Western voters are facing significant issues that have been largely ignored by Mr. Trump and Ms. Clinton. At Wednesday’s debate, in the center of the Western swing states, the presidential nominees would be well served to address these issues of critical concern to Western state voters.
This election year only one presidential debate will be held in the Western United States. Wednesday’s debate, being held in Nevada, offers the candidates an opportunity to share their positions on issues of critical concern to Western swing state voters. Failure to address these issues would be political miscalculation by the presidential nominees and would disrespect Western voters.
A recent poll, the 2016 Conservation in the West Poll, found that 75 percent of voters in the West believe that issues involving public lands, waters, and wildlife are important in deciding whether or not to support a candidate, even when compared to other issues like the economy, health care and education. That same poll found that 68 percent of voters think that presidential candidates do not understand these issues. So, Western swing state voters may actually base their vote on Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton’s position on issues that they have almost entirely ignored. Wednesday is an opportunity for the presidential nominees to address the following key issues for western state voters:
1) Public Lands. The federal government owns over 47 percent of land in 11 Western states but owns only 4 percent of land in the other 39 states. In short, Western voters are disproportionately impacted by regulations affecting public lands. Western industries, small businesses, towns and families rely on a balanced and predictable regulatory structure to maintain these public lands. As just one example, the outdoor recreation economy, comprised of hunters, anglers, birders, bikers, paddlers and other outdoor enthusiasts, relies on well managed public lands in order to generate it’s nearly $650 billion regional economic impact. Radical policies affecting these lands, such as transferring ownership of federal lands, are widely opposed by Western state voters because it would drastically harm our state economies. Public lands are cherished in the West by Republicans and Democrats alike and proposals to diminish these lands would meet strong opposition.
2) Domestic Energy. Western states are rich in both fossil and renewable energy resources. The national energy debate pegs traditional energy sources against renewable energy sources. Western states have demonstrated that a balanced “all above energy” strategy benefits both the economy and the environment. Take one state as an example — Colorado currently ranks in the top 10 of all states for production of oil, natural gas, coal, wind, solar, alternative fuel vehicles usage, and energy efficiency levels. While the fracking industry is responsible for 213,000 jobs in Colorado, wind energy has become a major driver in the state’s economy and solar is the second fastest growing industry in Colorado. Western states that are embracing the “all above energy” strategy are thriving, and proving a balanced energy approach serves our national security interests and benefits both the economy and the environment.
3) Drought and Wildfire. The Western United States is in the middle of a historic drought but the issue has received scant attention in the presidential debates. Most of the American West has experienced drought in 11 of the past 14 years and the impacts on water users, particularly Western farmers, have been catastrophic. To make matters worse, the secondary impacts of this historic drought are now escalating. For instance, wildfires burned 9.1 million acres in the United States last year, with the majority of that land in Western states. The existing maze of federal and state laws and regulations perpetuate the negative impacts of the drought. The Western United States will continue to suffer without leadership addressing real issues in the West such as drought, water management and wildfire control.