The White House had barely announced Jimmy Carter's visit to Wyoming when the office of Gov. Ed Herschler made it known he had not been invited to meet the president. Carter was thus rudely reminded of the almost insurmountable problems he faces here in the Rocky Mountain states. Not only does he have no personal following in the area, not only did he lose every state in the region in 1976, but local leaders of his own party now seize every possible chance to put distance between themselves and him as well.
Most of the trouble arises from circumstances. Democrats have recently wrested power from the Goldwater Republicans who used to rule the roost in those parts. Along with Wyoming's Herschler the governors of Colorado (Richard Lamm), Montana (Tom Judge), Idaho (John Evans), New Mexico (Jerry Apodaca), Arizona (Bruce Babbitt) and Utah (Scott Matheson) are all Democrats.
The Democrats came to the fore in the Rocky Mountain states on the strength of two, largely negative, issues. First, they opposed rapid development of local water and mineral resources for the benefit of other parts of the country. Last week, for example, the theme of a meeting of Western governors at Vail was "the second war between the states," and Lamm declared that "the chief area under attack" is "the West."
Secondly, they identified slow growth with conservative fiscal policies so popular in the region. The Democrats who led the recent surge - former Gov. Calvin Rampton of Utah and Cecil Andrus, the former Idaho governor who now serves as secretary of interior - were notoriously tight-fisted with public money. Lamm, the Republican turned Democrat who now governs Colorado, put through the legislature, a year before anybody ever heard of California's famous Proposition 13, a limit on annual increases in state spending.
Those negative positions were particularly attractive when Republicans were in the White House. Presidents Nixon and Ford kept farm prices high and money rolling in for water and reclamation projects. The local Democrats could thus rail against rapid growth and government spending without having to bear the real burden that slower growth and less spending placed on agriculture, mining and the recreation industry.
With a Democrat in the White House that luxury is over. Carter has actually started to do some of the things the Western governors claimed to favor all along.
Thus he earned their enmity at the very start by his hit list on water projects. He confirmed their suspicions by a new water policy that features state assumption of some development costs previously borne entirely, by the federal government. The governors have now put their muscle behind a public-works bill that included money for eight of the projects on the president's original hit list, an some 30 additional projects, in the West alone, opposed by the administration.
Carter has also titled toward the environmentalists. The Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management are now considering regulations that would designate large tracts of land as wilderness areas and thus remove them from commercial exploitation. Despite their environmentalist credentials, the Western governors are digging in against those regulations.
Finally there is the new issue of energy. The Western governors want more federal funds than the Carter administration has been disposed to give to ease the impact of very rapid growth on towns that have boomed because of new oil, gas and coal strikes. They have opposed as wasteful of water the administration's proposals for slurry pipelines to transport the relatively cheap and clean local coal to other parts of the country.
Those inevitable irritations might have been eased by smooth political massage. But local governors and their aides report, as one put it, "we have no dialogue with the Carter administration."
It is typical of the lack of dialogue that Carter chose Wyoming for his vacation, for Herschler faces a difficult fight for reelection. Not only is the state Republican, but there are charges of corruptions in some of the boom towns partly growing out of a federal investigation. So of all the Western governors Herschler was the one most eager to stay away from the president.
Carter's visit, under such circumstances, will do nothing to raise his political stock in the West. "He's strictly on vacation," one Colorado official put in. When I asked a governor whether he thought Carter could now carry any state in the West, he replied: "Can he carry any state in the East?";