Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Colorado Has Two Radically Different Political Parties

On May 13, the leadership of Colorado’s legislature met in a question and answer session with interviews by Shaun Boyd of CBS Channel 4 and the Colorado Sun’s John Frank (an online paper with several Denver Post top reporters). In the University of Denver event, co-sponsored by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, the Center on American Politics and the Colorado Sun, more than 500 alumni, faculty, educators and students packed the Davis Auditorium in Sturm Hall.

From legislative recalls, to solutions to school shootings, to the death penalty, there were starkly different viewpoints, with Democratic House Speaker KC Becker offering the most articulate liberal viewpoint on a host of issues and promising more of the same next year. Supported by her Senate colleague, Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, both from Boulder, they made clear that some bills that failed this year will be back, including paid leave and abolition of the death penalty.

The group couldn’t even agree on more school resource officers as the Republican Senate Minority Leader Chris Holbert and Patrick Neville in the House were unwilling to go beyond encouragement for the state’s more than 170 separate school districts to take their own action, or in Neville’s view, arming teachers, versus KC Becker fearing the militarization of the classroom.

The two parties strongly disagreed on the use of recalls against legislators, with Neville an active behind-the-scenes encourager and Becker calling it unjustified intimidation and do-overs.

Thanks to the legislators for their time and candor. There is no doubt Colorado voters will have a clear choice in the next round of elections, and in the meantime, Democrats will aggressively pursue their agenda and Republicans continue to play the weak hand dealt them in the 2018 election.

Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, D-Boulder (R)  and Senate Minority
 Leader Chris Holbert, R-Parker on stage at the Davis Auditorium in Sturm
Hall at DU, May 13, 2019 | Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun

Read The Colorado Sun: Six big takeaways from The Colorado Sun’s forum with Gov. Jared Polis and top state lawmakers

Denver Runoff Could be Close, But Hancock Starts Ahead: April and Marty, KOA Interview

A week ago, a record number of Denver voters shook up the system. More than 180,000 turned out, 80,000 on Election Day, May 7. They forced three incumbent councilpersons into runoffs, plus the mayor.

Hancock starts with advantages. He only has to find 11 points from 39 to 50 percent, whereas Jamie Giellis must double her votes. He spent $2 million in the first election and will likely find one or two more for the runoff. And, he will argue that the city is more than just community development and zoning and that he’s experienced in running it – public safety, public works and social services. Politically, he knows how to run a campaign in Denver and has a team in place.

But, Giellis has the benefit of a new enlarged electorate and a desire for change. Sixty percent of the electorate voted for someone besides Hancock. All three city council incumbents pushed into runoffs had major development and gentrification issues in their districts, and Giellis is advocating limits. Finally, an unknown factor is that many people believe it would be nice to have a woman mayor. It relates to some of the City Hall controversies.

Incumbents are hard to beat. In two recent runoffs, Federico Pena and Wellington Webb, who came in second in the first round, went on to win in their runoff. But as the Pena’s and Hickenlooper’s first elections demonstrated, sometimes Denver voters support newcomers with little government executive experience.

Expect an interesting three weeks.

Conversation With Governor Polis

The Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research is co-sponsoring a conversation with Governor Jared Polis on May 13 with DU’s Center on American Politics and the Colorado Sun. The presentation will be followed by a panel of state lawmakers offering their observations of the accomplishments and failures of the legislative session. A reception will follow the 6:00 pm event.

RSVP here

Gov. Jared Polis reads to children in Colorado Springs | Dougal Brownlie/CS Gazette

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Denver Voters Force Run-offs, Including Three Incumbents

Three Denver city council incumbents are facing run-offs in a record turnout of voters, shaking up the establishment. The extraordinary final 80,000 Election Day voters tended to lean against incumbents, taking a point or two. It also gave Initiative 301 – decriminalizing mushrooms – its final margin of passage. Incumbents in run-offs are: Mary Beth Susman in Eastside/Hilltop District 5, who came in second; Albus Brooks, who barely top-lined, in District 9, Denver’s oldest areas around City Park, Five Points and Globeville to downtown; and Wayne New in Cherry Creek, Belcaro and Congress Park areas.

The races:


Denver Highlights its National Image as a Drug Capital – Yes to Psilocybin

The drug legalization movement won its effort to decriminalize “magic mushrooms,” or Psilocybin, as the final votes in a record turnout were counted late Wednesday. The May 7 electorate approved the effort by one point, or about 2,000 votes out of 177,000 cast. This was the big story in the national press.

Record Denver Turnout Shows Up on Last Day

After an initially slow ballot return with only 101,000 counted late Monday, by early Wednesday morning, another 80,000 ballots showed up on Tuesday. It led to a slow count after the first 95,000 reported at 7:00 pm Election Night.


The massive turnout is more than 70,000 above the last competitive mayor’s election in 2011 when Michael Hancock first won an election spot on the run-off ballot. It reflects that 68,000 more voters have been added to Denver’s polls since 2015 in the last city election.

Read The Buzz:
Low Turnout: KOA Interview With April and Marty - Only 101,000 Voted by Late Monday
High or Low Turnout – Denver Mayor’s Election 2019
Denver Municipal Election. Some Things to Watch for Election Night.

Final Unofficial Denver Vote Shows 184,000 Turned in Ballots; More Than 80,000 on Election Day

The final unofficial vote counts from the Denver Clerk’s Office shows 178,000 voted for mayor, forcing a run-off for Michael Hancock with Jamie Giellis. Another 1,000 votes were mailed in and dropped off to vote for/against lifting the camping ban.

Right to Survive Crushed by the Quality of Life

In an election that was primarily framed by the public’s concerns about the costs and excess of growth, it’s hardly surprising that an initiative that would have made policing homeless encampments nearly impossible was crushed. The quality of life in numerous western cities, such as Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have been well reported as damaged by masses of homeless with minimum regulation due to legalistic approaches that hamstring law enforcement.

Initially, the Right to Survive had the aspirational high ground with Denver’s large liberal community sympathetic to the homeless dilemma of lack of shelters and places to stay. But, the campaign in opposition gathered many homeless advocacy organizations who believed the problem had to be addressed, but a right to camp on public space was the wrong solution. Liberal support collapsed as voters, who were more concerned about public safety and quality of life, overwhelmingly voted no.

Hancock Forced into Run-off with Giellis

As expected, Mayor Michael Hancock was unable to reach 50 percent plus vote to win re-election outright. Jamie Giellis, the second biggest fundraiser, came in second with about a quarter of the vote (27%).


Hancock will start with an advantage if he can replenish his campaign treasury, but Giellis has the 60 percent of the electorate that is unhappy.

See The Buzz: Denver Municipal Election. Some Things to Watch for Election Night.

