The results of this week's election bode well for environmental protection in Utah.
The conservationists' loudest foe was resoundingly defeated, a toxic waste incinerator was banned from Grand County by a citizens' drive, and two pro-incinerator county commissioners were driven from office.San Juan County Commission Chairman Calvin Black - well-known for many years for his harsh attacks on the "Sahara Club," "Fiends of the Earth" and other environmental devils - ran for the State Senate in District 27, trying to unseat long-time Sen. Omar B. Bunnell, D-Price.
Republican Black collected 8,160 votes, in unofficial final returns. His opponent gathered 10,221. This breaks down to 55.6 percent for Bunnell, 44.4 percent for Black.
Nationally, Republican George Bush defeated Democrat Mike Dukakis by 54 to 46 percent. So Bunnell trounced Black by a greater margin than that by which Bush beat Dukakis.
And this was in a year when Utahns voted a landslide endorsement for the Republican presidential candidate and upheld the Republican governor.
Significantly, Black was defeated in central and southern Utah, not the Wasatch Front, where public opinion polls always show strong support for protection.
In fact, Black and his friends couldn't deliver San Juan County for the Republicans in the governor's race. Black's county supported Democrat Ted Wilson over Gov. Norm Bangerter, 1,751 to 1,652, even though Bush won there. Independent Merrill Cook, generally believed to have hurt Wilson more than Bangerter, garnered 350 votes in San Juan County.
In Grand County, the heated fight over banning the toxic waste incinerator was decided decisively against the burn plant.
County residents voted to rescind a permit issued by the county. Against the plant were 63.5 percent, with only 36.5 favoring it.
Both county commissioners up for reelection - Republicans Jimmie Walker and John L. "Dutch" Zimmerman, who strongly supported the incinerator - were both swept from office. Their opponents, the commissioners-elect, had campaigned against the incinerator.
In the Second Congressional District, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, made a strong pitch for conservation. He made environmental protection a cornerstone of his campaign, refusing to waffle on his vow to try and designate 5 million acres as wilderness. True, Owens is an incumbent and incumbent congressmen always do well.
But he rolled to a victory of 112,017 to 79,982 over Republican Richard Snelgrove - a strong majority of 57.4 percent to 41 percent. (A Libertarian took the remaining 1.6 percent.)
Wilson failed partly because he would not take strong stands on some issues.
In one televised debate, he backed away from Owens' five million acres for wilderness as too much, but refused to say how much wilderness he would support. Why not come out with specifics? Why not deliver a white-paper on the environment, setting forth a list of points?
A champion carrying the environmental standard might have been a grand rallying point. At least he would have been identified with some specific issues.
I think Wilson would have done better if he had acknowledged himself as the hearty conservationist he really is. All the anti-environmentalists must know where Wilson has stood in the past, but he didn't focus the support of the pro-conservation people.
Trying to read between the lines, I suspect that Wilson was afraid of alienating southern Utah voters. In this, he may have been victimized by poor advice.
As shown by the examples I listed, a pro-environment stance might not have hurt as badly as Wilson's advisers seem to have believed.
I'm not trying to paint Bangerter as an anti-environmentalist extremist, because he isn't. But his attitude of stating his position, and letting the chips fall where they may, was brilliant.
Utah is a dynamic, diverse state. The lesson of the 1988 election is that voters are sophisticated. Their attitudes can't be pigeon-holed.
It was a mistake to assume that because somebody lives in Grand County he is in favor of development at any price, just as it would be a mistake to assume all Utahns on the Wasatch Front are ardent environmentalists.
Political leaders should realize the knee-jerk voter is an extinct beast. Utahns will answer appeals to their hearts and brains, and not to geography.