Last Updated:November 28 @ 09:49 am

West continues leftward shift

By Associated Press

DENVER - A political generation ago, the West signaled the nation's rightward swing - from the emergence of Ronald Reagan to the success of tax-limitation ballot measures in California and Colorado. But now the fabled expanse of jagged peaks, arid deserts and emerald coastlines is trending in a different direction.

From Washington state - where voters in November legalized marijuana and upheld the legality of gay marriage - to New Mexico, once a hotly contested swing state that Republicans ceded to Democrats in the presidential campaign, the West has become largely Democratic terrain.

There are, as always, exceptions. Lightly populated Idaho and Wyoming remain strongly Republican, as does Utah. And Democrats are struggling in Arizona, where a bruising immigration debate has given Republicans a lock on statewide offices but may provide Democrats an opening by firming up their support among the state's growing Hispanic population. Still, the overall trend is clear, according to analysts on all sides of the political spectrum.

"It's just a different world," said Bill Carrick, a veteran Democratic strategist in Los Angeles who has worked widely in the region. "Nevada became the next California and now Arizona looks like it will become the next Nevada. ... It's just pushing the West further and further from Republicans."

The shift is due to a combination of factors: the fusion of the region's libertarian spirit with both an influx of transplants from more liberal states seeking a better quality of life, and a growing immigrant population alienated by increasingly hardline Republican immigration proposals.

"Look at the migration patterns," said Sig Rogich, a Republican consultant in Las Vegas who worked on Reagan's presidential campaigns. "You're seeing the aftermath of a new generation of young men and women whose parents moved westward."

Politics is different in the region. Western states generally have weak political parties, part of the legacy of their political maturation during the progressive era at the start of the 20th century. Most local elections are nonpartisan affairs and voters often have the right to unilaterally set policy via ballot initiative. Western voters have long cherished nonpartisan independence, even when they voted a relatively straight party ticket.

"The West is the most American part of America," said Dave Kopel of the Independence Institute, a libertarian think tank in Denver. "It is a place where you have much more respect for individual choice and you have more ability to be who you want to be."

During the 1980s and 1990s, that libertarian streak fed a series of Republican victories as voters approved tax-limitation initiatives, protested federal environmental regulations and kept statehouses firmly in the GOP's hands. But nowadays it means something else, Carrick said.

"The libertarian thing is no longer about property rights or gun rights," he said. "It's now about letting people live their lives as they choose."

Ironically, Republicans' success may have contributed to that shift. The party managed to enshrine staunch anti-tax measures in several states' constitutions through ballot initiatives, making it very difficult to raise taxes in California, Colorado and Washington state. As a result, Democrats can't easily raise revenue - but they also can't be attacked for doing so, said Ron Dotzauer, a Seattle-based Democratic strategist. "They can't be defined as the pro-tax group because they can't tax," he said.

There are prominent Republicans who demonstrate that the party can still win the region. Brian Sandoval in Nevada and Susana Martinez in New Mexico are popular Republican governors, but their relatively moderate stances often put them at odds with the national party. Both, for example, just agreed to the Medicaid expansion under President Barack Obama's health care plan, something that is anathema to many conservative Republicans.

"People appreciate a leader who takes more pragmatic approaches," said Nicole McCleskey, a New Mexico-based GOP pollster who advises Martinez. She argued that Democrats' success in the region is overstated and noted that, outside of California, Republicans in 2012 only lost one Western congressional seat. As an example of how Republicans can succeed, she cited New Mexico, where the party picked up seats in the state Legislature despite the Obama wave.

But McCleskey acknowledged that New Mexico Republicans were helped by the national GOP basically giving up on the presidential race in the state. GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney did not contest the state, minimizing the damage of a divisive presidential campaign.

"We were able to localize a lot of these races and build on the change that has taken place with a strong Republican governor," she said. "Republicans fought on state issues and the Democrats tried to fight on national issues."

Jill Hanauer is a Democratic strategist who engineered her party's takeover of the Colorado state Legislature in 2004. She agrees with McCleskey that the West cannot be considered a Democratic lock.

"The reason Democrats or progressives are winning is that Republicans got fat and happy," said Hanauer, who is now president of Project New America, a political data and strategy company in Denver. "The worst thing that can happen for Democrats is to take it for granted."

In 2002, Ruy Teixeira, a Washington, D.C.-based Democratic strategist, co-wrote "The Emerging Democratic Majority," which predicted that demographic and social trends would turn parts of the country that were deep red, like the interior Mountain West, into Democratic-leaning states. The book was published shortly after Republicans took back the U.S. Senate in the 2002 midterm elections and was received skeptically.

Last year, Teixeira and a bevy of other researchers published a new book on the Mountain West as America's new swing region. Now there was little pushback.

Teixeira said the West's shift has been dramatic because of the heavy migration to the region. Another factor is the ballot initiative process, which magnifies political trends by making it easier to enact dramatic policy changes like marijuana legalization.

