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for people who care about the West

The West: A New Center of Power

Moderation in the pursuit of office is no vice, and nine other lessons to take away from the midterm elections


There was certainly no lack of color.

Jon Tester, a 50-year-old farmer running against Montana Republican Sen. Conrad Burns, got hit with especially ugly attack ads in the run-up to the November elections. Authentically rural as they come, Tester lives on the farm homesteaded by his grandparents and told Time magazine, "I do some of my best thinking on my tractor." But because Tester raised some campaign money in San Francisco, Republican mailers hammered him as a pawn of Left Coast hippies. The ads — starring goofy longhairs who wore psychedelic, pot-leafed outfits and flashed peace signs against a Golden Gate Bridge backdrop — warned Montana voters that Tester "is as liberal as his supporters."

In the battle for Wyoming’s lone U.S. House seat, Republican ads also used the dreaded Golden Gate Bridge image, this time to bash Democrat Gary Trauner, charging he was nothing more than a stooge for Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, who hails from San Francisco. The race got so intense that, after a three-way debate, Libertarian Party candidate Thomas Rankin, who has multiple sclerosis and rolls around in an electric wheelchair, complained that Republican incumbent Barbara Cubin had snarled, "If you weren’t sitting in that chair, I’d slap you across the face." (Pressed for comment, Cubin insisted she’d only told him that if he’d been as rude to other people as he had been to her, "they probably would have smacked you.")

In Colorado, someone illegally tapped an FBI crime database to make an ad attacking the Democratic candidate for governor, Bill Ritter. The ad was sponsored by Ritter’s opponent, Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez, who, ironically, has voted for crackdowns on database leaks. Beauprez would only say he’d gotten the data from an "informant," and federal agents launched an investigation.

An alluring ballot measure in Arizona proposed to enter all voters in a special lottery that would award a $1 million prize. The measure’s creator, Mark Osterloh, said it was intended to increase voter turnout. He ran no ads but promoted his voter lottery with an appearance on the comedy-news TV program The Daily Show, and 413,052 Arizonans voted for it. Still, twice as many voted no, apparently fearing it would, somehow, further corrupt the electoral process.

Some races finished so close and Third Worldish that every vote had to be counted by hand, and it took days to declare a winner. All the same, all around the West, whether by a fraction of a percentage point or a landslide, most all of the individual races in this most contentious and entertaining midterm election have been decided. But what do the results add up to for the region as a whole?

These 10 electoral takeaways, at least:

1) The West has arrived.

Western voters and leaders now wield unprecedented power nationally. That fact began to surface during the campaigns, as George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Dick Cheney, Al Gore, Barack Obama and other celebrities kept popping up around the West, wooing voters to support House and Senate candidates in such political hot spots as Billings, Mont., and Elko, Nev.

The national attention is partly a function of the region’s growth. Since 1960, the West’s population has soared, and so has its House delegation; 66 Western House seats have become 95, taking power from other regions and states that lost seats. (The House total is fixed at 435.) The West’s higher profile is also a function of chance and the quirks of partisan perception and balance; this year, for example, a narrow victory in Montana was given credit for tipping control of the Senate to the Democrats.

The West’s influence will become obvious when the next session of Congress convenes in January. California Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi will be Speaker of the House, and Nevada’s Harry Reid will be majority leader of the Senate, thanks to Tester’s Montana Senate victory, achieved by less than 1 percent of the votes cast. Anyone remember the last time Western politicians held the top posts in the House and Senate? I hope not, because it’s never happened. Never.

With two Westerners steering federal lawmaking, expect Western issues — public-land management, the rush in oil and gas drilling, salmon declines and immigration across the Mexican border, among others — to get more attention in Congress. Beyond policy, the West’s increasing political power will also show in the selection of the Democrats’ next presidential candidate. Nevada has wrangled its way into the front end of the 2008 Democratic process: Its caucuses will come right after Iowa’s and just before the New Hampshire primary, giving one batch of Westerners unprecedented say over a presidential race. It’s no accident that the Democrats are considering Denver as the site of their 2008 national convention, or that there’s talk of creating a Western super-primary; it’s all a bow to growing Western power.

2) Moderates rule.

