07/16/2007 10:13 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

More Proof the West Is A Heckuva Lot More Colorful Than Red vs. Blue

From the Rocky Mountain West's Department of Shifting Politics comes dispatches out of Boise and Ft. Collins that show, once again, how fractured the old Republican coalition has become, and how many opportunities there are for Democrats - if they can shake off their Wall Street wing and embrace their populist roots.

Following news that extreme right-wing conservative Gov. Butch Otter (R-ID) is pushing a $200 million tax increase to improve his state's public infrastructure, the Idaho Statesman reports that the even more right-wing Idaho Values Alliance is attacking Otter in its latest statewide bulletin for "meekly surrender[ing]" on the issue. This is happening at the same time Idahoans for Tax Reform - part of Grover Norquist's corporate-funded anti-tax empire - is trumpeting a story on the front of its website about a group of Republicans filing a lawsuit to "force Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa to restrict Idaho's GOP primary elections to Republicans only." The Statesman's Kevin Richert says the group filing the lawsuit is ""not just trying to protect what they consider their constitutionally protected right to free assembly...They're trying to chase out the dreaded 'RINO' -- the Republican In Name Only, the conservatives' snide term for office-holders they just don't consider Republican enough."

Meanwhile, the Ft. Collins Coloradoan reports that Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO), one of the most conservative lawmakers in Congress, is joining with progressives to oppose the Army's plans to expand the 236,000-acre Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in southeastern Colorado. The most interesting part of the story is not Musgrave's sudden embrace of Democrats - a transparently political calculation clearly motivated by her fear of being tossed out of office in 2008 after narrowly surviving in 2006. What's important here is the prevalence of what I call Land Politics. Musgrave's stance puts her in a high-profile conflict with the Army - a split with the military that may make some base GOP voters uncomfortable, to say the least. Yet, to justify her position, Musgrave isn't citing moderation - she's citing her conservatism and an appeal to some of those same base GOP voters. The Coloradoan notes that her position stems from what she perceives as a "threat of eminent domain to seize ranchers' private property rights."

So, to sum up, you've got an ultraconservative governor merely considering tax increases to finance basic public investment, thus resulting in his own state's even more ultraconservative Republican Party elite potentially targeting him and his sympathizers for political elimination. At the same time, you've got one of Congress's most conservative lawmakers citing her own ultraconservative ideology as a rationale for joining with Democrats to oppose a move by the military and to attempt to halt a federal government land grab. Couple all of these Republican spasms with what the New York Times today correctly notes is the rise of the economic populist wing of the Democratic Party right when the Mountain West is most ready for that kind of message, and you've got all the makings of a totally revamped political map out here - as long as Democrats reject the hackneyed advice of their D.C. consultants that says posturing as lite Republicans is the way to victory.

So take note all you political "experts" back in Washington: While you may be paid to explain away the heartland with simplistic tales of "red" vs. "blue," this region is much more colorful.

Cross-posted at Working Assets