Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Two Pandas Summit: Autocrats Gather; Economies and Military Ties Strengthened

Vladimir Putin welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping and 1,000 Chinese officials and businesspeople for a state visit and to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Russia looks to skirt western sanctions, attract Chinese investments and strengthen its alliance with the U.S. and Western democracies other leading antagonist, China. And, of course, China is looking for allies in its trade dispute with the U.S. Xi brought two pandas for good will and called Putin, who was celebrating a birthday, his best friend.

President Putin spent considerable time criticizing the U.S.’s geopolitical and trade positions as un-unilateralism and hegemony. And, the joint discussions made clear that – concerning Iran, North Korea and Venezuela, the use of Huawei and the Arctic – the two countries are in agreement on viewpoints and promoting joint positions and ventures.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and Russian President
Vladimir Putin, June 7, 2019 | Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

While the West’s alliance relationships, such as the EU and NATO, are on the defense, Russia and China are building theirs. Last September, President Putin and President Xi shared blintzes as their militaries maneuvered together.

Vladimir Putin invited Xi Jinping to a Russian pancake cooking class in Siberia while Chinese troops joined Russians in a large five-day military exercise that U.S. Defense officials described as: “…moving beyond symbolic displays of force to coordinate weapons systems and command structures. Washington says the two countries have developed capabilities that could test U.S. military dominance in times of crisis.” (The Buzz, Sept. 28, 2018)

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping make
pancakes during a visit to the Far East Street exhibition on the sidelines of
the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, Russia, Sept. 11, 2018 | Reuters

The Polls

The American people have no illusion about their views concerning Putin or Xi. A CNN poll of 2017 asked a favorability question of world leaders, and President Putin had a 12 percent favorable rating and 71 percent unfavorable. President Xi had a 10 percent favorable, a 36 percent unfavorable, and 53 percent not having heard of him or with no opinion.

Do Democrats Want a Candidate Who Shares Their Values or Can Beat Trump? They are Split

In an analysis of the latest national poll from PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist shows Democrats nearly evenly divided between wanting a presidential nominee they agree with on the issues (47%) and who was electable (46%).

I argued candidates have to blend them both.

Independent pollster Floyd Ciruli said the candidates are under pressure to identify with voters on the issues and come across as electable.

“You have to blend them both,” he said.

The article was published on PBS NewsHour site by digital producer, Gretchen Frazee.

The poll also pointed out that, although the President hasn’t improved his job performance approval for months (41%), his disapproval has declined from 55 percent in February to 49 percent in the June poll. Also, the number of people who said they would definitely vote against the President went down from 57 percent in January to 51 percent in this poll.

I argued that, given the number of controversies the President is involved in. it shows that he’s not being swamped by them. Democrats must be mindful that this is likely to be a tough race and issues, like the Mueller report, are not a silver bullet.

“That reinforces the fact that during this incredibly tumultuous period, there is no huge bump up in strong disapproval” of Trump, Ciruli said.

Denver Voters State Their Views: No Camping, No Olympics, But Yes on Mushrooms

In the latest Denver elections, less than half of Denver’s registered voters have made a series of important decisions for the city and its political leadership. In a nearly unanimous voice, they said any solution to the growing homeless problem will not include camping on city streets, in parks or public spaces. Eighty-one percent of voters defeated a homeless advocate initiative to legalize public camping.

On the same May 7 ballot, voters approved by a mere 2,000 votes, decriminalizing the use of psilocybin, commonly referenced as Magic Mushrooms – cementing Colorado’s and especially Denver’s image as a national drug capital.

Although the likelihood Denver will ever get a Winter Olympics is highly remote, opponents, including former Governor Dick Lamm, captain of the 1972 statewide voter rejection (by 60%) of the ‘76 Olympics, won another bar to a future Olympics by requiring a vote that would have to take place for even a preliminary study of the issue if it involved any government funds. Olympics, forget Denver.

In Public-Funding-for-Local News Debate, What About the SCFD Model?