But he argued in an interview that what's happened to the West is not very different from what's taking place across the country. Surveys for his book last year found it only slightly more libertarian on social issues and holding similar views toward government and taxation as other parts of the country. That, he said, is bad news for Republicans - their problem is national, not regional.

"It's not like there's something in the water in state X that's making them harder for Republicans," Teixeira said. "It's just the same series of changes that are working themselves out in all states."


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  1. BobinmsComment by Bobinms
    January 26, 2013 @ 10:21 am

    And yes, like their role model California they now have high unemployment, huge illegal alien populations, open pot commerce, etc. That’s progress.

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  2. GHUComment by GHU
    January 26, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    So as the anti-Constitution, anti-God, corruption and immorality increases, so goes the country to the Democrats! What a legacy for the Party of Death. What does this say about the people of the USA?

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    • IdaraeComment by Idarae
      January 26, 2013 @ 11:33 am

      I don’t believe the Republicans have fallen, they are only re-grouping to get rid of the RHINO’s The majority of the Repub’s are more teaparty than Rep.,the party left us.It is time to get back to the CONSTITUTION, However, I believe it is to late to “clean up” America the EVIL,GREEDY MEN have had controll along with thier puppet Masters(big bankers) to long it has turned into an “EVIL” country, with both parties playing a part.My advice is “Open your Bible and read ROMANS 10:9&10″ AND DO WHAT IT SAYS,THAT IS THE ONLY HOPE FOR IT’S PEOPLE.

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  3. CliffystonesComment by Cliffystones
    January 26, 2013 @ 11:30 am

    “The libertarian thing is no longer about property rights or gun rights,” he said. “It’s now about letting people live their lives as they choose.”

    I submit that both are, and always have been one and the same. My Mother’s motto growing up was “This is my house, and I’ll do as I damn well please!” She even had a plaque on the wall stating the same. They were Southerners, but raised me in downtown LA in the 60s and 70s.

    One thing none of the commentators like to talk about is the fact that CA was overrun with Mexicans a quarter-century ago. But all of the Pepperege Farm, Smuckers, hayseed folks in flyover country figured “it ain’t my problem. That is until now when they have Spanish being spoken predominately in their farm towns. The “United” States ceased to be when those of us born and raised here for generations started thinking more about how much money we could make how fast and screw the other guy.

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  4. lesncComment by lesnc
    January 26, 2013 @ 12:47 pm

    As the Takers continue to overtake the Makers the country will continue to shift to the left.

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  5. steven LComment by steven L
    January 26, 2013 @ 1:59 pm

    The left, as Mrs. Clinton said herself recently, does not care about the the facts of history. Therefore history becomes irrelevant. Accordingly we should eliminate history from American school curricula. What happens in Europe being historical, our US leaders need to ignore as well. US schools will create lots of morons who are ignorant of history and only future politicians will have free reign on the country and will do whatever they want. Of course she was cynical but many are stupid enough to remember her saying that the historical facts are irrelevant! This is the only way to escape true responsibility. This is the worst possible PUBLIC teaching to our students. Bill behavior as President was also the worst PUBLIC example of failure to assume responsibility as well.

    YET THEY ARE LOVED BY THE LEFT! It gives the left good conscience and a lack of ethics. But they are the first to blame the other side for their shortcomings.

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  6. bigjackComment by bigjack
    January 26, 2013 @ 2:29 pm

    All this liberal BS is happening because of the GOP. They haven’t a clue on how to fight the socialists. It is time for a third party and fight the socialist light party as well. It will take a long time but we must get started. For a long time we have been told to try and change the GOP from within and it hasn’t worked. The ” elite ” will never give up their power and they treat the conservative republicans like the democrats treat the blacks. No it is time to abandon the GOP, they are a bunch of wimps. Most of the GOP leadership give lip service to their constituents and then cave. For fifty years I have held out hope but it has vanished, gone because of the spineless leadership of the GOP. They only do for themselves and not what is good for the country. Sorry but doing the same old same old will not cut it any-longer. Conservatives must make a clean break and go a different direction or our country is doomed, if not already.

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    • cdrcodyComment by cdrcody
      January 28, 2013 @ 1:49 am

      The country isn’t doomed, but it will be one monster of a fight to get it back.

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  7. wmaggComment by wmagg
    January 26, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    There is one hell of a difference between trending and being dragged kicking and screaming. Colorado was overrun by California years ago, most of whom brought their ideas and ideals and lack of morals with them so as to screw up Colorado just as they did California. It amazes me how people from Cali can manage to screw up every thing they touch and then act as if it’s not their fault. As for Colorado being DEM NOT TRUE, Denver and it’s suburbs are dem the rest of the state is still free and legal for the most part and we don’t depend on the votes of illegals to pass criminal acts upon the people like Denver does.