Biden, Master of Retail Politics, But Can He Do Online Wholesale?

Joe Biden, the 20th candidate to enter the Democratic primary field, is said to be a first-rate retail candidate, which has advantages in meet and greet type campaigns, such as in the early primary states of Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada. But as Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump demonstrated in 2016, whoever is high-profile online and on cable and broadcast media has the advantage.

Biden’s team recognizes the issue and launched the campaign with an inspiring, well-produced and well-received video. But, Biden’s challenge has been to separate his in-the-moment personal campaign skill from the more important mass communication skills that require message discipline and media phrasing; i.e., brief, to the point and making a point.

Biden starts as the Democratic frontrunner, ahead of second place Bernie Sanders and a field of about ten in a third place position in a single-digit tier. A couple of early polls show Biden jumping 20 points or more after his announcement. With Biden’s entry, the field is likely full, although Senator Michael Bennet will make it twenty-one! The candidates have already started nonstop events, town halls, and on June 26, they will participate in the first debate. There will be considerable movement within the third place tier before the Iowa caucus.


Denver Municipal Election. Some Things to Watch for Election Night.

Modern Denver political history leaves analyses of the May 7 municipal race with a dearth of data. The only recent third-term election was Wellington Webb in 1999, and he was mostly unopposed. Mayors Federico Peña and Webb had competitive second-term races, which they both won after very hard-fought first elections. Peña’s runoff was also close.

Mayor Michael Hancock will have to be very lucky to avoid a runoff, given the number of strong opponents, the aggravation about overdevelopment and the general anti-establishment sentiment of voters. The incumbent also faces an electorate that has grown by more than 50,000 since the last time he faced a competitive contest (2011). They tend to be younger and Anglo and turned out in droves in the November 2018 midterm.

As The Buzz pointed out (April 24 – High or Low Turnout – Denver Mayor’s Election 2019), Denver city election turnout tends to be modest, even in the highly contested elections. Voter turnout will be one of many items to watch in the election. Other factors are:
  1. Denver mayoral election turnout tends to be low. That’s the way municipal leaders desire it by scheduling the election in early May, away from higher turnout November elections. Low turnout often helps the status quo, but in 2019, there are some issues rallying the electorate.
  2. The top issue – development – could produce a wave of anti-establishment voting. If so, the mayor will have a run-off and Denver politics will have a turbulent May.
  3. Proposition 300 is producing passion. It is likely to drive some turnout. It is also likely to lose by a big margin. Nor does Magic Mushrooms appear to have support.
  4. Jamie Giellis is the frontrunner among the challengers based on money, yard signs and friends of the Mayor targeting her in attack ads. There appears to be a lot of campaigning north of 6th Avenue, but how will south of 6th Avenue vote?

Hickenlooper Makes First Debate

In the latest 538 analysis of the Democratic presidential candidates’ positions (Nate Silver), John Hickenlooper is awarded a debate spot based on receiving at least one percent in three credible national polls. His polling position remains near the bottom.

In a New York Times Sunday feature, local correspondent Julie Turkewitz follows Hickenlooper on the campaign trail and points out as yet, he hasn’t caught the viral moment. Hickenlooper, himself, worries that there may not be enough money to exploit that moment if and when it happens.

Read The Buzz: Dates selected for first Democratic debate. Will Hickenlooper make it?

Monday, May 20, 2019

Chancellor Chopp was Just What DU Needed

Chancellor Rebecca Chopp
Photo: Kansas Wesleyan University
When Rebecca Chopp was selected as the University of Denver’s chancellor, the school was ready for a new strategic direction. The foundation, both structurally and academically, of the University was sound, but higher education was changing rapidly. Chopp, with energy and a facility for bringing people together (a lot of meetings), got the plan finished and approved. She’s now implementing it with a new campus land use plan, new buildings and new initiatives. Chopp just announced her resignation to deal with medical issues. Fortunately, she will be available to help on the transition with Provost Jeremy Haefner as intern chancellor. Two of her top goals were to heighten the University’s well-established international reputation and strengthen DU’s connection to Denver and Colorado, both of which Haefner shares.

Rebecca, good luck on your return to full health. Thank you for five years of vision, boundless energy and good spirits.

See: DU Chancellor Chop announces decision to step down

Presidential Primary

Colorado ended its presidential primary after the 2000 presidential election because of the cost when compared to the modest and variable partisan turnout over the three presidential elections.

In 1992, Democrats managed to turn out more than 234,000 in a contested primary California Governor Jerry Brown won. But with Bill Clinton, the unopposed incumbent in 1996, there was no contest, and only 84,000 Democrats voted in 2000 as Vice President Al Gore was seen as the likely nominee. Republicans’ biggest primary turnout was in 1996 when Senator Bob Dole received 44 percent of more than 246,000 voters. But, first President Bush as an incumbent won 68 percent, with 190,000 voters participating in 1992, and his son, George W. Bush, won 65 percent in 2000 as he was seen as the very strong frontrunner and only 177,000 Republicans turned out.

Hence, with the economic downturn of the early 2000s, Governor Bill Owens suggested going back to the party administrated caucus and dropping the primary.

The newly authorized Colorado primary likely to be held on the first Super Tuesday, March 1, 2020, will have little or no Republican participation, but a record turnout can be expected among Democrats and newly enfranchised unaffiliated voters.


High or Low Turnout – Denver Mayor’s Election 2019

The last two contested mayoral elections in Denver have produced modest voter turnout compared to partisan elections, which regularly see more than 200,000 voters participating. The 2018 midterm election counted 312,000 ballots cast in Denver and 194,000 in the 2010 general election. Whereas Denver municipal elections in 2003 and 2011 turned out 113,000 in both general elections (1st race) and only slightly more in the 2011 runoff.


There are, of course, many more residents in Denver in 2019 than 2011, but the race remains low-key as of April 24.

Mueller Report: What’s Next? KOA Interview With April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz

The day after the Mueller Report was released, I discussed with KOA’s April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz the politics of the report.

Some observations post the commentary:

1. The release of the Report is national and international news, but there is no evidence it will change many views of President Trump or his White House. Neither public opinion nor Republican opinion has moved since the March 24 delivery of Attorney General Barr’s four-page memo on the Report. Trump still has 44 percent overall support and 85 percent among Republicans.

The immediate reporting of the Report’s contents has been mostly negative, focused on obstruction and many reports of White House dishonesty, paranoia and chaos. But, the release was shaped by Barr’s preceding press conference and his earlier letter. With no underlying crime and obstruction not charged, the Republicans, including those who must run with him in 2020, are relieved.

2. History suggests that the circumstances of the political era shapes the political impact of special prosecutors’ reports. The release of the Starr Report in 1999 simply sent the parties to their respective corners. Bill Clinton remained popular and Democrats argued there was no underlying crime unrelated to bad judgement (sex) in the Oval Office.

