Michael Dukakis is "just what the doctor ordered," according to local Democratic leaders who met Saturday morning with the Massachusetts governor and Democratic presidential nominee.
The private, unprecedented meeting with 10 Western governors and other Democratic officials lasted nearly three hours - with Utah officials emerging in broad agreement."Western leaders and governors are both very independent and very pragmatic. What we've really decided about Gov. Dukakis is he's exactly those things - very independent and very pragmatic," State Democratic Chairman Randy Horiuchi said Saturday in a Deseret News interview. "Really, for the first time we have a presidential candidate who fits our needs and understands federal-state relations."
Dukakis, who donned a cowboy hat and was presented with a pair of cowboy boots following the meeting, declared he "loves the West" and leads in the region over Republican George Bush.
"We're ahead now, there's no reason why we shouldn't stay ahead and build on that lead, and I think it's because the people of the West are ready for change," Dukakis said.
"I think we have an opportunity to win the West, and I mean all the West."
The Harvard-educated attorney received a strong endorsement from Salt Lake Mayor Palmer DePaulis, one of three mayors participating in the round table.
"This just wasn't Mike Dukakis coming to hear from some guys and glad-hand for a while," DePaulis said. "He came very prepared."
DePaulis described the session as a lively give-and-take, with Dukakis frequently interrupting the discussion, making points and talking about his position on issues _ and how they were compatible with Western ideas.
What most impressed the Salt Lake mayor was Dukakis' "knowledge and command of Western issues" _ agricultural and rural development, energy and mining, environmental quality, water and federal-state-local issues.
"I was also impressed that he listened," DePaulis said. "We were extremely pleased with his receptivity to hearing from us _ but not without him articulating his own positions."
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, who was also at the meeting, said Dukakis differs from Utahns on gun control (Dukakis favors placing restrictions on small handguns) and abortion, "but not on many other issues will Utahns find disagreement with him."
"I think he will carry many states in the West, and I still have my fingers crossed he will carry Utah," Owens said.
Among the nearly 50 elected Democrats at the Western Issues Round Table were former presidential candidates Bruce Babbitt, the former governor of Arizona, and Gary Hart, the former Colorado senator.
Former Utah Gov. Scott Matheson, who served with Dukakis on the Water Task Force of the National Governors Association, also attended, as did gubernatorial candidate Ted Wilson.
Brian Moss, Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate, flew to Denver Friday night to join his colleagues at an elaborate reception at the Colorado Governor's Mansion, but returned to Utah to ride in a Roosevelt parade Saturday morning.
DePaulis said the $5,000-a-person reception, at which he was a "guest," raised $300,000 for the Victory Fund `88 of the Democratic National Committee.
Dukakis Saturday revealed no specific policy agreements reached with the Western officials. However, on questions of water and oil, big issues in much of the West, Dukakis said that he wanted a "national energy policy" and a "national water policy," while voicing caution about diverting water between regions.
Owens reported that following a briefing on the Central Utah Project, Dukakis said, "I'll help you with your project."
Horiuchi said discussion also focused on rural economics and the need for strong grassroots economic strategy. Dukakis said he would consider establishing a rural development fund.
"Dukakis will not, like the Reagan administration has, let the bureaucrats become too arrogant to serve the people," Horiuchi said. "He will be the kind of president who's going to break down that barrier; government will be of service to people instead of telling them what to do."
Horiuchi listed Dukakis' management style, his ability to humanize government and his sensitivity to Western issues as significant qualities the presidential candidate has to offer.
Horiuchi said he is not sure if Dukakis will be able to come through Utah before the November election, but his overwhelming endorsement by local Democratic leaders likely won't diminish.
"We have never been so excited about a presidential candidate being able to do well in Utah," said the party chairman, who heralded Dukakis for "understanding that Western issues are national issues."
"He is forward-looking enough to start developing national water policies, national energy and national industrial policies _ something we have given Ronald Reagan eight years to develop, and he never did.
"Dukakis will be a great president," Horiuchi said.
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