In a newsletter by Corey Hutchins, Colorado Local News & Media, Hutchins wrote:

Following last week's news in this newsletter that Longmont voters won't be asked to consider new taxes for a library district with a potential local news component, political analyst and pollster Floyd Ciruli reached out with a similar idea to consider.

"One possible model to examine is the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD), which provides money for major and smaller cultural organizations with no influence on their selection of programs, exhibits or their missions in general," he said. "But the Board still provides transparency and accountability over the tax dollars." The benefit over a library district," he said, is that the SCFD model can use a sales tax, "and the operational rules and board composition can be designed as appropriate."

Ciruli, who helped start SCFD decades ago when major institutions in Colorado were in financial trouble, says he believes looking at them as an idea for potentially helping fund local news sources should be examined. “It’s the kind of thing that ought to be polled,” he said.

Change is Coming to Denver

Although Michael Hancock’s substantial victory Tuesday night secures his final term as mayor, he will deal with a city council full of new community activists, much more skeptical of the growth than the incumbents they replaced. All three incumbents forced into the May 7 runoff lost and their replacements were strongly hostile to the developer culture that they believe controls City Hall.

Denver is a strong mayoral system of government, with control over appointments, the budget and a high threshold of votes needed for a veto. But, councilpersons with agendas and constituencies can have considerable influence. The Mayor’s lobbyist and the business and development community will play more defense then they have had to for the last several years.

No doubt, the Mayor and his allies will adapt, but change is coming. As I said in a Denver Post article to John Aguilar:

“From the swearing-in on, there’s going to be a new tone with these members,” political analyst Floyd Ciruli said.

Read The Buzz: Denver Council Incumbents Dealing With Growth in Runoff

Denver Runoff Election Has Lower Turnout

The final ballot total hasn’t been reported by the Denver Clerk yet, but the June 5 posting at 2:00 pm shows 165,337 votes, or approximately 19,000 less than the May 7 runoff.

The percentage of turnout among independent voters fell off a couple of points and Democrats went up. But in general, turnout was down across-the-board among partisan groups. Overall turnout was 41 percent of 407,140 registered voters. Runoffs often attract more voters, but not always. Turnout was down in Wellington Webb’s and John Hickenlooper’s first runoffs.

As usual, most ballots were turned in the last weekend and on Election Day, June 4. On the final day, 80,000 ballots were recorded, or 48 percent of the vote. Similarly, during the runoff, 80,000 ballots were received on Election Day, or 43 percent (out of 184,000 cast).

Trump’s Tariffs Take a Toll: Dow Ended May Below 25000

The Dow and other major investment indexes had their worst month since the collapse of major indexes last December. The Dow lost 355 points on Friday, the last day of May, after President Trump’s tariff announcement on Mexican goods.

Although the Dow remains up 6 percent for the year, the preceding six weeks of losses is the longest losing streak since 2011, near the start of the current recovery. Along with concern about the longevity of the nearly decade-long recovery (started in 2009) and bull market, investors are beginning to fear Trump’s application of emergency trade power for his wildly oscillating tariff policy. Earlier in the month, Trump lifted tariffs on steel and aluminum (while threatening new tariffs on autos), then raised tariffs on China as trade talks failed, and now is calling for escalating tariffs on Mexico (via Twitter and against advise of trade experts and legislative allies).

Trump and his immigration hardliners, such as Mick Mulvaney (Freedom Caucus leader and White House Chief of Staff) and immigration staffer, Steve Miller, have encouraged the crackdown on the Mexico/U.S. border, most recently with complete shutdown. Arguably, tariffs are somewhat less disruptive, but for many investors they reinforce the cross-purposes and volatility of the President’s foreign and economic policies. Tariffs are a tax on Americans and wildly disruptive of trade relationships. Economic observers not associated with the White House believe Trump’s policies will hurt earnings, inhibit business investments, raise consumer prices and slow growth.

The Dow closed on Friday, May 31 at 24815, down 1841 points since the 2019 high on April 23. The market’s volatility has increased since early 2018. It was in January 2018 when the Dow hit 26616, yet ended 2018 at 23327, or more than 3000 points lower.