Whereas the release of the Watergate tapes in 1994 destroyed the Nixon presidency. But by then, Richard Nixon’s popularity was about 38 percent nationally and barely 50 percent among Republicans. Democrats controlled both houses of Congress and Nixon was a lame duck. Today’s polarized political environment links to 1999 more than 1974.

3. What type of Democratic candidate might benefit from the Report’s revelations? An outsider-type was speculated as helped. True, but in the 1976 and 2000 elections post Nixon and Clinton, respectively, the candidates seen as most opposite the damaged incumbent were selected. Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush both promised to bring moral rectitude and decorum to the White House. Both were outspokenly religious in sentiment.

Is Pete Buttigieg the smart mayor; Kamala Harris the tough prosecutor; or John Hickenlooper and his positive campaign the alternative most desired?

4. After the Report, the ball is now in the Democrats’ court. The legislative leadership has made clear they don’t want to move to impeachment less than a year from primaries and less than two years from the election, but pressure from the activist base will be intense. The media will continue to highlight the Report’s evidence of gross, if not criminal, misbehavior.

The Democrats are looking for a strategy that keeps the issues alive, but avoids the appearance of overreach, which the President and his legislative and media supporters will claim nonstop.
  • Demand the full report
  • Have Mueller, Barr and especially McGahn testify
  • Proceed to question his taxes, probe agencies and other aspects of the administration

The final conclusion as of Easter weekend: the game is not over. There is no complete or total exoneration, but the Trump presidency continues and most likely the election will provide the judgement on Trump and his administration. In which case, the Democrats still need to worry about the quality of their candidates and their programs.

Aurora Getting Presidential Candidate’s Attention

Senator Elizabeth Warren just visited Aurora. The city is likely to see a host of candidates before next March’s presidential primary. Aurora and Arapahoe County have become the Democrats’ new favorite stop due to the huge margins they are providing. Jason Crow crushed incumbent Mike Coffman by 41,000 votes, while Governor Polis won by 49,000 and Democrats swept county offices.

Elizabeth Warren speaks to supporters at the Hangar at
the Stanley Marketplace, Aurora, CO, April 16, 2019
Photo: Philip B. Poston/Aurora Sentinel
In an Aurora Sentinel interview with Kara Mason, I pointed out that liberal Democrats have historically won the Colorado caucuses more often than mainstream Democratic candidates.

Colorado political consultant Floyd Ciruli said the changing political landscape in Aurora and Arapahoe County is attractive campaigning territory to Democrats, especially for candidates with more progressive values.

“Caucuses tend to go toward the left flank of the party, and she accurately sees that Colorado could be very important to her,” he said. 

Colorado Democrats favored Bernie Sanders over Hilary Clinton in 2016 and former President Barack Obama over Hilary Clinton in 2012 — a clue that candidates like Sanders and Warren may fair better in metro Denver this cycle, too. The 2018 election also serves as a recent reminder that Arapahoe County is more blue than it once was, with the election of Congressman Jason Crow and the defeat of the Republican clerk and sheriff.

Even with Aurora in “blue wave” territory, Ciruli still sees Colorado as a shade of purple – so the state is to be an important one as the race for 2020 continues to heat up.

“Colorado has been a favorite for these candidates probably more than a decade because it’s been a swing state since 2000,” he said.

Warren held the event at the Stanley Marketplace. Millennials like it and she wants to attract the younger members of the party (and independents).

“She is competing for the people who hang out there, it’s a millennial, cutting-edge thing,” he said of the now-renovated aviation manufacturing facility that’s home to hip eateries.

“Her message is looking for millennials and young people and urban people who are thinking about new things in life and new trends,” Ciruli added. “She’s hoping those are the voters she’ll reach.”

“This is the End” or “Game Over”?

Almost two years from the start (May 17), the Mueller Report landed like a bombshell on the White House and Washington politics. The President immediately tweeted “Game Over,” reinforcing his “complete and total exoneration” comment of March 24 after Attorney General Barr’s four-page summary of the Report.

But, the Report quotes the President believing “This is the end” of his presidency when he first heard Robert Mueller was hired to investigate allegations Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and his campaign’s involvement with it. (A lot like the initial reaction to the “Access Hollywood” tape.)


Contrary to Trump’s doomed view, his presidency survived the investigation, but also contrary to his exclamation, the game is clearly not over. In fact, the politics of the Report are just beginning. How Congress, especially the Democrats, reacts will be the first fallout from the Report. Do they now have to consider impeachment or just continue with their various investigations? It will likely quickly evolve to the courts considering subpoenas, presidential claims of privilege and the Justice Department’s policy of redaction.

No doubt, his base of Republicans will stay with him. Those Republicans who doubt his fitness are unlikely to be moved by bad campaign behavior given he was not criminally conspiring with Russia. Democrats need no additional evidence that Trump shouldn’t be in the Oval Office. And independent voters, who have been learning against many of his most controversial policies, such as shutting down the government and calling an immigration emergency, may not rate the Report as that important and it may not weigh much on their choice between Trump and the Democratic nominee. Hence, there’s extensive damage, but Trump’s presidency is likely to continue into the November 2020 election. One senses that was Bob Mueller’s intention – let the voters decide.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Dates Selected for First Democratic Debate. Will Hickenlooper Make it?

John Hickenlooper (L) with Michael Davis speaks to survivors
of victims of mass shootings on April 16, 2019. Michael Davis
lost his daughter, Claire, in a mass shooting at Arapahoe
High School in December 2013 | David Zalubowski 
In about 10 weeks, the Democrats host their first debate (June 26-27, 2019). There are 18 announced candidates, and a dozen are raising money and have some awareness, if slight, among the Democratic electorate. Those are the two criteria to get onto the debate stage.

Debate entrance criteria:
  • 1% in three credible national polls
  • 65,000 online donors (minimum of 200 donors in 20 states)
John Hickenlooper has hit one percent in the national polls (not consistently), but his fundraising is lagging behind the top candidates. He raised $2 million in the first quarter, with only modest amounts of it from online contributors. He might argue that it at least puts him in the top eight, even if at the bottom.


Is Hancock in for a Runoff?

Although no polls have been published, it is clearly a disruptive moment to be running for a third term as Denver mayor. Michael Hancock has been successful by many definitions. The city attracts new residents, the economy is strong and he has passed ballot issues overriding TABOR and approving infrastructure bonds, usually a sign of public support. In the campaign, the most reported metric is fundraising, and Hancock holds a million dollar advantage over his opponents.