Enough Republicans and independents turned away from the GOP’s extremist candidates to elect not only Tester, but a flock of other moderate Western Democrats, including a new Colorado governor and four Democratic congressmen who took formerly Republican seats in Colorado, Arizona and California. Also, centrist governors in Wyoming (Democrat Dave Freudenthal), Arizona (Democrat Janet Napolitano) and California (Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger) won re-election, even though their parties are in the minority in those states; they received significant support from voters in the opposite party as well as from independents.

To confirm that the West has entered an era of moderation and reduced hard-line party loyalty, examine Arizona’s House District 5, a slice of metro Phoenix that includes Scottsdale and Tempe. Voter registration on Election Day showed 139,000 Republicans, 86,000 Democrats and 87,000 independents in the district. In the past four years, the only category to increase was independents (up 11,000, chiefly because of Republican shrinkage).

The district’s Republican six-term incumbent, J.D. Hayworth, a former sportscaster, had shown himself to be consistently at the far-right edge of the right wing. This year, for instance, Hayworth voted for bills to erect a fence along the Mexican border and grant no amnesty for undocumented immigrants in the U.S., to extend Bush tax cuts despite record deficits, to make it easier to develop wetlands and log roadless forests, to cut funding for student loans, to oppose stem-cell research and to grant new tax breaks for oil and gas drillers. Arizona’s statewide daily, The Arizona Republic, endorsed Hayworth in all his previous congressional races, but this time, the Republic rejected him as "an angry demagogue" and "a bomb-thrower." Hayworth garnered just 46 percent of the vote, losing to moderate Democrat Harry Mitchell, a state legislator and ex-mayor of Tempe who supports immigration amnesty and stem-cell research and is, according to Republic editorialists, a "consensus-builder."

The increasing role of independent voters is a national trend that plays out strongly in the West. Statewide in Arizona, the percentage of voters declaring themselves independent has doubled over the last decade, to more than 26 percent. Other Western states show similar increases in independents and in party-flipping in the voting booths.

3) Westerners shouldn’t get too optimistic about change.

Some extremist and/or scandal-tainted Republicans won in the West, including Arizona’s Rep. Rick Renzi, reportedly under federal investigation for questionable land deals, and Idaho’s new Rep. Bill Sali, famously summed up by a centrist Republican Idaho legislator in this way: "That idiot is an absolute idiot." The paleo-wing of the Western GOP is by no means going to disappear.

Meanwhile, the inherent drawbacks of moderation will soon become obvious. As the newly elected centrists do what comes naturally to them — make compromises and stake out middle ground — they will waffle and sometimes abandon ambitious goals. That tendency to walk both sides of the fence shows in the policies of Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a moderate Democrat elected in 2004. Schweitzer has taken stands to protect the state’s rivers from pollution, but in his desire to boost the economy in eastern Montana, he’s also pushed a slew of fossil-fuel developments. Many of those projects promise low emissions (even if they’re based on unproven technology), but some — including a conventional coal-fired power plant in Great Falls — make no such promises. It’s just a fact: The Great Falls plant will spew out global-warming gases and mercury.

Under Schweitzer’s influence, the Montana Board of Environmental Review just set a mercury-emission standard that allows increased burning of the dirtiest coal. And his Department of Environmental Quality supports the burning of millions of tires and tons of lead-smelter slag in one cement-plant kiln, raising the hackles of environmentalists and many physicians in the nearby university town of Bozeman.

Schweitzer’s good reputation "is undeserved," says Anne Hedges, program director of the Montana Environmental Information Center, a group that focuses on state policies. "He’s worse on coal development than any Republican predecessor we can remember."

Arguably, Schweitzer’s policies are just a reflection of the lack of an overriding mandate from Western voters on the region’s signature issues. Exit polls say the war in Iraq and Republican congressional scandals persuaded Western independents and party-flippers to go Democratic. According to those polls, the environment and immigration were second-tier concerns for many voters. And unlike the Western congressional leaders in the 1960s and ’70s — including Arizona’s Rep. Mo Udall and Montana’s Mike Mansfield, the Senate majority leader for most of those years — the leaders of the new Congress have very little in the way of a track record indicating they’ll be champions in making new environmental law. Until now, of course, Reid and Pelosi lacked the power to make such a record, with anti-environmentalist Republicans in charge of Congress for most of the time since 1994. That lack of power has also obscured exactly what priorities the two leaders will set out in the next two years.

