Western elections wrap-up

Red states get redder, while key Senate seats stay blue

  • A Sarah Palin cutout on display during an October Tea Party Express rally in Phoenix. Palin endorsed candidates from Arizona to Alaska, but some of her highest-profile picks, like Nevada's Sharron Angle, lost.

    Joshua Lott/Getty Images
  • Doc Hastings, who will likely become chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, sums up his position: "The livelihoods of rural communities, especially in the West, are dependent on the smart use of our public lands, water, timber, minerals and energy resources."

    House Natural Resources Committee
  • California Prop. 19, which would have legalized marijuana, went down, 54 percent to 46 percent.

    Cannabus Culture/ Flickr CC

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Latino vote gets stronger
As the Tea Party's name sort of implies, that movement -- the modern version -- began as a champion of federal fiscal restraint, cutting government spending and taxes and pushing free-market capitalism. The movement has since given sanctuary to fringe elements that have no clear connection to those principles (such as the "Birthers" who think President Obama is a foreign-born Muslim socialist). It has also enthusiastically embraced the anti-illegal immigration, border-security cause. Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- notorious for his harsh views on illegal immigration -- became a regular on the Tea Party campaign circuit, stumping for Angle in Nevada and Tancredo in Colorado, among other candidates. Palin also endorsed Tancredo, whose entire reputation is built on being tough on illegal immigration.

But the more vitriolic anti-immigration rhetoric hurt some Western candidates. Angle ran ads that played on fears of undocumented immigrants, even as Reid promised to push centrist comprehensive reforms of immigration policy; Reid got about two-thirds of the Latino vote in Nevada. In California, Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer fended off a challenge from Tea Partier Carly Fiorina with the help of two-thirds of the Latino vote. And the Latino vote also played a big role in the Colorado Senate race: Four years ago, in his role as Weld County District Attorney, Republican Ken Buck demonized undocumented immigrants, sparking a furor. In his bid for the Senate this year, Buck only got 20 percent of the Latino vote, an important factor in his loss to Bennet.

Latino voters have many concerns besides immigration policy, of course -- surveys find that education, health care and the economy are much higher priorities. That politicians should heed this powerful group of voters was also demonstrated by the election of two new Western governors: Brian Sandoval in Nevada and Susana Martinez in New Mexico, who are both Republicans.

Ballot measure weirdness
California voters, tired of gridlock, ended a longtime requirement that each annual budget had to be approved by two-thirds of the Legislature: They passed a ballot measure allowing a simple majority to approve a budget. But they also OK'd a ballot measure saying it will no longer take a simple majority to impose a new tax or fee; now a two-thirds majority is required for that.

California voters also fell a few tokes short of passing a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for more than medical purposes.

An Arizona ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana was also falling short, just barely, as we went to the printer. Arizonans also rejected a measure that would have made hunting a state constitutional right, but passed measures against affirmative action and national health-care reform.

On taxes, Robin Hood got the thumbs-down in Washington, as a ding-the-rich ballot measure (similar to one that passed in Oregon earlier this year) failed. But Colorado voters, worried that government services would be strangled, rejected three measures that would have cut their taxes by billions of dollars.

The National Association of Realtors, based in Chicago, spent about $2 million pushing a Montana ballot measure to change the Montana Constitution so that the state and local governments can never impose a tax on real estate deals. Montana has no such tax, and the Legislature wasn't seriously considering imposing one. The Realtors' campaign budget, huge by Montana standards, bought a ton of TV ads, and there was no organized opposition; real-estate-transfer taxes simply haven't been a statewide issue. So the ballot measure passed easily, and now Montana's Constitution -- an idealistic document in general -- will have a new clause about personal profits on real estate.

The road to 2012
Many of us can remember a time when one of the best things about Election Day was that it signaled the end of campaigning, at least for the next year. Now we don't even expect to get 12 months of relief, especially in the West. If one thing was made clear by the 2010 elections, it was this: The West remains swing territory. And because the West's voters are in play, what was once flyover country is now one of the hottest places for national political battles. The good news is, politicians will finally give the West the respect it deserves. The bad news? The 2012 campaigns -- and the new attack ads -- will be coming to an airwave near you before you know it. Beware.

Update 11-23-2010: Some close races weren't decided when we published our elections wrap-up. As the vote counts and recounts tallied up, Arizona voters narrowly approved a ballot measure for medical marijuana. Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski's unusual write-in campaign beat Tea Partier Joe Miller, and Colorado Republicans took control of the state's House of Representatives. (But legal challenges might keep some of those outcomes up the air for a while longer.)


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