat who represented Nevada's 1st Congressional District in Las Vegas for four terms, lost to Republican newcomer John Ensign by 1,436 votes. Late returns from precincts in Las Vegas suburbs populated by southern California transplants edged out the incumbent. Though he didn't serve on any committees dealing with natural resource issues, Bilbray has been an ally of environmentalists in their efforts to reform public-land management. Ensign is not expected to be as sympathetic.

Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, Nevada's other Republican congressman (not "congresswoman," she insists), won a seventh term representing the 2nd Congressional District, which covers all of the state outside of Las Vegas. Vucanovich's seniority places her high among ranking Republicans vying for key leadership positions. Vucanovich, an advocate of resource extraction on public lands, is angling to take over as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Some of the most important votes Nevada faced were outside the state. The passage of proposition 187, an anti-illegal-immigration initiative in California, fueled speculation that more illegal immigrants will be attracted to Nevada's low-wage service jobs in the tourism industry.

The fact that almost all gambling initiatives failed in 14 states was good news in Nevada; it means less competition for the economic engine that provides most of the state's tax revenue. On the other hand, the votes were mixed news for many Nevada-based gaming corporations whose corporate chiefs say their economic future depends on expanding beyond the one state they already dominate.

Surprises in Navajoland

On the Navajo Reservation, Tribal President Peterson Zah, a national leader on Native American issues, lost 52 percent to 44 percent to Albert Hale, a lawyer and new political face on the reservation. Zah served two terms as president of the nation's largest tribe.

Hale immediately said he'd seek a federal pardon for former Navajo chief executive Peter McDonald. McDonald is serving a l4-year sentence on federal and tribal convictions stemming from corruption cases and from a 1989 riot by his supporters at tribal headquarters that left two dead.

McDonald wrote his supporters from prison to ask them to vote for Hale, and his wife, Wanda, spoke at Hale rallies.

Zah put a referendum on the ballot to see if Navajos wanted legalized gambling on the reservation; 55 percent of the voters said no. A tribal study predicted that casinos could bring $66 million a year in revenues and put 2,700 Navajos to work, but opponents feared gambling would create social problems and line the pockets of tribal council members. Prior to the election, Hale said he would not push for gambling if the people voted against the ballot measure.

Except for Pat Williams, Republicans stampede in Montana

The Republican stampede also hit Montana, with both houses of the state legislature falling firmly under control of GOP lawmakers. Conrad Burns became the first Republican senator ever re-elected in Montana.

Within the limits of Montana's largest city, Billings, Republicans claimed 17 seats in the state House and Senate compared to one notched by Democrats. Some called it the "Tuesday night slaughter." The 50-member Senate now has 31 Republicans to 19 Democrats, while the House has 67 Republicans and 53 Democrats.

Environmentalists predicted that the wise-use movement, flush with friends in high places, would try to roll back laws that protect Montana's air, water, forests and minerals. Their major Washington ally will be Conrad Burns, who saw the election transform him from a freshman senator wielding little clout to a veteran with leverage.

Burns, a former radio broadcaster specializing in agricultural issues, claimed 62 percent of the vote compared to 38 percent for Democratic challenger Jack Mudd, a former law school dean. Burns outspent the Mudd camp 3-1 with an influx of PAC money from outside the state.

For Democrats there was a consolation prize: the re-election of U.S. Rep. Pat Williams to his ninth term in Congress. Williams won a three-way race, defeating Republican challenger Cy Jamison, the former head of the Bureau of Land Management under George Bush, and independent Steve Kelly, an avowed environmentalist.

Williams claimed 49 percent of the vote to Jamison's 42 percent and Kelly's 9 percent. Williams managed to distance himself from the President by pointing out his differences, namely his opposition to the crime bill and gun control. Ultimately, it probably spared him the wrath of the National Rifle Association.

"Pat Williams is the only member of Congress throughout the intermountain West and north of Colorado who survived in spite of his conservation ethics," says Michael Scott, Northern Rockies director for The Wilderness Society.

Scott predicts that during the next two years conservative Republicans will push hard to log, mine and drill for oil and gas in the state's six million acres of roadless lands. Their fate has been in limbo for nearly two decades because Congress has not acted to pass wilderness legislation.

