Democrats who thought a surge of liberal, environmentally savvy newcomers to the booming West would pump up their power in the region are getting a nasty surprise and should brace themselves for more bad news, a Denver think tank says.
Far from boosting the Democrats, new arrivals in the West are defying expectations by rejecting Democratic candidates and programs, the Center for the New West said in a report Mon-day.People attracted by the region's high-tech boom are embracing Republican-style causes, such as support for political reform, tighter purse strings and smaller government, the report says.
"Many predicted the `greening' of the West as thousands of newcomers, assumed to be Democrats, more liberal and environmentally friendly, continue to be attracted to the West by the region's booming high-tech economy," said Philip Burgess, the center's president and a co-author of the report.
"But just the opposite is occurring. The newcomers are adopting - or bring with them - traditional, conservative values of the Old West," Burgess said.
Newcomers who are thinking Republican also are voting Republican.
Instead of a growth of environmental initiatives, there has been an upsurge in support for limiting government involvement in more traditional regional industries like mining, ranching and logging.
As an example, the report points to the failure of the Clinton administration's bid to raise grazing fees that Western ranchers pay to use federal lands.
The trend also is reflected in recent elections in the region, the report says. It warns Democrats that the unpopularity of their policies in the West will be an increasingly powerful factor in upcoming nationwide votes.
"If Al Gore thinks he is heir-apparent to the presidency after Clinton, he is mistaken," the report quotes former four-term Democratic Idaho Gov. Cecil Andrus as saying. "Gore is not going to be elected without substantial votes from west of the Mississippi River."
Since Clinton entered the White House in 1993, it notes, the number of Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives from 11 Western states has fallen from 52 to 40. The number of Republicans has risen from 37 to 49.
During that half-decade, Republicans have taken control of state legislatures, even in traditionally Democratic states such as Washington, Oregon and Montana.
And the number of Republican governors in the 11 states - Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming - has jumped from four to seven.
Burgess and his co-author, Center for the New West Executive Director Richard F. O'Donnell, predict voters in the region will elect more Republican governors this year.
They say that will affect future nationwide votes because those governors will influence redistricting after the 2000 census, when the growing West will muscle eight House seats away from other regions.
Factors in the unexpected failure of Democratic candidates and their policies include a decline of organized labor in regional industries, the report says.
The report says the West has always drawn people who are wary of government and that many migrants to the suburbs of cities like Denver, Phoenix and Salt Lake City favor "traditional Western culture and ways of life."