Is the much-touted conservative economic revolt over in the Intermountain West? That's a question that undoubtedly has people like Republican presidential operatives and national anti-tax activist Grover Norquist worried - especially with a spate of evidence that suggests a whole new politics is emerging out here, and I'm not just talking about the region being dominated by Democratic governors (that is at least as much a symptom of the underlying phenomenon as it is the phenomenon itself).
Matt Singer over at Left in the West has a telling post up about new public opinion data from Montana, one of the central fronts in the conservative economic revolt for the last two decades. Some history before we get to the numbers: Montana was once a longtime and reliable Democratic state, but became a Republican stronghold thanks to the Reagan-inspired economic revolt which brought to prominence people like governor-turned-RNC-chair-turned-Enron-lobbyist Marc Racicot, since-unelected-and-humiliated Sen. Conrad Burns (R), and Burns' political guru/Colorado GOP chairman Dick Wadhams (known to many of us who have worked against him as simply "Dickwad").
Now, however, a new poll from Lee Newspapers suggests that revolt is over. Wide majorities in Montana approve of Gov. Brian Schweitzer's (D) progressive tax rebate and spending plans, just passed by Democrats in the legislature. Even more tellingly, a plurality of Republicans in the state approve of what happened as well.
Something similar seems to be happening here in Colorado, the home of TABOR, that icon of the right's economic revolt. Voters, as we all know, voted to temporarily suspend TABOR in 2005, and now even one of the state's most conservative voices - the editorial page of the Rocky Mountain News - seems to be grasping that massive budget cuts to state services are destructive. In a strong editorial today that is reprinted in the Sunday Denver Post as well, the paper applauds Gov. Bill Ritter's (D) efforts to better fund the state's motor vehicle division, citing long lines and wait times for the most basic of state services. Meanwhile, when a right-wing city councilor in Aurora announced plans to push the right's tired "right to work" initiative aimed at destroying organized labor, a statewide poll quickly showed that beyond liking the happy sounding misnomer "right to work," Colorado is actually quite hostile to what this conservative ploy actually does. "Opposition to the initiative is strong among Democrats," note the pollsters. "However, even a majority of unaffiliated voters oppose the measure."
Clearly, the public's rejection of the right's economic class warfare on behalf of the wealthy and subsequent waning of the conservative economic revolt as an effective political weapon has had major consequences for both political parties, and has created opportunities for a whole new kind of progressive politics.
As mentioned, the West is now dominated by Democratic governors. And in many places, state Republican parties are decimated. In Montana, for example, the state's largest newspaper has declared the GOP is "reeling" and in need of a "repair job." One of the party's own senior state legislators told the paper his party "need[s] to move toward the middle - in the mainstream" - an admission that the GOP has been taken over by its fringe. Similarly, in Colorado, Wadhams - the self-trumpeted political guru - is actually conceding that there's probably no chance for him to actually succeed in the 2008 legislative elections. (In some ways, Wadhams admission of ineptitude shouldn't be surprising: Though the media in Colorado continues to fawn all over Wadhams as some sort of genius, we should remember that it was Wadhams who not only comandeered Sen. George Allen's transformation from leading presidential candidate into political cautionary tale, but it was also Wadhams who engineered Burns' pathetic 2000 reelection showing, - a Wadhams special where he guided a two-term Republican senator in what was then a staunchly Republican state into a near-loss to Schweitzer - an unknown farmer who had never run for political office before).
The new progressive politics that is changing the West's political direction is being fueled by outside pressure groups, which are using national issues to further expose the right's economic revolt for the fraud that it is, and to use economic outrage for the progressive cause. Take Progress Now's new "Iraq Tax" campaign, that shows how the Iraq War is actually a massive tax on Colorado residents. This campaign was originally aided by the Progressive States Network's Anti-Iraq Escalation Campaign, which engineered the introduction of anti-escalation state resolutions in 29 states, and generated significant local media both in Colorado and in other states about the real cost of the war. This theme was recently echoed in a speech on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol by Michael Moore, who essentially said the Iraq Tax proves that this country can, in fact, afford basic necessities like universal health care, and proves that the right's claim that every basic government service is unaffordable is a lie.
Obviously, the West is a region in flux, and it is going to take a sustained effort to continue beating back the right's tactics. The conservative elites in this region's Republican Party hierarchies, corporate boardrooms and think tanks aren't done waging their class war by a long shot. Additionally, there are no silver bullets in this battle, as there are a whole host of reasons as to why the right's economic rhetoric has become so politically impotent in the last few years, ranging from regional population changes to overall Bush fatigue.
But it is clear that above all else, in this region - as in many other regions in this country - the public is starting to see the conservative movement for what it is: A failed experiment whose K Street-cloistered elites and whose top-down models have championed policy prescriptions that are wholly out of touch with ordinary folks daily lives. And the more these elites and their Wadhams-style yes-men keep digging in, the more opportunities there will be for progressive victories.
Originally posted today at Working Assets