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    • CliffystonesComment by Cliffystones
      January 26, 2013 @ 6:15 pm

      Those “Californians” you refer to were the same carpetbaggers who moved to California starting back in the late 70s. We had bumper sticker in Los Angeles that said “Love (heart icon) NY?…..Take I-40 east! We were still a pretty conservative bunch. After they fouled up what was my home state so bad they moved back to La-La land and left the natives holding the bag. My wife and I relocated to CO in ’05 (NOT DENVER) to move back to the United States from Mexico. I’m as conservative as any other mid-westerner and Libertarian on a lot of issues. Separate Denver and Boulder form the rest of Colorado and it’s still a descent state. Southern CA is pretty much over with, but the Northern third still may survive. As for those who blame the people who grew up in CA well, I swear to you it’s the migrant socialists not us.

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  8. rzraickComment by rzraick
    January 26, 2013 @ 4:00 pm

    The Democratic strategist quoted in this article says “It is a different world.” But is it a better world? It is not. Things are not going to get any better while the DEMs are doing everything to win, and the GOPs are doing everything to lose.

    Taking the parties out of the equation of a moment, we can look at as Liberals vs. Conservatives. Here too we see a problem. Generally speaking, Liberals want control; Conservatives want smaller government and more individual freedom. The problem is that the control freaks are fanatics who will use any means to achieve their ends, while the true conservative rightly rejects that strategy.

    The true battle we face is between collectivists and individualists. And the problem is one of momentum. Momentum keeps things moving in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force. Nothing in the body politic can change the momentum from the inside.

    There are just a few things which can make things change direction. One is a philosophical awakening. But this is difficult to do when the controllers are in charge of education and a powerful propaganda machine. The other is outright revolution. Peaceful revolution is desirable, but when things go too far, violent revolution become inevitable. I wish there was good news in all of this, but I am unable to find it. We are in for a rough time.

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    • CliffystonesComment by Cliffystones
      January 26, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

      I perfect example of what you are saying are home owners associations. it’s a battle just telling some people to butt out and mind their own business.

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  9. JDZComment by JDZ
    January 27, 2013 @ 10:56 am

    Libertarians do not necessarily swing Democrat or Republican, but it looks like this article is attempting to overlay the liberal/progressive ideology on top of the libertarian mentality, when in reality, libertarians actually lean more conservative then liberal. The crux of the argument is ideologically based not politically based (Dem vs GOP). Libertarians do not like big government and intrusion in our individual lives, but, big government and oversight is a mainstream part of the progressive agenda. As was stated, libertarians prefer to live their lives as they choose and putting limits and restrictions on them is counter to what they want.

    California is seeing both companies and taxpayers leave the state and go to states that have lower tax structures and less government intervention in their lives. Many are going to Nevada, Texas, or Florida because they have no state income tax. Every state where the Democrats are in control are having huge financial problems because of their big government borrowing and spending policies and people are leaving and going to Colorado, Arizona, etc. as well. Are these people libertarians or independents or just going to locations where they think they will retain more of their assets both now and looking forward?

    The critical problem that our country is facing on a broad basis is the uncontrolled growth of government spurred by special interest group money and an incestuous relationship that perpetuates itself all at taxpayer expense, and it is basically bipartisan as politicians ingeneral are all at the financial wealth generating troughs created by more and more money coming into government at all levels.

    Washington DC is surrounded by the 7 highest income per capital counties in the country, now, some are exceeding even silicon valley in California. Serving the country in government used to be driven by patriotism, and those elected or working in government, recognized that basis and felt that way about their avocation, but that has changed dramatically. Much of it these days is wealth driven and career oriented which forces those going into politics to “play the game” to survive.

    Our federal government and the private community network within the beltway in Washington DC has become a 4 Trillion dollar business enterprise which is creating the highest rate of new millionaires in the country. Luxury cars, private jets, high priced boutiques, expensive resturants, etc. are all over the place and all of the money being spread around comes from taxpayers and special interest groups who are funding thousands of lobbyist groups. Because the bigger government gets the more money is infused into this “enterprise” leading to more wealth, it is an incestuous and insidious process that is raping the country while those in Washington live high on the hog. To keep this going, the federal government is borrowing 46 cents of every dollar spent and driving us into a financial disaster.

    We need to wake up the American people to what is happening in Washington and why it is almost impossible to stop by our current political system, Republican or Democrat. Those controlling the media and the election campaigns continue to make sure that anyone wanting to reform Washington never gets elected, Romney being the latest victim. The Democrats are the party of big government and have taken both states they lead nd Washington (under Obama) deeper into this disastrous chasm, but in Washington, I don’t know who to trust.

    The American people need to be educated to how off the map our federal government has gone and that it must be totally reformed from the top down in order to save the country which means a major change out of most of Congress coupled with a new administration in 2016 that will commit to this reform.

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