Most observers expect the volatility to continue due to geopolitical factors, both in the U.S., but also abroad. The President’s use of sanctions and tariffs is a new factor for world markets to digest.

Jesse Paul, Colorado Sun: Mayor’s Race Very Negative, Very Personal

Jesse Paul, formerly with the Denver Post, has a long concluding story in the Colorado Sun on the Denver mayor’s race becoming a “fiery personality clash” (May 31, 2019).

He quoted The Buzz of May 30, “Denver Votes Trickling In; Hancock Vulnerable by Late Stumble”:

“If Jamie Giellis derailed the beginning of her campaign with the NAACP memory lapse, Michael Hancock is even more damaged by his late clumsy effort to reframe his sexual harassment controversy in a final debate one week out before Election Day,” he posted on his blog.

The election has a lot of money, a lot of social media, many new voters, and a lot at stake for the development community and city interest groups. You can expect it to get personal and negative, especially in the anti-establishment, change era that is challenging the status quo.

Jamie Giellis (L) and Mayor Michael Hancock | Jesse Paul/The Colorado Sun

Will Millennials Make a Difference in Denver City Elections? Mary Winter, Colorado Independent

A third of the vote in the May 7 Denver general election was provided by unaffiliated voters, many new registrants and Millennials. Will they vote on June 4 and will they vote for change?

As of late Monday, June 3, 95,000 votes had been counted, a little ahead of the May 7 general election returns. But, on Election Day, May 7, more than 80,000 Denver voters delivered ballots – mostly in person – to the Denver Clerk, leading to the long count Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. Will Millennial and more independent voters surge again or will the runoff have a lower turnout than the 185,000 record on May 7?

Reporter Mary Winter analyzed registration and precinct data in a June 3 Colorado Independent story. She describes Millennials as a substantial bloc of Denver voters. I contributed to the story’s background on the city election.

Winter writes:

They helped boost turnout in Denver’s May 7 municipal election to 39.6%, a fairly high showing by historical standards, according to the Denver Elections Division. Veteran Denver political pollster Floyd Ciruli predicts millennials will show up in big numbers again for Tuesday’s runoff, which will also determine five city council seats and the city clerk and recorder, and whether voters should get to decide if public money should be spent to host future Olympics.

Ciruli won’t venture a guess as to which candidate millennials will favor. “We know they are not party loyal. And that’s what’s exciting, interesting. Millennials could be a deciding factor” in this race, he said.

. . .

Ciruli says there are a few universal concerns in this election. “Polls I have conducted in the past three to four years indicate growth is the No. 1 issue. There’s consistently a cluster around affordable housing, transportation, congestion, homelessness and gentrification and, in the most sensitive communities, the preservation of community,” he said.  

. . .

No matter what their age, Denver voters will be delivering a referendum on the city’s management over the past eight years, says pollster Ciruli.

“Hancock and the council recognized they had a development problem,” but they didn’t put the brakes on big development fast enough, Ciruli says.  “The public didn’t see enough ‘no’ – nothing dramatic enough. It’s development and growth – the issue is really framed by this election.”

“Millennials changed the environment 100%, and we’ve had a hard time catching up to the growth.”

Winter’s precinct analysis shows Mayor Hancock had considerable strength throughout Denver, winning close to his 39 percent average in most areas, and more in northeast Denver’s historic higher concentration of African American neighborhoods.

Read blogs:
Mayor’s Race: Final Week, KOA With Marty and Ed
Denver Votes Trickling In; Hancock Vulnerable by Late Stumble
Runoff Returns Slow as Usual

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

KOA: Final Denver Mayor’s Race Interview With April and Marty

Denver’s mayoral runoff campaign has gotten very negative and very personal. The race started about growth, development, homelessness and affordable housing, and now it’s about race and diversity and gender and harassment – very personal.

April Zesbaugh and Marty Lenz questioned the impact of negative campaigning on turnout and who’s helped by low and high turnouts.

