Sunday, June 29, 2008

Live from Jackson: It's "Meet the Govs"

As Tom Brokaw wrapped up this morning's "Meet the Press" interview with Gov. Dave Freudenthal and Gov. Bill Ritter, he reminded the audience that the show was not filmed on a set. Out the window was a view of the Tetons -- the real thing. A gorgeous blue-sky image, with just a hint of a haze from Western wildfires burning in Colorado and California.

"Meet the Press" is in Jackson Hole for the annual Western Governors Association conference, which starts today. Ritter and Freudenthal were up first, and then Brokaw promised us Rep. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from California later in the show. The theme of the day was the West's possible influence in the 2008 elections. To point out the political oddity that the West has become, Freudenthal pointed out that Schwarzenegger, the Republican, was more liberal that most of the Democrats elected as governors in the Intermountain West.

But back to the environment. Wildfires are not exclusively a Western issue -- just look at what happened last year in Georgia and Florida. But summers in the West means fires, whether we're in the midst of a drought or one of the wettest years in recent memory. Periodic fires existed here long before people did, and climate change, drought, and booming populations just make them worse, or at least more spectacular to the media.

Land use issues include wildfires, oil & gas drilling, water rights, wildlife management, and a host of others. As Freudenthal said this morning, the states have been cooperating on these issues for a long time, but "there's no federal partner. With this administration, the only resources they want to maximize are oil and gas."

They're maximizing them at a heady rate, with new wells going in daily in sensitive environments around the West. Oil companies are anticipating a change in the regulations with the November elections. Those changes may be huge.

Brokaw asked about V.P. Dick Cheney, who lives in Jackson Hole. Do his low approval numbers nationally hold true in Wyoming?

"Wyoming people ask, 'What happened to Dick Cheney?' " said Freudenthal. He noted that Cheney had a strong reputation as an able state legislator and U.S. Congressional rep. "His standing has declined in Wyoming," he added.

Cheney's not exactly persona non grata -- this is his home state -- but when he returns, he's not exactly treated like a homeboy hero. He's shuttled from place to place in armor-plated vehicles surrounded by Secret Service. Last week in Casper, he dropped in out of the sky to a Republican fund-raiser and then was whisked away back to his secret bunker somewhere in D.C. He comes with all the security trappings of a Third World dictator.

But Thermopolis-born-and-raised Freudenthal, more a native son than Cheney who was born in Nebraska, knows that political realities can change over time. "We'll end up being proud of Dick Cheney," he told Brokaw.

I've never been proud of Cheney and his Neanderthal politics. But Freudenthal is in this for the long haul. As he noted earlier in the interview, the state is 67 percent Republican and the last Democrat Wyoming voted for in a presidential race was Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Freudental received a lot of Republican votes in his two election runs and he'll also need those votes if he ever runs for the U.S. House or Senate. Don't know if he will, but who can tell?

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