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Governors from 16 Western states and three territories are in Seattle to discuss issues ranging from offshore drilling to foreign trade but especially how the West can garner more clout with the federal government.

The governors, who are congregating for the annual Western Governor's Association Convention, will also discuss the Department of Energy's increasingly controversial decision to truck high-level nuclear waste through Utah and other Western states en route to its final resting place at Yucca Mountain, Nev. Utah Gov. Norm Bangerter wants to discuss proposals to assess fees to truck drivers and railroad operators who transport the hazardous material."The only way to have clout with Washington, D.C., is to band together," Washington Gov. Booth Gardner told a news conference Sunday as governors arrived for the three-day convention, and their combined U.S. Senate delegations can be a formidable force in rectifying the imbalance, he said.

"We fight amongst ourselves like brothers and sisters in a family might," but the Western states see eye-to-eye on most of the key issues and are committed to presenting a united front, said Gardner, chairman of the association.

Gardner said that with the advent of a new administration and continuing concerns over the West being overlooked by the federal government, the governors are more convinced than ever of the need to hang together.

He had kind words for both of the presumed presidential nominees, particularly his favorite, Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

"I think the West will stand to benefit regardless of which one is elected," said the Democratic governor.

Neither Republican Ronald Reagan nor Democrat Jimmy Carter seemed to remember the problems of the states when they became president, Gardner said.

Dukakis is "of a different cut . . . and truly understands" states' needs, he said. The Democratic presidential hopeful is one of a new breed of "managerial type governors" now running state houses across America, he said.

Gardner said Vice President George Bush has kept touch with the West and that California Gov. George Deukmejian and other GOP governors are delighted with his views. Deukmejian was scheduled to appear with Gardner but did not show up.

The theme of the convention is "Sharpening the West's Competitive Edge," with much of the focus on international trade, education, job training and creating new jobs.

The West historically has survived off its natural resources, such as timber, fish and minerals, but now must enter a world economy that is increasingly high-technology and information based, Gardner said.

That means states must take a different approach to education and be prepared to offer retraining to workers, he said.

The West probably would get its fair share of the world market by simply relying on its prime location on the Pacific Rim and its rich resource base, Gardner conceded. But Gardner, a former timber company executive, said that with other states and nations hustling, the West needs to do likewise if it wants to enhance its share.