As of Sunday night, the Denver Clerk reported 85,000 votes turned in. If the 185,000 voter turnout of the May 7 election is to be reached, 100,000 votes need to be cast and counted today and Election Day. That’s about what happened last time, with the huge 80,000 final votes on Election Day.

Voters are in an angry mood today, and politicians are convinced that staying on the offensive and going negative will boost turnout among their supporters. The Mayor, for example, wants to maximize minority turnout, and Jamie Giellis wants women to turnout strongly to her.

Who the level of turnout – high or low – helps or hurts depends, of course, on who turns out – the Mayor’s home area on the eastside or voters angry about traffic and congestion favoring Giellis. Generally, low turnout helps the incumbent, the status quo. Giellis needs passion behind her campaign.

Mayor Michael Hancock (L) and Jamie Giellis during a Denver Post mayoral debate
at the Denver Press Club, May 28, 2019 | Photo: Daniel Petty/Denver Press Club

Mayor’s Race: Final Week, KOA With Marty and Ed

With less than one week left in the Denver mayor and council races, do Denver voters decide to shake up City Hall as they did in the May 7 election when they only gave the incumbent Mayor 39 percent and put three incumbent councilpersons into runoffs, or does the establishment come back offering experienced leaders of a nationally admired city?

Denver is already voting, and if turnout is similar to the first round, most people voted the last week, with more than 80,000 voting the last day. There will be final debates, with lots of attacks before the candidates go to their closing main themes.

If the race is purely decided on the basis of the desire to change and concern about aspects of too much growth, Jamie Giellis is likely to win. But, runoff elections tend to shift to comparisons between the two top candidates that bring forth other factors that often help incumbents, such as knowledge of the city, its operation and its diversity. Michael Hancock has emphasized the success of the city and his accomplishments. But, he also went negative first and early in an effort to try to define his opponent as “anti-immigrant” and later as not qualified. Hancock’s campaign, which is well-funded with years of experience in citywide elections, has also capitalized on Giellis’ errors.

  • She early on endorsed getting rid of the city ban on homeless camping, even after 80 percent of Denver voters supported the ban in the May election. She had to reverse herself and clarify her position the final week.
  • She was distracted by an interview where she failed to correctly identify the acronym, NAACP, and various random tweets that seemed insensitive.

She desperately needs momentum the final week. Giellis, who did get the support of her candidate colleague who came in second, has gone after Hancock for corruption in contracting with the airport and Convention Center, and fostering a City Hall culture of sexual harassment. It’s not clear the issues have gained the traction that the excess of development had in early May.

She was 25,000 votes short of the Mayor’s vote in the first round, and if turnout is 180,000 or more, she needs to double the 44,000 votes she received. A tall order.

Listen to KOA interview here 

Denver Votes Trickling In; Hancock Vulnerable by Late Stumble

If Jamie Giellis derailed the beginning of her campaign with the NAACP memory lapse, Michael Hancock is even more damaged by his late clumsy effort to reframe his sexual harassment controversy in a final debate one week out before Election Day.

Hancock is especially vulnerable in that only 45,000 votes were counted and recorded by the Denver Clerk and Recorder as of Wednesday, May 29. That’s only a quarter of the 185,000 voters that showed up in the May 7 election.

A lot of people are just now making up their minds in an election that most observers believe remains competitive.

Denver Post: Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Jamie Giellis swing elbows in debate
The Buzz: Record Denver turnout shows up on last day

Mayor Michael Hancock (L) and Jamie Giellis during a Denver Post mayoral debate
at the Denver Press Club, May 28, 2019 | Photo: Daniel Petty/Denver Press Club

Denver Council Incumbents Dealing With Growth in Runoff

The embattled incumbents in three Denver City Council races are mostly facing attacks related to growth, with arguments over which candidate will best represent the neighbors vs. developers and City Hall.

Mary Beth Susman may be the most endangered. She came in 5 points behind her opponent, Amanda Sawyer, who argues the central-eastside 6th Avenue, Hilltop and Crestmoor area is full and doesn’t need any more development. Susman argues a more nuanced development strategy, which may not appeal to the “change City Hall” voter, but she is hoping for more voters to turn out that like her record of service.

