Politics Out West; Defying a brand, the maverick Mountain States spice their conservatism with a liberal dash of environmental action
Labeling the politics of a Western state is like branding a maverick. You know it's a calf, but you're not sure whose.Skip to next paragraph
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This is particularly true in Arizona, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming. Every one of these states has a Democratic governor. But only in New Mexico does the same party control the legislature. In the other five, the people have put a Democrat in the executive chair while electing Republican majorities to both legislative branches.
The six states have shown more consistency on the national level. In 1980 they were solid for Ronald Reagan. And in recent years they have elected eight Republicans to four Democrats to the US Senate and 10 Repubicans to six Democrats to the US House of Represenatives.
What will these states do this year? Will President Reagan's cliff-hanging economic program be a key factor in 1982 races for governor, senator, and US representative?
Reaganomics and the administration's record as a whole will figure in some races, say longtime observers in each state, but in very few will they be key factors.
Like other Americans, Westerners are concerned about inflation, unemployment, federal-state relations, defense, and foreign policy. But people in states like Colorado and Wyoming are just as concerned with the challenges of growth and the pressures that come with development of their great natural resources.
The awakened awareness of the need to control growth, conserve land and water , and protect the environment is sharper now than when it helped elect people like Colorado's Gov. Richard D. Lamm (1978) and Sen. Gary Hart (1980).
In a region that is historically conservative and individualistic, successful Democrats have to prove that their philosophy responds to that ethos. But Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt of Arizona is expected to be reelected this year as much on the basis of his forceful conservationist record as on his ability to accommodate political conservatism.
Four of the six states have picked up a seat in the US House of Representatives as a result of the 1980 Census -- Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. Tentative prospects are that the GOP will win three of these new seats to the Democrats' one. Add at least one turnaround in the Republicans' favor, and it is possible the area could add five or six members to the party's minority in the US House.
The US Senate picture is quite different. Three members of the thin GOP majority -- Sens. Orrin G. Hatch of Utah, Harrison Schmitt of New Mexico, and Malcolm Wallop of Wyoming - appear vulnerable. But incumbent Democratic Sens. Dennis DeConcini of Arizona and John Melcher of Montana seem fairly secure.
Three of the six Democratic governors are seeking reelection and favored to win. Two other Democrats are in mid term, and the sixth is barred by law from succeeding himself.
Here is an early look at races that are shaping for summer and early fall primaries: Arizona
Democratic Gov. Bruce Babbitt, who succeeded to the office in March 1978 and was elected in his own right the following November, is seeking reelection to a second full term. He has articulated and fought for a program that seeks to balance growth with conservation of resources, especially water, and protection of the environment. The word is that Mr. Babbitt will be hard to beat. State Senate President Leo Corbett is considered the Republican most likely to win the right to attempt to unseat Babbitt.
Democratic US Sen. Dennis DeConcini is considered safe for reelection next fall. With the June 24 primary filing deadline still a long way off, it is not clear who his possible Republican opponent will be.
Republican Rep. John J. Rhodes, former US House minority leader, masterminded Arizona's congressional redistricting this year. One result: Although Democratic US Rep. Morris K. Udall is almost certain to return to Washington, his old Tucson district has been broken up and he will have to choose between two less politically cohesive ones. With formerly Democratic Rep. Bob Stump switching to the Republican Party to run for reelection, the GOP seems certain to pick up one House seat in the state - possibly two, changing the Arizona lineup from two Democrats and two Republicans to four Republicans and one Democrat. A 3-to-2 lineup in favor of the GOP is considered more likely, however. Colorado
As in Arizona, says one local observer, ''people are more inclined to control growth, slow it down'' in Colorado. Democratic Gov. Richard D. Lamm, seeking reelection to a second term, is considered to have two major assets: He is still perceived as a leader who can balance the need for economic growth with the desire to preserve the qualities that make the state a good place to live; and, although he has disappointed Colorado's environmentalists in some respects, he retains their support.