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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Conservatives Take Idaho, For Example

Air Date: Week of

Reporter Jyl Hoyt of station KBSU in Boise surveys the outcome of the gubernatorial and Congressional seats which both went to Republicans in Idaho, and their projected impact on future protection of the state's natural resources. Environmental issues were key factors in deciding the fate of this western state's mid-term elections.


CURWOOD: Few of this fall's elections turned exclusively on the environment. But in the West, environmental and resource issues are often in the forefront, and they played a significant role in an number of the contests this year. The environment may have been most prominent in Idaho, where the conservative wave turned away an incumbent Democratic member of Congress and a Democrat seeking to maintain his party's hold on the Governor's office. Jyl Hoyt of member station KBSU reports from Boise.

HOYT: Logging, mining, wilderness designation, and the recovery of Idaho's wild salmon populations were at the heart of Idaho's Governor and First Congressional races. Two-term Democratic incumbent Larry LaRocco had introduced a Wilderness Bill and advocated helping salmon recover. LaRocco lost to Helen Chenoweth, a Republican with Christian Coalition support, who opposes any more wilderness designation and insists that salmon are not endangered because she can buy them in cans at the store. Steve Shaw teaches political science at Idaho's Northwest Nazarene College.

SHAW: Chenoweth reflects this kind of war on the West mentality that the West is under siege by the Clinton Administration. You know, attempted mining reform, grazing fees.

HOYT: Shaw predicts Chenoweth and other Congressional Republicans will stop mining reform, block new government regulation, and try to undo existing laws such as the Endangered Species Act. In the Governor's race, Democratic Candidate Larry EchoHawk often drew on his Native American heritage while campaigning for salmon recovery. He lost to Republican Phil Batt, a 67-year-old onion farmer who says he'll consider agricultural irrigation and timber harvesting before salmon recovery. Analyst Steve Shaw.

SHAW: I think those in the natural resource and, say, salmon recovery conservation camp, if you will, are in for a long haul now.

HOYT: Much depends on what agenda the new wave of Republican office holders pursue. Boise State University political scientist John Freemuth says Republicans in Idaho and the nation could choose to redefine the environmental debate, and combine stewardship of natural resources with economic development. Or do the opposite, and try to do such things as deauthorize national parks or wilderness areas.

FREEMUTH: The Republicans, if they want to go into kind of anti-environmental rhetoric, may find that the American people still support environmental protection. They just want it done more intelligently.

HOYT: Protecting Idaho's environment, whose beauty brings in thousands of tourists each year, is not necessarily at odds with economic development. Idaho's economy is among the strongest in the nation, which should favor incumbents. But not this election. University of Idaho political scientist Florence Heffron.

HEFFRON: The population is increasing, there is an influx of people coming from the outside. We're just bombarded, you know, by technological change. And I think change always makes people anxious and afraid. They don't necessarily know what the source of that is; they just strike out at the first target.

HOYT: And the first target in Idaho, as in the nation, was the Democratic status quo. For Living on Earth, I'm Jill Hoyt in Boise.



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