In general, incumbents are not defeated. But, there are a few exceptions. The modern era of Denver politics began in 1983 when Federico Peña defeated Bill McNichols, who was going for a fifth term. And, both Peña and his successor, Wellington Webb, had very tough second term re-elections where they lost the first rounds.


And, there is a sense 2019 will be a difficult year for incumbents. Chicago just tossed out the machine for a political novice advocating change and fighting corruption. Although none of Hancock’s opponents have surged yet, all three are actively campaigning, have constituencies and together only need to hold Hancock to below 50 percent.

Hancock’s biggest issue challenge is growth, which the booming economy has encouraged. He is the establishment and business candidate as the fundraising makes clear. He gets credit for much of what is exciting about Denver, but now he gets the blame for the traffic, gentrification, homelessness and other less welcoming side effects of growth.

Also, like 1983 when Baby Boomers helped elect Peña, the surge of new Millennial voters don’t know Hancock’s life story or his record of service. He’s had to introduce himself with advertising to this new electorate, who ironically represent the growth the public is concerned about.

Japan Begins to Project Power

Floyd Ciruli & Hiroyuki Akita
Japan is an economic power – third largest national GDP after the U.S. and China – but it has not projected strategic influence. Prime Minister Abe, his party the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) and the nation’s foreign policy leadership are changing that. They recognize new circumstances in the last decade have created challenges in the Western Pacific that, if not addressed quickly, will become strategic threats that could harm the nation’s and region’s security and prosperity.

Recent visits with leading Japanese foreign policy experts confirm the new direction. Tauneo Watanabe, senior research fellow of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and Hiroyuki Akita, foreign affairs and security columnist for the Nikkei: Shimbun recognize the challenges that the Abe government is addressing.

Tauneo Watanabe & Floyd Ciruli
The long period of relative calm in the Pacific has been disordered by the rise of an expansionist China. With vast economic resources and leadership of Xi Jinping, it is revising the region’s power relationships and rules. North Korea, long a repressive rogue state, now has nuclear weapons and a delivery system that could reach Japan and beyond. The new leader, Kim Jong-un, appears determined to change his country’s economic and strategic weakness. But, probably the most unexpected and rapid change has been in the U.S.’s foreign policy under President Donald Trump’s “America First” doctrine. Alliances, including with Japan, South Korea and other Asian nations, have been discounted as they are primarily considered financial arrangements subject to unilateral revocation and accompanied by frequent, if casual, threats of withdrawal.

Japan’s pacifist constitution (war making is prohibited), which has broad public support, will likely remain the dominant foreign policy boundary, but Japanese realists are increasingly redefining it to address the new conditions in the Pacific. Abe’s strategy is to use soft power to build multilateral alliances dedicated to economic benefits with selective, if limited, military applications. So, for example, Abe has picked up the TPP trade agreement discarded by the Trump administration and reconfigured it. He recognizes the U.S. must be a part of the trade and defense strategies and has encouraged the U.S. to rejoin the revised TPP and Japan is taking part with the U.S. and South Asian nations in military exercises. He and his foreign policy team are also looking farther afield for allies, including in Europe, for example Germany, and in the Mideast.

Fortunately for Abe’s timing, Japanese soft power in the Pacific Rim is high. A couple of recent polls show Japan’s reputation exceeds China’s and the U.S.’s in a number of Asian and South Asian Rim countries. It reflects many years of work on soft power with economic development, cultural exchanges and tourism promotion.

A Pew Research survey of last November shows confidence in Abe and positive reviews of Japan in the Philippines, Australia, U.S. and Indonesia. Only South Koreans are negative.


A survey commissioned by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in ASEAN member states in February 2018 (3,000 interviews in 10 countries).


Japan’s leadership sees defense of a rule-based international system and the self-confidence of democratic counties as an important national objective and a responsibility it shares with the U.S. and other allies.

“Complete and Total Exoneration”

President Donald Trump | AFP/Getty Images
There is good reason to believe Donald Trump is wrong that the Mueller report provides “complete and total exoneration,” which he proclaimed returning from Mar-a-Lago the Sunday after Attorney General Barr’s four-page letter to the Congress (March 24, 2019). It is also clear that he is aware of the problems the report presents as he has backed away from his original position of releasing the report.

President Trump is right to be concerned as a careful reading of Barr’s summary of the 400-page report highlights that there may be ample evidence of both collusion-type activities (but no tacit or express agreement) and obstruction (“It also does not exonerate him”).

The American people appear in early polls to agree there’s more to the story and they want to see the report to get it.


Nielsen Out, Another Acting In

President Trump: “Our country is full. Turn around.”

Kirstjen Nielsen joins her former boss, John Kelly, as pushed out (fired) by Donald Trump for not being tough enough. With asylum seekers increasing and illegal border crossings continuing, Nielsen’s job became impossible. Trump is also looking for a new “tougher” ICE administrator. President Trump, who used anti-immigration policies and rhetoric in both the 2016 and 2018 elections, is seriously concerned the border issue could be a failed promise and not a rallying point for his base.

Conditions in Central America, such as drought, poverty and criminality, and America’s booming employment/tight economy and well-organized migrant smugglers, have produced record surges to the border in spite of Trump’s use of the army and various immigrant deterrence tactics.

Kelly was replaced by the Freedom Caucus’s founder, Mick Mulvaney. Stephen Miller was rumored to be behind the changes. No doubt, the next heads of Homeland Security and ICE will be seen as least as “tough” on immigration enforcement as those two.

President Donald Trump, next to Kirstjen Nielsen, speaks with members
of the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, Calexico, Calif.,
April 5, 2019 | Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Monday, May 13, 2019

Some Elections Better for Democracy, Some Not so Good

Many of the populist/nationalist candidates who have changed the politics of Western Europe and America are now the dominant participants in a series of elections around the world. Most of the leaders are authoritarian in orientation and some are actively undermining rule of law, independent judiciaries and free press. Many of the countries have high levels of corruption, especially by wealthy business patrons of the governments. April will be a busy month with elections in India and Israel. In May, the EU will have parliamentary elections in all 28 member states. Right-wing populist movements will be active.

John Low, A Lifetime of Service

Civic leader John Low just passed away. A respected attorney at Sherman & Howard, he used his time, talent and resources to support some of Denver’s most important institutions. DU was probably his first love, with 32 years of board of trustee leadership. But in the late 1980s, John’s strong advocacy of the Denver (now Colorado) Symphony and Central City Opera helped them secure a position in the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). And, of course, he was an early and strong advocate of the SCFD.

John and Merry Low are a Colorado treasure.

Read John’s obituary here


Merry and John Low | DU photo

Mick Mulvaney and the Freedom Party are in the Oval Office and Taking Charge

Mick Mulvaney is of the same mindset as Steven Miller, but his portfolio as White House Chief of Staff (acting like many administration positions) is broader. And, like Miller, he perfectly plays to the President’s preoccupation with the preferences of and promises to the base. Mulvaney was first elected to Congress as part of the Tea Party in 2010 and is a founding member of the Freedom Caucus.

