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Western politicians close ranks over regional problems

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At a glance, the governors of Colorado and South Dakota are a study in opposites. Colorado's Richard Lamm is slim, baby-faced, and silver-haired. William Janklow is dark and heavyset, his face clearly reflecting the bulldog tenacity for which he is known.

At one time their politics were equally as contrasting. The pro-environmentalist Democrat Lamm hiked to the governorship on the strength of his opposition to locating the Olympic Games in Colorado. The South Dakota Republican, on the other hand, gained local prominence by prosecuting American Indian Movement defendants following the siege at Wounded Knee.

But these two politicians offer a striking example of a unique trend in the Western United States: political leaders, regardless of their party affiliation, appear to be closing ranks on a growing number of issues.

There was special significance when, at a break in last weekend's meeting of the Western Governors' Policy Office (WESTPO), Lamm walked up to Janklow and asked jokingly, ''When we first met, did you ever imagine we would be in as complete agreement on an issue as we are now?''

The South Dakotan had just given an address entitled, ''Changing Regional Economies: The West's Wealth in Perspective.'' Some of his talk could almost have been lifted from Lamm's recent book, ''The Angry West.'' This new unity appears to be the political expression of a development which pollster Peter Hart has noted: The Rocky Mountain West has replaced the South as the part of the US with unique concerns most at variance with those of the nation at large.

The problems that have forged this evolving unity and the political benefits which flow from it were illustrated by a meeting Monday in Denver between Interior Secretary James Watt and six Western governors: Lamm, Scott Matheson of Utah, Ted Schwinden of Montana, Ed Herschler of Wyoming, Allen I. Olson of North Dakota, and Bruce Babbitt of Arizona.

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