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Rise politically, the region told

To heck with states like New York, the Rocky Mountain region, if it mobilized, could be a big player in national politics, a renowned Western thinker says.

Daniel Kemmis, once the Democratic mayor of Missoula, Mont., and a former speaker of the Montana House of Representatives, told a Park City audience Monday night the states in the region do not have much influence in national politics by themselves. But if the states organized, the region could be a player, he said during a speech in the Park City Council’s chambers at City Hall.

"We’ve got substantially more (electoral) votes in the West than New York has," Kemmis said, describing the potential of a bloc of states in the West holding primaries or caucuses at the same time, early in the campaign season.

If the Western votes were more important to the candidates, Kemmis said, perhaps, the political hopefuls would more frequently address issues in the region. The presidential candidates rarely dwell on public lands and the potential of developing energy in the West, but those are important to voters in the region, Kemmis said as examples, also mentioning that Westerners prefer the feds stay out of water issues.

Speaking to about 60 people in the training program Leadership Park City, Kemmis spent about one hour, 15 minutes talking about the West and answering questions. His comments covered many of the key issues that the fast-growing region, including Park City and surrounding Summit County, is grappling with.

Kemmis called the Rockies the fastest-changing part of the U.S. and commented that the economy in the region is transforming. Before, the mining industry and others that are dependent on natural resources dominated, he said, noting that the traditional planks of the economy remain important but the region now attracts newcomers who are more concerned about the quality of life.

"The communities that are doing best in the West are the communities making themselves more and more attractive to live, raise families," Kemmis said.

He said Americans are drawn to those sorts of communities and decisions to move are made with sophistication. To those people, Kemmis said, open spaces, landscapes, vibrant downtowns and good schools are important.

His comments were well received and Parkites usually support many of the positions Kemmis took. Locally, as Summit County has boomed in the last 20-plus years, people, especially on the West Side, have embraced similar thinking. Myles Rademan, City Hall’s Public Affairs director and a key figure in the Leadership Park City program, has long been a fan of Kemmis, for instance.

"Everybody has it within their power to do something to make a community more livable," Kemmis said.

Providing more comments about politics in the West, Kemmis said Democrats who are winning office in the region are "very pragmatic." Voters, he said, do not want Republicans to hold all the seats, providing the Democrats a chance to advance in the West, a region long dominated by the GOP.

Regardless of party, Kemmis said, voters need to monitor the people in office. They are sometimes "whipsawed" by special interests, he said.

"Politicians can’t be left on their own," Kemmis said.


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