Beginning in the early 1990s, separate wilderness strategies have been pushed along partisan lines, with Burns favoring a bill that would set aside roughly 800,000 acres, and Williams and Montana's other senator, Max Baucus, D, favoring bills in the 1.5 to 1.8 million acre range.

With Congress now in the hands of Republicans, Burns has the upper hand. Should his industry-backed bill get through, it would still need to gain Clinton's signature. In 1988, a wilderness bill crafted by former Sen. John Melcher, a Democrat, was vetoed by President Reagan at the request of Western conservatives.

Even more problematic to environmentalists is the Republican steamroller at the state level. Along with defeats of conservation-minded lawmakers, some GOP wins came by default when Democrats chose not to run for office.

A major loss to the cause of conservation was the defeat of Democratic State Senator Don Bianchi of Belgrade, a former manager with the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department. Bianchi had championed land-use planning, clean water and in-stream flows to benefit fish. Republicans launched a fierce campaign against Bianchi by soliciting contributions for opponent Casey Emerson from ranchers around the state.

Dan DuBray, a former aide to Republican Rep. Ron Marlenee, says the results in Montana put pressure on Republican Gov. Marc Racicot, who was not up for re-election. He will now work with a Legislature controlled by his party for the first time in 42 years.

"It gives them the burden of putting up or shutting up," DuBray says.

Montana voters also rejected a flat-rate income tax that was opposed by industry, and bills aimed at limiting the power of the Legislature to impose taxes. They passed an amendment that lowers the cap on campaign contributions made by special interest groups.

Mixed signals in the Northwest

The angry anti-incumbent mood was most reflected in the West by the defeat of Democratic House Speaker Tom Foley of Washington, a 30-year congressional veteran. He lost a squeaker to Republican political neophyte George Nethercutt.

Foley outspent Nethercutt by an overwhelming three to one. Despite that, and despite the enormous clout Foley had as speaker, eastern Washington voters ousted him. In addition to being symbolic of the Congress, Foley's opposition to term limits cost him votes.

Environmentalists wondering how the midterm shakeup will affect federal forest policy and other critical issues in the Northwest received some indication when Sen. Slade Gorton, a Washington Republican who easily won re-election, announced soon after the election that he will push for hearings on amending the Endangered Species Act. His goal: to give greater weight to the economic costs exacted by the nation's strongest environmental law.

Another Republican newcomer, Linda Smith, defeated Democratic Rep. Jolene Unsoeld, who had been a strong supporter of ecosystem management and watershed restoration. Smith, a write-in candidate who won the Republican primary, was supported by the conservative Christian Coalition.

Foley's downfall was mirrored in the change in the state's House delegation. Once a Democratic stronghold at 8-1, the delegation is now 7-2, Republican.

Oregon voters bucked the GOP sweep in the governor's race, choosing moderate Democrat John Kitzhaber over Republican Denny Smith to succeed one-term Gov. Barbara Roberts. Kitzhaber, a former emergency room physician and the architect of Oregon's widely touted health care plan, is an avid fly fisherman and outdoorsman, more comfortable in blue jeans than a business suit.

Though he once served on the board of the Pacific Rivers Council, a key organization in efforts to protect Oregon rivers, he struck a middle-of-the-road posture on timber issues, saying he hopes to convene all sides and try to come up with a federal forest plan for Oregon that can win over federal officials.

Oregon voters apparently wanted someone who could bring people together more than they wanted Smith, who has always been firmly entrenched in the Republican Party's right wing. His blunt, negative, get-tough-on crime campaign against Kitzhaber promised no new taxes but was short on spelling out how the state will meet its obligations with shrinking revenue.

Oregon environmentalists could not muster the clout to pass an initiative that would have required companies using the cyanide heap-leach process to refill the huge pits, restore land and water to their original condition, and post bonds guaranteeing perpetual monitoring of closed mines. The citizen measure failed by a 3-to-2 margin.

Newmont Mining Co. of Denver, which hopes to develop a gold mine near the eastern Oregon town of Vale, spent at least $4 million to defeat the measure, making this by far the most expensive of the state's 18 initiative campaigns. Conservationists, who called their campaign Stop Toxic Open Pit Mines (STOP'M), reported spending $120,000 in cash and in-kind contributions.