The new Congress will likely begin by tackling national issues that aren’t sure to draw a presidential veto — increasing the federal minimum wage, for instance, or allowing Medicare to negotiate with drug companies for lower prices. A few Western issues, such as an energy bill that favors wind and solar over drilling and mining, may also come to the fore. But with the next congressional election — and the race for the presidency — only two years away, the Democrats will be careful not to press too hard on "liberal" issues and risk losing their thin majority.

Westerners are likely to see congressional investigations and hearings that dig into the executive branch’s environmental actions in the region. Those probes will seek to expose how Bush appointees have pressured agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to serve industry at the expense of wildlife and air and water quality.

"The federal environmental agencies have been under siege for five years. The ability of Congress to access information, or at least have a public fight over access to information, will make a difference," says Jeff Ruch, head of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Washington, D.C.-based group that represents federal agency staffers. "But Congress is not known for its investigative acumen. It excels in jowl-shaking and piling on, reacting to facts that have been developed elsewhere. The agency staffers will now have a lifeline to Congress; they’ll have the sense that there is a forum, even if it is an illusory sense.

"But we expect the siege to continue."

And it will, as long as George Bush holds the White House and controls the executive agencies that deal with the environment.

4) Impossible dreams may not be.

Just ask Rodger Schlickeisen, head of the national environmental group Defenders of Wildlife. Alarmed by the environmental policies of Bush and the Republican Congress, he set up the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund in 2001 to get more involved in political campaigns. At first, the fund just lobbied Congress. In 2004, it worked on Democrat John Kerry’s failed attempt to unseat Bush. But in 2005, Schlickeisen surveyed the political landscape and set his sights on environmentalists’ top enemy in Congress: California Congressman Richard Pombo.

As chairman of the key House Resources Committee, Pombo, a far-right Republican, pushed bills trying to sell federal land and drill the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge while killing proposals to designate federal lands as wilderness. Most notably, he led the effort to eviscerate the Endangered Species Act.

A seven-term incumbent whose family was once the largest landowner in his farm-oriented district, located inland from San Francisco, Pombo looked unbeatable to many political experts. Reapportionment after the 2000 Census put some San Francisco suburbs in his district, but Republicans still held a 6 percent advantage in voter registration.

Schlickeisen sent in a team to do polling and focus groups in September 2005. The team found that, beneath the surface, many voters were turned off by Pombo’s extremism and by allegations that he’d misused funds and aided developers. The action fund began running TV ads that portrayed Pombo as stealing candy from babies and quoted newspaper editorials that called him "slimy" and "the Dark Knight of the Environment."

The Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund team — a field director and four college-age lieutenants — moved into the district in early spring. They set up an office suite with wall maps, computers and boxes full of detailed voter data and rented a fleet of vans to haul volunteers, who began canvassing door-to-door. The Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters, Americans for Conservation, and a small California group called Ocean Champions joined the effort. Schlickeisen also pulled in the Humane Society, because, he says, "Pombo was their biggest enemy on animal welfare."

The environmentalists’ $1.5 million anti-Pombo campaign eventually backed the ultragreen candidate who won the Democratic primary, wind-energy consultant Jerry McNerney. They were helped by Pombo’s personality. "Pombo is so damn arrogant, he refused to believe he could be beaten," Schlickeisen says. "We really didn’t have that much money for a 13-month campaign, but he wasn’t really responding."

Pombo and his party didn’t recognize the threat until October. "They poured in about a million and a half dollars," Schlickeisen says, "and they sent the vice president out, and the majority leader, and the First Lady, and Bush himself, to try to rescue Pombo." The Democrats’ national funders hung back, he says, until the final weeks, when even they realized Pombo might be beatable. "The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee finally came to the party," Schlickeisen says, "putting in a few hundred thousand dollars."

In the home stretch, the environmentalist team recruited hundreds of volunteers, ran a phone bank and knocked on 75,000 doors, making sure the right people turned out to vote. On election night, as the vote counted up to 53 percent for McNerney, Schlickeisen celebrated at the Democrat’s headquarters.