President Donald Trump and Mick Mulvaney | WSJ
So last week, when a decision on the 2019 legal and legislative health care strategy was under discussion, Mulvaney argued for shifting the administration’s legal position on the Appeals Court case, to arguing for the full unconstitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). The President agreed. It was promised to the base and Congress can come up with a replacement as he argued during 2017 until the still denigrated John McCain voted down the effort.

Most Republican congressional leaders and political consultants believe that it’s a risky strategy, likely to only help Democrats. But, the Freedom Caucus, which has done so much to undermine Republican leadership, is highly supportive of killing Obamacare completely. After the firestorm of criticism and some behind-the-scene talks with Majority Leader McConnell, the President changed course. Another lesson on being cautious when listening to Mulvaney.

Mulvaney, when he first took over the Chief of Staff position in January, strongly supported the shutdown and the emergency declaration. He now is an advocate and spokesperson for shutting down the ports of entry between the U.S. and Mexico.

Mulvaney, like Trump, is focused on the base when much of the Republican Party is examining how to win back the House, hold the Senate, and expand Trump out of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania to other potential swing states, including Colorado. Can the Republican Party be a national party if it is run by the Freedom Caucus?

Chicago Voted for Change. Is Denver Next?

In a campaign framed as change vs. experience, Rahm Emanuel wisely did not run for re-election. Lori Lightfoot won a sweeping victory in all parts of Chicago with 74 percent of the vote. She was the anti-machine, anti-Emanuel candidate. With a slogan, “bring in the Light,” she campaigned for change and against corruption. She represents the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Her opponent, party stalwart Toni Preckwinkle, head of Cook County Board and the Cook County Democratic Party, was crushed by the desire for change. Progressives, many claiming a socialist label, also won several citywide and alderman seats (city council) against incumbents.

Is change in the air in the Denver’s May 7 municipal election?

Lori Lightfoot giving her victory speech | Getty Images

Hickenlooper Gives Biden No Slack

On Sunday, Joe Biden was given very little support by the current Democratic presidential candidate field. Chuck Todd’s gotcha question on Meet the Press was: Should the Biden accusation, if true, disqualify him? Hickenlooper gave a typical long answer, but said finally it was “disconcerting.”

Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro and others were more direct and said Biden would have to deal with the very serious accusation, which most of them believed. They implied voters should consider it. Biden is the undeclared frontrunner in polls and takes up much of the establishment and moderate space that Hickenlooper and the field compete for.

Chuck Todd and John Hickenlooper, March 31, 2019
Photo: NBC News/Meet the Press via YouTube

Friday, May 10, 2019

KOA Interview With Marty Lenz: Hickenlooper on Meet the Press

John Hickenlooper held forth on a long Meet the Press interview with Chuck Todd last Sunday (March 31). Todd previewed Hickenlooper with the intro:

“Can a self-described extreme moderate win the nomination in an increasingly progressive Democratic Party? I’ll talk to former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.”

KOA’s ongoing coverage of Hickenlooper and his presidential campaign was moderated by Marty Lenz. We reviewed the NBC interview and where he stands today in the race.

  • It was a long interview. Hickenlooper got about 15 percent of the show and four questions.
  • Although his responses were better than several recent interviews, he still struggles with just answering the questions.
    • What would you do today about the border? Need immigration and comprehensive reform.
    • Are you an extreme moderate? Doesn’t like labels.
    • Any limits on abortion? Talk about Colorado’s anti-pregnancy plan for teenagers.

Hickenlooper’s responses lead into his campaign theme, which is that there are Colorado solutions and his experience at getting diverse people to agree to address problems is a winning formula. The answers tend to be indirect and wordy, but the key question is: Does it play in Iowa, New Hampshire and generally on the road? It certainly doesn’t produce applause lines yet.
Meet the Press - March 31, 2019


Part of Hickenlooper’s challenge as a Democratic moderate is that he’s trying to avoid offending any part of the Democratic coalition. For example, the label “extreme moderate” could turn off the establishment as to what does “extreme” mean, and for progressives, it sounds too moderate. Hence, Hickenlooper tries to avoid labels like the measles. Witness his “passionate capitalism” escapism on Morning Joe.

Hickenlooper hasn’t moved up in the queue. In fact, his move up is probably more difficult today due to the entering of Beto O’Rourke (huge crowds and funding), Pete Buttigieg ($7 million in contributions) and increased campaigning by Amy Klobuchar, who compete for moderate Democrats.

Hickenlooper remains a serious, but still very longshot candidate.

Bennet Leans Toward Run for President

Apparently, Senator Michael Bennet is leaning toward announcing a run for president. He would join John Hickenlooper, who’s been in the field for months, but still doesn’t have many on-the-ground indicators he’s making progress; i.e., big crowds, media coverage, polling position or money flowing in.
Sen. Michael Bennet | Photo: CNN

Bennet has been testing the waters in early states and appears to like his reception. He’s a centrist like Hickenlooper, Senator Amy Klobuchar, Beto O’Rourke and former Vice President Joe Biden (if he gets into the race). He believes that if he can get to the debate platform in June, his message, senate reputation and presentation skills will make him stand out and emerge as a top finalist.

There are a number of centrists he must beat. Will Biden stumble (he has a history of it)? Will Hickenlooper fade (Bennet likely thinks so)? Can he simply outmaneuver Klobuchar and others and become the go-to establishment candidate? We shall see.

Read:
Politico: Colorado Sen. Bennet says he’s ‘very inclined’ to run for president
CNN: With viral speech as his introduction, Sen. Michael Bennet tests the waters in Iowa

Executive Orders as Theater

Donald Trump rapidly recognized the Oval Office is a stage and the Executive Order a script. In his first week in office, he began using them to appear to fill promises, do favors for core constituents and build the case as the greatest, most active president in history (read: "Staging the First 100 Days from the White House").

The Buzz blog, May 5, 2017

Of course, it was obvious that many of the orders, proclamations and general activity around the Resolute Desk were for show. As the Los Angeles Times just documented, only a few of the orders actually moved policy, and those that did, were often challenged in the courts. The prime example was the Muslim ban signed the second week in office. But, most are essentially appeals to his own administration to do something, which could have been accomplished with a White House call without handing out pens at a signing ceremony.

The LA Times reports:
  • 18 created task forces, councils or committees (one related to voter fraud, another an infrastructure committee)
  • 12 admit Congress is needed and only “encourage” or implement to the “extent permitted by law”
  • 15 reversed Obama orders, mostly on the environment
  • 43 required reports or reviews considered by the agencies as simply encouragement

Trump tends to refer to all of them as “historic” or “groundbreaking.”