Newmont hired lawyers and a public relations firm to argue that the measure was unnecessary because Oregon already has the nation's most stringent environmental law. Chief petitioner Larry Tuttle says he'll be back with a streamlined initiative in 1996. He counted the campaign a success, saying it helped educate the public about an issue that "wasn't even a blip on most people's screens' six months ago.

Oregon voters narrowly passed a law banning the hunting of bears with poison bait and the hunting of both bears and cougars with dogs. Proponents used television ads to drive home their message that those methods were cruel and unsporting. To the dismay of bill backers, the ban won't be in effect until next year's hunting season. The measure was opposed by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Oregon's two Republican U.S. senators were among the election's biggest winners, though neither was up for re-election this year. Sen. Mark Hatfield will chair the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, while Sen. Bob Packwood, still facing a Senate Ethics Committee investigation for alleged sexual improprieties, will regain chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee. The Finance Committee will play a decisive role in Clinton's attempts to achieve health care and welfare reform.

On two hot-button morality issues, Oregon voters narrowly rejected an anti-gay-rights initiative but approved a physician-assisted-suicide initiative.

Democrats trounced in Idaho

Conservative Republicans scored a clean sweep in Idaho, securing complete control of state government with the surprise election of Wilder onion farmer Phil Batt to the governor's office. Batt, who is the first Republican governor in 24 years, beat Democrat Larry EchoHawk by 30,000 votes. EchoHawk was considered the front-runner until the final three weeks of the campaign. He had resigned as Idaho's attorney general to attempt to succeed retiring Gov. Cecil Andrus.

By a substantial margin of 56-44, two-term 1st District Congressman Larry LaRocco also lost, defeated by Helen Chenoweth. A former aide to former Sen. Steve Symms, she became known during the campaign for saying Snake River sockeye and chinook salmon were not endangered "because you can buy salmon in a can at Albertson's."

LaRocco tried to depict Chenoweth as a radical who wanted to mine the Sawtooth Wilderness, but it didn't work. A late-breaking story about an affair that LaRocco had six years ago with a woman who worked at his brokerage firm apparently had a major impact on the outcome. He achieved a 46 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters in 1994.

With LaRocco's defeat, environmentalists lost their only friend among the state's congressional delegation. Republican Sens. Larry Craig and Dirk Kempthorne, and Rep. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, all earned a "zero" rating from the League.

Overall, Idaho seemed to join the general anti-Washington D.C., anti-Clinton, anti-Democratic feeling among voters that swept the nation.

"It may have been more of a feeling of "throw out the bastards' more than anything else," says John Freemuth, a Boise State University political science professor. Freemuth notes that EchoHawk lost by a larger margin than LaRocco, "and there weren't any concerns about his character."

Under a new law, Idaho allowed voters to register on the day of the election, boosting turnout to 70 percent, up 10 percent from the last off-year election in 1990.

"I don't know if this election is an indication of an anti-conservation feeling among the voters or the side-effect of something else," says Idaho environmentalist Pat Ford. "But we got absolutely bombed."

With retiring Democratic Gov. Cecil Andrus out of the way, Republicans may try to push issues blocked by vetoes in the past. They include regulatory takings legislation, a bill blocking environmentalists from bidding on state leases for purposes other than livestock grazing, and legislation weakening the state's water quality standards.

At the federal level, environmentalists expect Idaho's delegation to craft a small wilderness bill that releases most of Idaho's 9 million acres of pristine national forest land for logging and development. All of the statewide Republican candidates in Idaho talked up a neo-Sagebrush Rebellion, calling for the release of federal lands to the state and private interests.

Freemuth says he expected to see that issue gain more attention in the West, but "just like the Sagebrush Rebellion in the '70s, that issue is more about re-centering the federal land-management agencies than selling off the federal lands."

As tempting as it may be for Republicans to roll environmentalists on a host of issues, "they ought to be careful," Freemuth says. "For every action, there's a reaction."

These stories were written by Paul Larmer, Paonia, Colorado; Kathie Durbin, Portland, Oregon; Todd Wilkinson, Bozeman, Montana; Tony Davis, Albuquerque, New Mexico; Steve Stuebner, Boise, Idaho; and Jon Christensen, Carson City, Nevada.

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