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Election 2008

Nevada Caucuses for the West

Bill Radke

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Mountains rise behind Colorado City, Ariz.
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Larry Swanson: When you look at this region, it's a region that has much richer political texture to it than what you can get in most of these sort of fast, and sort of wholesale political campaigns from these presidential candidates.

Bill Radke: So you haven't noticed the campaign conversation being much different?

Not different enough, not in the way I have seen it covered.

Let's talk about the texture of the interior West. What makes it a unique region in 2008 that merits special attention from presidential candidates.

Its one of the fastest growing regions in relative population growth. There has been a big migration shift over the course of the last 15 years and more and more people are actually moving into the interior West from surrounding states and areas. So the interior West has become fast growing. It has a fast-growing economy. In fact, the income base of the interior West is the fastest growing among all regions in the United States over the last 15 years. It's also a place that is quickly urbanizing. While, from a distance, people might think of this as a rural place and non-metro with a few big cities, the fastest growth is in small cities and in urban places. That is starting to get reflected in the changing politics in the region.

How does all this growth and mixing and urbanization affect what voters in the interior West want to hear from presidential candidates?

When you travel around, the biggest single umbrella issue in communities and areas are growth and change. People come to this region a lot of times mainly because they are attracted to the high-quality environments and the big, wide open spaces. So, if you walk in to any community in the region, they are spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about where this growth is going to go in the future, how to better manage it, what kind of place are we becoming as this change occurs. We are into this big dialog and sometimes when you overlay this with these big presidential campaigns, there is such a huge disconnect.

OK, so let's say the West was more like Iowa in the campaign. Candidates have been crawling all over the place for months, pandering to your concerns. What would candidates be talking about?

When you come to this part of the world, put on a bolo tie and cowboy boots, and it's going to sell pretty much wherever you are. Be prepared to talk substance, because you sort of tick off the area if you don't do that. I think the area is changing in terms of how it views education and the funding of education because the economy is moving away from very narrow dependence on natural resources and much more into a human- resource based economy.

The attitude toward the environment and the protection of the environment is steadily changing in the West, because so much of our growth is amenity driven. That is changing the idea that so much of the West is sort of automatically against measures to protect the environment. From state to state, you'll find increased interest in those things and also about global warming. I think all of that needs to be part of the discussion. Also, I think we have this extremely tight workforce that has developed here, although we're going into a nationwide recession. One of the things on the front burner of everybody's thinking is how to invest in those kinds of things. I think each region of the country has a way of talking about these things that are important and getting them into to these presidential discussions.

Larry, it's been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you.

My pleasure.

  • Music Bridge:
    Rockin' In Rhythm
    Artist: Slow Poke
    CD: At Home (Palmetto)
More stories from our Election 2008 series


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