Trump Starts 2020 Campaign – Again

Numerous commentators have said President Trump started the 2020 campaign with his recent rally in Michigan. A vengeance reboot post the Mueller report completion. No doubt, the main themes of the campaign were expressed in the rally. But, in fact, his campaign began in February 2017 four weeks after his inauguration in Melbourne, Florida, before a similar 9,000 fans with Air Force One as a backdrop. He has been campaigning non-stop for all two years in office.

Photo: Inquisitr.com
Read:
Politico: Trump tests post-Mueller vengeance campaign
The Buzz: Trump starts 2020 campaign

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Economist – Polis, a Libertarian Democrat?

In an interview in the latest Economist, Governor Jared Polis is profiled as a Libertarian Democrat whose success will depend on striking a balance between a progressive legislature and campaign agenda versus a state with a moderate and conservative fiscal disposition.

My citations were:

Last autumn’s election was the most significant for Colorado’s political realignment in more than 40 years, says Floyd Ciruli of Ciruli Associates, a political consulting firm.

The legislature, which is now in full session, will not share the sense of moderation and is likely to pull Mr. Polis further left than he wants, according to Mr. Ciruli.

The author, Alexandra Suich Bass, ends with placing the political burden on Polis

The state’s political transformation is still relatively new. Whether it lasts will depend in part on the success of Mr. Polis’s reign.

Jared Polis | Photo: Getty Images

California’s Growth Stalls While Florida and Texas Boom

After decades of steady and often spectacular growth, mostly from migration from other states (augmented by other countries), California’s growth has been cut in half the last eight years from its recent trend. Out migration now exceeds new arrivals. Florida and Texas continue on their recovery from the Great Recession starting in 2008. Both are drawing many U.S. residents to their economies and lifestyles.


California’s attitude, especially in its high-lifestyle coastal region, is anti-growth, characterized by municipal and county restrictions on businesses and new housing. The cost of available housing has skyrocketed, pushing many Millennials to look for more affordable regions, mostly out-of-state. The Democratic single-party state government is also highly burdensome for new businesses and new housing development. Taxes are high and homelessness is now the top complaint in most communities.

The California dream has collapsed for many and other choices are being made.

No Collusion, No Impeachment – KOA and 9KUSA

The Mueller report finding of no collusion is very good news for the President. Trump’s mantra of no collusion is validated. In 9KUSA and KOA interviews, the politics of the Mueller report was dissected. The finding of no collusion means no impeachment. Speaker Nancy Pelosi already understood the politics and stated that for impeachment to be credible and not work to the Democrats’ detriment, it had to have the Mueller report outlining “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The Special Counsel's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But, the Russians did interfere with the election by social media efforts to divide the U.S. electorate and help Trump and by hacking Democratic emails for distribution to damage Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump. Did it make a difference? Not determinable, but the 77,000 three-state victory of Trump will forever be less legitimate. And, there is a host of contacts between his campaign associates and principals and the Russians to forever raise doubt that there was an, at least, unethical intent and action.

But, Mueller was less definite on obstruction of justice. Attorney General Barr’s letter states:

Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Hence, there will be a demand for the evidence “on both sides of the question” and for Congress and the public to make their own judgement. According to Barr, the lack of finding collusion was fatal to the charge of obstruction as it undermined the “evil intent” requirement.

Trump will, of course, argue he’s exonerated and any further inquiries are partisan harassment. Democrats will demand the evidence and continue at least some investigations. And, of course, the President’s re-election effort is benefited by the lifting of the cloud and endless stories of subpoenas, raids, testimonies and pleas. Although Trump was harmed by the investigation, and would have been possibly fatally damaged by a finding of collusion or obstruction, the success of his re-election is based on other political factors.

The midterm result and recent polls, including from his preferred FOX News, show that he starts from behind in voter approval and head-to-head face-offs because of his unpresidential demeanor and many unpopular policies on health care, immigration and taxes. Historically, incumbent presidents get re-elected. Both Trump and the Democrats are now back to the real task of convincing voters they should lead the country after 2020.

Are Democrats Overreaching? Will There be a Backlash?

The commentary is rising, especially outside the Boulder, Denver confines that the Democratic legislature is rushing its full agenda through in breakneck speed – snow cyclones be damned. Does their behavior constitutes overreach and will it lead to a backlash similar to 2013, the last time Democrats were in command?

Democrats argue that the liberal agenda they’re passing were issues they were elected on. They are reassured by their political strategist that, as opposed to 2013 when Democratic control and legislature behavior was judged as overreach and political punishment followed with recalls, subsequent loss of the State Senate and a more difficult re-election for then Governor John Hickenlooper, 2020 will be another Trump blowout in Colorado, leaving the Democrats intact, if not enhanced, regardless of their rushed agenda in 2019.

Gov. Jared Polis | Photo: Rick T. Wilking/Getty Images
But, opponents are not sitting it out. A ballot initiative challenge has been mounted to the Democrats’ National Popular Vote law, which opponents claim will diminish Colorado’s clout in presidential elections and make it a subsidiary of California and New York voters. If it gets to the ballot, the Democrats and especially Governor Polis will have a busy time defending it since almost no time was spent explaining it and it appears blatantly partisan.

Also, a couple of political committees have been formed specifically targeting Polis, advocating a recall (highly unlikely) and simply opposing his re-election. But, clearly the honeymoon is over and Polis and fellow Democrats will be dealing with an increasingly hostile environment.

Opponents argue that the 2018 election was mostly about sending Donald Trump a message and not the far left agendas of the legislature and Polis. In fact, they point out that when voters actually dealt with state ballot issues, they said no to new oil and gas regulations and no to more taxes for schools and roads. They also believe that, beyond overreaching on policy, Democratic leadership is avoiding transparency and accountability; i.e., rushing bills to avoid study or reading them and calling meetings to avoid opponents’ participation.

The Democratic agenda is wide and deep. Along with a major overhaul of oil and gas regulations, including making clear that Colorado doesn’t promote but just regulates the industry, it includes spending state and business revenue in prodigious amounts. Full-day kindergarten is a more than $200 million annual price tag, a new annual commitment that gives pause to fiscally-conscious Democrats on the Joint Budget Committee. There is also a paid leave requirement being pressed on businesses, which is cited by the state’s chambers of commerce to add $1 billion in costs. Democrats are also taking on guns, the death penalty, TABOR limits, sex education and a host of other divisive topics that they have been waiting to pass for years.