"A lot of people are declared unbeatable," Schlickeisen says. "You have to figure out whether that’s just conventional wisdom talking. You have to analyze the situation. Some people are thought to be unbeatable, and they are.

"And (with) others, there’s a hidden weakness."

(P.S.: Defenders’ Action Fund also targeted 25 other congressmen who’d voted for Pombo’s attempts to gut the Endangered Species Act and who looked vulnerable, putting money, but no staffers, into opposing them. Fifteen lost their seats, including Arizona’s Hayworth.)

5) Enemies may be allies.

Idaho’s biggest environmental group, the Idaho Conservation League, has long battled industries and their politicians — the Republicans who’ve controlled the Legislature and most statewide offices since 1994 — over water and air pollution and other green issues. But the group has also learned how to succeed in its seemingly hostile political habitat by finding islands of agreement with the other side. That openness proved more valuable than ever in this election.

The biggest threat Idaho faced at the ballot box, in the eyes of many environmentalists, was Proposition 2, a radical libertarian measure that sought to drastically limit land-use regulation. It would have forced state and local governments to pay property owners compensation for any reduction in property values caused by land-use regulations — part of a bigger libertarian campaign that pushed ballot measures against various government powers in eight Western states.

On its face, Proposition 2 appealed to Idaho’s traditional support for property rights. Two months before the election, it had no organized opposition. But Idaho Conservation League executive director Rick Johnson and others saw it would be a disaster: It would undermine not only environmental regulations, but also any regulations that protect communities from rapid growth and development that conflicts wildly with existing uses. Johnson also understood that the alarm had to be spread beyond the environmentalist ranks.

He began by shelling out about $17,000 for polling that tested how the anti-Proposition 2 message would be best framed, and what kind of spokesmen would best carry the message. Then he showed the poll results — which also suggested that voters would oppose Proposition 2, once they understood its real ramifications — to Republican leaders and representatives of major industry groups, including the state’s 800-pound business gorilla, the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry. They jumped in to oppose the anti-regulation proposition, as did other environmental groups.

"We went from zero to 100 (miles per hour) in seconds," Johnson says. His group contributed about $200,000 to the campaign against Proposition 2 — called Neighbors Protecting Idaho — and devoted four staffers to it. The Nature Conservancy — concerned about the proposition’s impacts on its many Idaho properties and the rural communities it seeks to protect — kicked in $300,000, with the Greater Yellowstone Coalition adding $150,000 and other donors eventually bringing the anti-Proposition 2 war chest up to about $800,000.

Although environmentalists largely funded it, others presented the message to voters. The ad campaign featured a dairy farmer from Melba, a rancher from Sandpoint, a Boise Chamber of Commerce representative, outgoing Republican Gov. Jim Risch and highly respected Democratic ex-Gov. Cecil Andrus. Newspaper op-eds came from a Mormon state senator and others, across the political spectrum.

Out-of-state libertarian groups pumped significant money into their campaign for Proposition 2, but they lost in a landslide, getting just 24 percent of the Idaho vote. The margin against Proposition 2 held in metro Boise and in thoroughly rural counties.

"It completely transcended the partisan goofiness," Johnson says. "And everybody (involved) liked it."

The conservation league earned respect, Johnson says, by demonstrating that it represents mainstream values and knows how to win. And the victory may encourage other broad coalitions of "enemies" to tackle issues with voter appeal, including, perhaps, state tax incentives for conservation easements and sales taxes to fund mass transit, Johnson says.

Thanks to similar coalitions that set aside disagreements among interest groups, nine of the 12 libertarian ballot measures in the West failed.

6) Sometimes you need to lose before you can win.

The moderate Democrat in Wyoming’s House race, Gary Trauner, came within 1,012 votes of unseating Barbara Cubin, out of 193,000 total votes cast. Cubin stands squarely in the Republican right wing: She has suggested selling off public lands; she wants to fence the Mexican border; she’s pushed bills against late-term abortion; and she favors "crack(ing) down on media behemoths who peddle smut on America’s airwaves."

Previously a political unknown, Trauner far outperformed initial expectations, and the voting pattern indicates that a moderate Democrat with more experience could take the seat in 2008, should Trauner decide not to run again. Trauner drew 25 percent of the votes cast by registered Republicans, according to CNN exit polls, and 71 percent of the independents.

