Redford joins Democrats in extolling West’s ‘realignment’ | VailDaily.com
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Redford joins Democrats in extolling West’s ‘realignment’

Dean Toda
Colorado Springs Gazette

DENVER – Not long ago, the Mountain West was as rock-ribbed Republican as anywhere in the country. Now comes a bunch of elected officials who have turned red states blue.

As Robert Redford once asked: “Who are those guys?”

The answer, according to a conference that began Thursday at the Colorado History Museum, is that a new generation of pragmatic, progressive leaders has emerged in the Mountain West to replace the likes of James Watt, Gale Norton and Dick Cheney, leading a Democratic surge that is a fundamental realignment, not part of a political cycle.

Part regional celebration, part political mixer, the “2009 Western Summit,” organized by an outfit called Project New West, brought representatives from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, and nary a Republican among them.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada ticked off Democratic gains in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico and Wyoming. “The Old West has given way to the New West,” said Reid, who has a foot in both eras. He said the West has always attracted “forward-thinking Americans” and would be a model for the rest of the country in the years to come.

Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter extolled the emerging New West paradigm of “balancing development with protection, with preservation and conservation.”

Ritter talked about the new energy economy of wind turbines and solar panels, and the tycoon T. Boone Pickens talked about new uses for old energy – the natural gas he owns so much of.

Also atop the guest list were U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall of New Mexico, and Mayor John Hickenlooper of Denver.

But the clear winner of the celebrity door prize was Redford, the Mountain West’s most famous resident. The actor, a longtime Utahan and environmental activist, also talked about “realignment” but said the shift was from a Manifest Destiny philosophy of exploiting the land to a new model of conservation and environmental stewardship.

And none too soon, he said; “time and resources are running out for the West.”

If there was any concern that President Barack Obama was courting a backlash by moving health care reform and other political mountains, this group didn’t show it.

Jim Messina, the Montanan who was chief of staff of Obama’s presidential campaign and is now the deputy White House chief, noted that Democrats had gone from zero of 44 Mountain West electoral votes in 2004 to 19 in 2008. He said his home state and Arizona were within reach in 2012.

He attributed the Democratic surge to candidates who have embraced the region’s increasing diversity and gotten in touch with regular folks’ values: patriotism, community and environment.


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