The oil and gas regulations could provide the most potent political fight if the industry can identify and unite on an effective strategy. Although some New England states have banned fracking, no state with an industry as large and well-developed as Colorado has passed legislation that would allow specific bans and regulations against the industry. In an article in the Washington Times Valerie Richardson reported:

Colorado “is going to do something that hasn’t been done, and that is: a state with a very significant pool of gas and oil is going to make it a lot more difficult to mine it,” said Denver political analyst Floyd Ciruli.

“There is really now ample warning that the way this legislation is drafted, it’s essentially going to allow some level of a ban,” he said. “The public is clearly divided on this.”

Climate change has been the top issue for many Democrats, especially from Boulder, which includes Governor Polis and House and Senate leadership (House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader).

“When you look at the demographic changes in the state and the fact that climate change has now become a civic religion with a significant number of people, it’s hard for gas and oil to compete in that environment no matter how good their PR is,” Mr. Ciruli said.

If the economy should deteriorate as expected next year, Democrats could be held liable for both busting the state budget and driving one of Colorado most important industries to reducing activity and hence, employment and tax payments.

“If this turns out to be as economically devastating as talked about, mainly because it allows for actual banning, or incredibly draconian regulations, the oil and gas industry has choices. We’re not the only place they can drill, although we’re a good one,” Mr. Ciruli said. “And I think the Democrats will be vulnerable if that turns out to be true.”

Democrats need to be especially concerned if a cutback in Colorado’s oil and gas industry coincides with a recession next year. Someone will get blamed.

See the Washington Times: With Hickenlooper out, Colorado’s empowered environmentalists target oil and gas industry

Can Hickenlooper Answer the Main Questions?

After months of testing the water, John Hickenlooper gets a debut on CNN’s town hall. But, he faces formidable challenges to achieve a sustainable campaign. A myriad of new competitors are entering the race – Beto O’Rourke and Joe Biden – on a weekly basis. He still appears to lack a clear constituency or a stimulating message besides his quirky personality and desire to bring people together to do good things.

Hickenlooper polls below one percent, has no superior source of funds, such as the new online sources used effectively by Beto O’Rourke and Bernie Sanders, or big donor gifts that seated senators, especially from politically rich states like California and New York, have. Although he raised $1 million at his announcement, it’s not clear if he has a stream of donations beyond his initial introduction.

Hickenlooper is not the favorite of activists in any of the major Democratic primary constituencies. Liberal issue activists have Sanders and Elizabeth Warren; minorities have Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Julian Castro; Millennials have Beto O’Rourke; there is a surfeit of women; and establishment Democrats are likely to have Joe Biden. Hickenlooper is more of an independent than a Democrat, which in Colorado is a political asset, but not so much in Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states.

His successful political career in Colorado has largely been accomplished as an independent businessman. His first and only contested election for Denver mayor was on a non-partisan ballot. A combination of an activist civic reputation, superior financing for Denver city races and creative advertising got him in the race. The endorsement of the businesses community and the conservative editorial page of the Rocky Mountain News gave him frontrunner position.

His ascension to the governorship was largely by appointment of the Democratic political establishment after the sudden retirement of Bill Ritter. Hickenlooper was the ranking Democrat from the largest political jurisdiction interested in the job. He had no primary. His two partisan elections for governor produced modest victories never more than 51 percent.

Although it’s not necessary to be a Democrat to win a Democratic Party presidential caucus or primary – witness Bernie Sanders – it helps to locate a constituency.

Nor has Hickenlooper identified any issue or bundle of issues that can excite primary voters, which appears especially important in 2020. He tends to be too balanced and reasonable to jump onto the Green New Deal, Medicare for All, or the host of economic and social populist positions, from attacking billionaires and banks, to reconfiguring ICE or supporting sanctuary cities. In many pictures from the primary states, Hickenlooper is shown drinking beer, relating his background as a brew pub entrepreneur presenting his folksy personality. But being pragmatic and hospitable may not be enough in 2020.

Will Hickenlooper start to answer the questions tonight? Who are his constituents? What’s his platform?

Hickenlooper Hits 1% in CNN Poll. Good News? KOA Interview

John Hickenlooper just moved from an asterisk to one percent in the latest CNN poll. Out of the ten declared candidates (or highly rumored) listed, Hickenlooper was tied with three others in the bottom 40 percent (Julian Castro, Kirsten Gillibrand, Jay Inslee). But, Hickenlooper was finally registering a few mentions among the 436 Democrats or Democratic-leaning independents CNN interviewed. And, one percent is good news since it’s the threshold in three reputable national polls needed to gain entrance to the first debate.


As discussed on KOA this morning, Hickenlooper makes his CNN debut with an hour town hall tonight. Can he translate that appearance into 5 percent by June to make it into the top tier of candidates? (John Kerry, who got 4 percent, was not listed due to no evidence, yet he’s mounting a campaign.)

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Why Japan is U.S.’s Strongest Ally Today

With flickering lights, one out two elevators operating and a limited sound system, the Korbel School hosted 80 stout participants for a discussion of Japanese-American relations the day after the bomb cyclone. Fortunately, Maglione Hall was up to the challenge.

Prof. Toshihiro Nakayama
Japan may be America’s strongest ally in the Trump era. Professor Toshihiro Nakayama of Keio University described the factors that distinguish Japan from most of Europe and its leaders in its embrace of President Trump and the alliance with the U.S. Professor Nakayama (called Toshi by colleagues and friends) attributed much of the recent steadfast affection for the alliance and President Trump to the rise of an expansive China and the lack of an alternative to America’s deterrent power.

New Consul-General in Denver, Midori Takeuchi, described Japanese relations with the region and specifically with Korea. She highlighted the government’s commitment to women’s positions in the economy and government, including the foreign ministry.

The audience stayed until 7:00 pm asking questions for twenty minutes. It was clear that people, including a number of students, were interested in the relationship with Japan, had concerns about the strength of the alliance, and the strategies to address the rise of China and its ambition in the Pacific.

The event was sponsored by the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research, the Office of Global Engagement and the Denver Japanese Consulate-General. I moderated the event, and based on my recent trip to Japan, a host of recent blog posts have been published.

Denver Has a Sister City With Pure Mountain Springs Water

Denver’s sister city, Takayama, is in the foothills of the Japanese Rockies. It is a 300-year-old samurai-founded city famous for its sake breweries, with a national reputation similar to Coors. It has high mountain spring water, cool weather (it snowed during my recent visit) and the highest quality rice. Next year will be the 60th anniversary of the sister city relationship with Denver. Numerous celebrations are planned in each city. It will be a giant year for tourism as Japan will also be hosting the summer Olympics. Much of Tokyo is now in construction projects with signage, tee shirts and Olympics marketing everywhere.