"I think Cubin is finished," says one Wyoming lobbyist, a Democrat who asked not to be named, to avoid ruffling his targets in the Wyoming Legislature. Regardless of what the Democrats do, the lobbyist says, moderates in Cubin’s own party will bump her off in the next primary. "Her negatives are huge. She’s rude, nasty, she’s alienated a lot of Republicans, she’s even out of step with the Republican leadership in the Legislature. We actually have a moderate Legislature; the Republicans have a veto-proof majority, and every year a few in the fringe bring up abortion and gay marriage. But the leadership won’t pass any of that crap."

The "50-state strategy" of Howard Dean, head of the Democratic National Committee, beefed up campaign funding in Wyoming and other states where the party’s candidates looked like long shots. The Wyoming Democratic Party had one full-time staffer until, 13 months before the election, Dean’s group sent money to hire two more. The new staffers organized far more volunteers than had been available in recent campaigns and "really built up our ground game, the infrastructure," says Mike Gierau, state party chairman. The close results in Trauner’s race and the party’s net gain of three seats in the Legislature will encourage more viable Democratic candidates to run in 2008. Dean’s strategy "was an immense help in Wyoming," Gierau says.

7) Utah remains Utah.

Even in a November of dramatic shifts in favor of Western Democrats and moderates, Utah re-elected its two conservative Republican representatives and 30-year Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch (along with Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, who represents the pocket of liberals holed up in Salt Lake City). The partisan balance in Utah’s Legislature, which Republicans have controlled for 30 years, also stayed the same (75 percent Republican). Utah’s governor and other U.S. senator, who were not up for re-election, are also Republicans.

Utah wasn’t always locked down by Republicans. In the early 1970s, it had a Democratic governor, a Democratic senator, and two Democratic representatives who held the two House seats allotted to the state back then.

What happened?

Headquartered in Salt Lake City, the Mormon Church has long dominated Utah politics, both through sheer numbers (67 percent of the state’s population in the 2000 census) and by the relationships its leaders have had to major figures in business and government circles. And when church president Spencer W. Kimball, a moderate who issued the revelation allowing black men to be Mormons, fell ill and died in 1985, the church shifted hard to the right. The church avoids overt endorsement of political candidates, and a handful of today’s Democratic leaders are Mormon, including Nevada Sen. Harry Reid, New Mexico Rep. Tom Udall and Matheson. But the church’s conservative Republican tie is clear to members. "There was a point in the 1980s when the church hierarchy said, ‘Enough is enough; we need to go back to our religious values and bring our politics into alignment,’ " says Jeffery Sells, an associate priest at the Episcopal cathedral in Salt Lake City for 15 years, who pulled together writings from experts on the Mormon factor in the 2005 anthology God and Country: Politics in Utah.

According to Sells and other experts, the church began shunning Democratic candidates because the Democratic Party conflicted with Mormon doctrine on social issues — abortion and gay and women’s rights, among other things. "The Mormon hierarchy makes social policy via theological perspectives. And there’s much more allegiance to the chain of authority than with the pope and Catholics," says Sells, now rector of an Episcopal church in Shelton, Wash. Political leanings spread from the Mormons’ First Presidency (the church’s three top leaders, including the president) down to the next tiers (the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the Quorums of the Seventy) and then to ward bishops everywhere in Mormon country who are, Sells says, "linked by satellite TVs in virtually every ward house. They’re tightly organized, and there’s a tremendous communication link from top to bottom."

While agreeing with Sells, John C. Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life in Washington, D.C., adds, "Some of (the Mormon shift to the right) had to do with things that happened in Utah. Salt Lake City began to be a metropolitan place in the 1980s; a certain amount of cultural diversity began to appear."

Mormons closed ranks against the diversity — and the Democratic Party that supports it on a national basis. "That isn’t to say, every election in Utah is about moral issues," Green notes. "But it does give Utah that kind of stability you’re talking about."

It’s a stability that translates into this reality: Utah’s governor, both senators and all three congressmen are Mormon. Green’s surveys of voting patterns nationwide show that "in most recent elections, Mormons have been the most strongly Republican of all the religious communities in the United States." Mormons now out-Republican even white fundamentalist Protestants. In 2004, for example, various polls show they gave Bush as much as 89 percent of their vote.

