home .

The “Anti-Politics” of the West
By Floyd Ciruli

Although the West‘s political clout has yet to reach its zenith, its political model already has had a tremendous impact on American politics. Most influential are the personalities of Western leaders and the region’s “anti-political ways” which support policies that constrain political parties and political leaders.

Westerners like to vote for politicians who seem independent, flinty, frugal and genuine. In Colorado’s 1996 U.S. Senate race, Wayne Allard triumphed over Tom Strickland because, in the words of Allard campaign manager Dick Wadhams, “It was the veterinarian versus the lawyer-lobbyist. Westerners vote on values and not issues, and the electorate saw the veterinarian as a downhome sort of person who shared their values – unlike the lawyer-lobbyist, who voters equated with political power and politics.”

In the West, Arizona1s Barry Goldwater and California’s Ronald Reagan realigned the Republican Party away from Wall Street and the Northeast establishment toward Main Street, which embraced an anti-Washington, social conservative edge. They succeeded in establishing this new conservative paradigm in the West because it embodies wholesome Western values. Their successors in the Republican Party do almost anything to claim the “Reagan Mantle.” Example: Dan Quayle now lives in Phoenix, which is a lot closer to Reagan Country than Indiana.

The list of Western Democratic governors who invented a new paradigm for their party includes Lamm, Brown, Andrus, Herschler, Judge, Rampton and Matheson. These Democrats governed in states often dominated by tight-fisted Republican legislatures – not unlike Clinton’s situation today. These governors were so far from Washington, D.C.-style liberalism that it was often hard to tell if they were actually Democrats or Republicans – again, not unlike the path President Clinton followed since the 1994 election.

The West not only lends these personalities to the nation’s politics, but also an anti-politics range of issues. Westerners have led the nation in advancing just about every political reform that in some way constrains political parties, hems in political institutions or otherwise limits the exercise of governmental power.

Sunset laws, sunshine laws, legislative reform, term limits, tax limitations, initiatives and referenda – all are political reforms with Western roots. Term limits started in Colorado and spread through the West. Of the 21 states with term limits on their state legislatures, 10 are in the West.

From California’s Proposition 13 in 1978 to Colorado’s tax-limitation initiative in 1992, the West leads the nation in imposing controls on taxing and spending by state governments. These efforts come from groups of citizens getting together to limit the power of political institutions. Whether it is English Only laws, repeal of affirmative action or forbidding city councils from expanding certain benefits to gays and lesbians, most successful ballot initiatives have one overarching goal – to constrain the power of representative government.

Lottery Proceeds
For instance, in 1994 Colorado voters passed the Great Outdoors Colorado Program (GOCO) that mandated all proceeds from the state lottery go to investment in open space. As Colorado State Treasurer Bill Owens notes, “The voters sent a clear message that they would not tolerate the legislature’s using lottery proceeds in a way contrary to the wishes of the voters. The voters had made it clear they wanted the money to go to parks, while the legislature had previously used some of it for prisons and infrastructure.

“By passing GOCO, voters took away from the legislature the ability to appropriate funds”, says Owens.

Westerners tend not to like or trust Washington, D.C. In an attempt to “do something” about Washington, they pass laws aimed at the nation1s capital that end up limiting local and state politicians. For instance, most Westerners voted for term limits not because they were dissatisfied with state legislators serving out long terms in the state house, but because they wanted to restrict career Beltway politicians.

Floyd Ciruli is president of the polling & public opinion research firm of Ciruli Associates in Denver. Center for the New West * Western Political Outlook * SUMMER 1998



©2000 Ciruli Associates
All rights reserved.