Takayama is known as “Little Kyoto,” with a historic city center built hundreds of years ago. It has numerous shrines and temples, and one of the county’s most renowned festivals with floats built by leading artisans in the seventeenth century with extraordinary wood work, gold leaf and Japanese mystical imagery.

The city has a host of artisans, with lacquerware the most sought after. One can eat a traditional Japanese meal in the many restaurants, one, the Susaki, has a 200-year pedigree. The ingredients are locally sourced and served beautifully in multi-course meals. Its Ryokans are of high quality, many with hot water spas.

Takayama has a long-serving mayor, Michihiro Kunishima, who, like Mayors Hancock and Hickenlooper, is known to be dedicated to hospitability and encouraging tourism. In a three-hour multi-course meal, he and a team of city officials hosted dinner at Susaki with flights of local sake.

The city attracts many day hikers, backpackers and skiers with its abundant mountains, trails and nearby ski resorts. The rivers run toward both the east and west, with numerous hot springs that attract Japanese, Americans and worldwide visitors.

If you plan a trip to Japan, don’t miss visiting the historic countryside and stay in Takayama. My skilled guide, Nami Tsushima, recommended a high quality Ryokan called Kachoan and a high quality sake brewery, Funasaka.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Discussing the Youth Vote With Top Japanese Parliamentarian

Floyd Ciruli and Shintaro Ito
Representative Shintaro Ito is one of Japan’s most influential leaders on foreign affairs. He attended Harvard and is a close observer of U.S. politics. In a recent conversation, the topic turned to the longevity of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe’s premiership and the changing techniques of communicating to the electorate.

Ito pointed out that it was an advantage to have a long-serving prime minister during a period of considerable disruption and danger. Japan has had a succession recently of briefly serving premiers.

Concerning support for Abe, a recent article observed that the Abe government was stronger with younger than older voters, a surprise for most observers. The conventional wisdom is that the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) is most supported by older and less urban voters.

Ito was aware of the support of voters in their 30s and under. He felt it was related to the government’s support for programs to help parents and younger voters, such as with more nursery space, free preschool, and subsidies for high schools and college tuition.

But, he felt the most important aspect of the LDP’s success was using the internet to communicate to younger voters. A major effort has been mounted to use websites, videos, infographics, blogs and Twitter to engage voters in their 20s and 30s. Abe, in particular, is active in using social media to describe his vision and programs.

One of the major challenges has been reassuring the public that the economy is growing, tourism is up, jobs are available for graduates, and major problems, such as the aging population, are being addressed.


Prime Minister Abe is about to become the longest serving prime minister, and Ito points out that the future of the party must rest on support among new generations of voters. So true.

Talking Polling with Top Tokyo Political Commentator

Floyd Ciruli and Hiroyuki Akita
In a recent trip to Japan, sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, one of the most interesting conversations was with Hiroyuki Akita, a regular columnist on foreign affairs and international security for a leading newspaper, Nikkei Shimbun.

We compared presidential and prime minister popularity. He had two recent polls that asked if the public supported the Abe administration. Abe received 53 percent in the Yomiuri newspaper poll and 43 percent in the Asahi newspaper. Both were improvements over the November 2018 rating. (The latest Kyodo News survey had support for the Abe government at 43 percent. The average of the three polls is 46 percent.)

Donald Trump’s latest polling average from RealClearPolitics is 43 percent, also an improvement over late 2018 and early 2019. The U.S. question asked approve or disapprove of president’s job performance.

In today’s political environment, it is not surprising for leaders in democracies to have less than 50 percent support. Theresa May in Great Britain, Emmanuel Macron in France and Angela Merkel in Germany are all below 40 percent in support for their governments.


Two big questions facing Abe’s government concern revising Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution, which outlaws the use of war to settle international disputes, and a possible consumption tax increase from 8 to 10 percent. Neither proposal has majority support.


Polling is important to the Japanese government and its parties as there are upper house (Councillors) elections this summer.

Japan has a strong newspaper establishment that does considerable polling. Akita, who received a master’s degree from Boston University, is a close observer of national politics and uses both local and international polls in his analyses.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Japanese Foreign Minister Kono’s Georgetown Speech a Hit

Taro Kono
Taro Kono, Japan’s foreign minister and a Georgetown University graduate (SFS’86), outlined Japan’s commitment to a global presence to promote democratic values in a policy address at his alma mater on September 28, 2018. The drafting of the speech, which was well-received, was assisted by top officials in the Foreign Ministry. Kono, who speaks fluent English, described his years at Georgetown as formative of his interest in government service and foreign policy. He answered student questions after the presentation.

In his address, he outlined Japan’s major goals and strategies in an era of disruption with a rising China and America’s shifting foreign policy. He described his country’s interest in maintaining the rule of law and norms as it affects navigation, trade, human rights and security in the Western Pacific. He agreed with the need for burden-sharing with the U.S. and said Japan’s goal is to do so. But, he also emphasized that globally, nations with democratic values must remain united. Japan’s interests have become more global and include relationships with Russia, Europe and the Middle East

It is clear that Japan is becoming a global influence to both support democratic values, but also counter authoritarian regimes if they seek to coerce or flaunt the rules.

See:
Japanese foreign minister urges international support of Democratic values
Foreign minister of Japan Taro Kono (SFS’86) returns to Georgetown to deliver Lloyd George Centennial lecture

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Abe Offers Stability in Era of Disruption

In a week of foreign policy discussions with leading Japanese scholars, media commentators, Foreign Ministry officers and members of the Diet, the consensus view was that Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, as he approaches being the longest serving post-WWII prime minister, is a significant and timely asset for Japan and the Far East in a moment of considerable turmoil.

In an effort to maintain continuity, Abe has centered his foreign policy around keeping a close and friendly relationship with Donald Trump, something that has eluded European leaders Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel. He traveled to Trump Towers during the transition and was the first to play golf at Mar-a-Lago. Rumor has it that Trump and Abe spoke during the recent Hanoi summit with Kim Jong-un. Trump primarily relates to leaders at a personal level and claims to be close to Kim Jong-un, Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Abe may be the only non-authoritarian leader in the club.

The alliance is critical to Japan’s security and foreign policy goals. Abe spends considerable energy making sure Japan’s interests are represented in the North Korean negotiations, continuing to promote the benefit of a TPP-type, multilateral agreement, and arguing against tariffs and more payments related to hosting American troops.

Just as important as playing defense with the Trump administration is the Japanese effort at organizing the Pacific Rim to counter China’s expansion, while maintaining as positive a relationship with Xi Jinping and China as possible. Trump’s apparent discomfort with key elements of the 70-year old alliance has made clear to Japanese leadership that their own multilateral initiatives are needed and Abe’s longevity in office is a strategic advantage.

President Donald Trump shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo
Abe Mar-a-Lago, Florida, April 17, 2018 | Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images