8) The needy are hot.

Ballot measures to raise the state minimum wage passed by wide margins everywhere they were attempted in the West: Arizona, Colorado, Montana and Nevada. (California, Washington and Oregon have already set higher minimums.)

Also in this election, voters in California and New Mexico OK’d measures to get their states more involved in funding affordable housing projects. New Mexicans approved state funding for senior facilities. And 78 percent of Oregon voters approved Measure 44, which lets people without health insurance get cheaper prescription drugs through a prescription program for state workers.

More than a million Oregonians — including 116,000 children, seniors and people with mental illnesses — don’t have insurance for medications, says Sarah Stephan, a spokeswoman for the Measure 44 campaign. Under Measure 44, people will be able to save as much as 60 percent on the cost of medications through the large-group purchasing power of the state program. "We have the ability to negotiate directly with pharmaceutical manufacturers and big pharmacies on the prices of more than 9,000 drugs, and it doesn’t cost the taxpayer a single penny," she says. The Oregon program is a contrast to the Medicare drug coverage recently passed by the Republican Congress, which forbids Medicare from negotiating lower prices. "Oregon’s solution," Stephan avers, "is what the federal government should’ve done a long time ago."

Even in Utah, there are movements to raise the minimum wage and expand Medicaid coverage for low-income people. In fact, polls show most Utahans want Medicare to pay for eyeglasses and dental work.

9) Money doesn’t always win, but it’s nice to have.

Oregon Democratic Gov. Ted Kulongoski was outspent, 2-to-1, in his try for re-election but still crushed his Republican challenger, Ron Saxton.

In Montana, ousted incumbent Burns outspent Tester by nearly 2-to-1.

In Arizona, incumbent Hayworth also outspent his vanquisher, Mitchell, by a large margin.

Cigarette corporations and their allies burned way more money than their opponents as they tried to defeat anti-smoking measures in Arizona and Nevada. The corporations lost.

Still, in most campaigns, either the richest war chest won, or the winner had about the same amount as the loser. And the price of winning or being competitive often set new records.

Consider Hollywood producer and real estate heir Steven Bing. He put about $50 million of his own money into a ballot measure that sought to impose a new tax on California oil companies; proceeds from the tax would’ve funded alternative energy development. Other entrepreneurs, including the founders of Google, chipped in enough to bring the total campaign budget to nearly $57 million. But they provoked corporate giants: Oil companies poured in $90 million, and eventually about 55 percent of the voters decided to reject the measure. It was the most expensive ballot-measure war ever in California (and probably anywhere else on the planet).

In a similar vein, tobacco companies fought off an anti-smoking measure in California by outspending health-care advocates, $60 million to $14 million. The archconservative national Club for Growth dispatched more than $1 million for attack ads used in Bill Sali’s winning campaign in Idaho; the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee sent more than half a million and national anti-abortion groups gave $64,000, according to Sali’s opponents. Thanks to the money from outside Idaho, they say, Sali ran the priciest congressional campaign in the state’s history.

10) Western voters may be better at "the vision thing" than their national leaders.

Closest to the ground where the effects are noticed, voters continued a trend by agreeing to new local taxes to buy open space, parks, streamside habitat and trails in communities across the political and cultural spectrum (so long as local economies were healthy).

Conservation measures passed in metro Portland and Salt Lake City, in suburban Seattle, in Democratic Missoula County and Republican Ravalli County in Montana, and in many other Western locales.

"Westerners have awakened to the fact that we are environmentalists," says Pat Williams, a Democratic congressman in Montana from 1979 to 1997 and now a senior fellow at the Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Missoula. "That’s one of the things that has begun to turn the West politically."

When it comes to environmental issues, Williams says, many of the Westerners in Congress need to catch up with the people who sent them there. If or when voters make it absolutely clear the environment is a priority that their national leaders absolutely need to address, the West will have finally settled on a part of the cohesive political identity that will bring it lasting national clout.


Ray Ring is Northern Rockies editor for High Country News.

Note: the following sidebar article accompanies this feature story:

Election Roundup - Ray Ring offers a state-by-state summary of some of the more intriguing election results across the West.