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4 minute read

From San Francisco Bureau Chief Joseph Boyce:

From the lush San Joaquin Valley in California to the Rocky Mountains, much of the West is suffering from severe drought. Worst hit is California, where the lack of significant rainfall since the autumn of 1975 cost farmers and ranchers an estimated $437 million last year, and snowless ski resorts have lost $7 million so far this season.

Of course, no new Administration can be expected to provide relief from the choking dust and cloudless skies. But Westerners are looking for at least some help from Washington in protecting their lands and livelihood. Said Ron Francis, director of the Denver-based American National Cattlemen’s Association: “We are against Government support in general. We support the law of supply and demand, but we need price support and emergency livestock loans.” In Douglas County, Wash., Rancher Gary Dalin swelled with pride because his 16-year-old daughter Heidi had just been named local Beef Princess. But in other respects he bemoaned the farmer’s lot. Said he: “Just when the price begins to get a little better, we’re seeing cows coming in from Canada and Mexico and frozen beef from Australia.”

If ranchers and farmers want Jimmy Carter’s Administration to help in some areas, they emphatically want it to leave them alone in others. Outside Del Rey. Calif.. Harold Shidan, 57, a stocky raisin grower, faulted Carter for endorsing the state’s unsuccessful attempt to settle the three-way labor battle between the growers, the Teamsters Union and Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers. The proposal that Carter supported would have permitted union organizers to campaign on growers’ property and would have mandated secret elections for union representation. Shidan griped that he has had to pull up seven acres of plum trees because, at $2.75 per hr. for a migrant worker’s labor, he could not afford to harvest them. “The politicians should stay out of it.”

Other farmers want the Federal Government to ease up on land-use controls. This view is not shared by another powerful Western interest group, the environmentalists. Noting that vast areas of the West are owned by the Federal Government—up to 85% of Nevada —Bill Press, director of California’s Office of Planning and Research, declared. “There is a need for the Government to get its own house in order: forest, grazing land and desert. As of now, the Feds have no real land-management policy.”

Second only to drought as a major worry, both on and off the farms, is the economy. Hamilton Cloud. 24. a black Yale graduate who earns less than $12,000 a year as a radio producer in Los Angeles, complained that he cannot afford to get married because of inflation. Said he: “I’m still getting used to the idea that things will never be cheaper than they are now.” Other people in the West voice the almost universal American litany of worries: street crime, poverty and unemployment.

No sensible Westerner expects Carter to solve these problems in four or even eight years. Besides, the West was solid Ford country in November’s balloting. But a cautious, watchful and yet growing optimism permeates the region. “The state of the nation is good.” said Dan Evans, the outgoing Governor of Washington. “The federal system is returning to the concepts of our forefathers.”

Westerners are attracted by Carter’s modesty in acknowledging that he does not have all the answers. Said Seattle Housewife Ginna Dunn: “I think the Carters are sensible, responsible people. I think with Carter we can begin to have faith in something again.” John De Luca, director of the California Wine Institute, believes Carter’s “emphasis on the family, religion and the work ethic may be the most important thing he has to offer.” What if the new President fails to live up to his promise? Westerners believe that the nation will endure, just as it did in the years of Viet Nam and Watergate.

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