Albus Brooks is in a culture war with one of the most liberal activists in the city – Candi CdeBaca, who he only bested by 2 points on May 7. Brooks has a diverse neighborhood that has seen a lot of development and gentrification. It also has the I-70 freeway improvements, which are very controversial (CdeBaca opposed).

Wayne New represents what many people believe is ground zero in overdevelopment; i.e., Cherry Creek. In his first election, New was the slow growth candidate, but is now playing defense with a Capitol Hill activist who claims New is too conservative to represent the district on a host of issues, including development. New may be the strongest candidate for re-election, but all three races see the split between City Hall – the status quo, and new forces, generally more liberal and less growth-oriented.

Regardless of the result in the mayor’s race, expect a more visible and active Denver City Council.

Democrats Crowd Senate Race

Cory Gardner’s difficult race in Colorado doesn’t appear to improve as President Trump continues to break norms and work for his base, which is a thin layer in Colorado. The most obvious indicator of Gardner’s vulnerability is the mass of Democrats bidding for the job. It nearly looks like the presidential herd.

The top candidates with a comment follow, but notice missing is someone a Chuck Schumer would pick from the Democratic establishment, such as John Hickenlooper or Ed Perlmutter. The point is that the contain and order of the field could change quickly.

There are another half dozen candidates with more considering it.

Andrew Romanoff | Photo: Denver Post
Mike Johnston | Photo: Andy Cross/Denver Post

Is “America First” Headed to Conflict?

The Trump administration’s “America First” policy is now engaged in at least four dangerous regions, any one of which could produce a conflict. President Trump’s personalized foreign policy sets aggressive goals (denuclearization, regime change) and proclaims extreme threats (fire and fury, totally destroy North Korea, official end of Iran), but no conflict, yet.

However, for now, there is very little accomplished. To some extent, his targets are discounting the threats. If his mostly go-it-alone strategy ends in failure, will it lead to a shift to military solutions?

Colorado Ballot Issues Could Pass in Off-Year Election

Historically, the effort to increase taxes for Colorado state government responsibilities, such as K-12 and higher education and roads, has floundered. And, proposals haven’t fared any better in odd-year elections.

But, the Colorado State Legislature just put two proposals on the ballot: Proposition CC, a permanent TABOR override, and Proposition DD, allowing and taxing sports betting, that could pass.

Proposition CC: Retain revenue for education and transportation

Proposition DD: Authorize and tax sports betting

Why the better chance for more revenue in November 2019?

  • A five-year TABOR override barely passed in 2005, but since then, local governments’ TABOR overrides have become commonplace. A recent survey in Arapahoe County showed a TABOR override for the county, one of the few counties in the state without an override, would be approved by 60 percent.
  • Sin taxes remain popular. Marijuana and gaming produce revenue much of the public is willing to allow and anxious to tax. A gaming activity increase (higher table betting limits) was approved handily in 2008 and the tax dollars put into community colleges and gaming towns.
  • Although there will be a defense of TABOR from longtime supporters, they will be countered by a well-oiled advocacy group for TABOR reform, especially override of its “caps.”
  • Without a rival gaming group willing to oppose the sports gaming legalization the public is likely to see as a painless source of tax revenue for a good cause – the well identified need for state water programs and projects.
  • Colorado’s changed political climate appears to offer some additional support for proposals that have a progressive consensus, especially if supported by the legislative leadership and Governor Polis.

Of course, a lower turnout electorate and a long history of mistrust of state government will still have to be overcome, but 2019 may change the direction on giving state government some, if not much, additional tax revenue.

Giellis Stumbles, Loses First Week

Jamie Giellis at the Denver Post's mayoral
debate, April 1, 2019 | Getty Images
In spite of a strong start with important endorsements from colleagues who she beat for second place, Jamie Giellis’ verbal stumble in a podcast of low or no audience became by week’s end, a major distraction and put her on the defensive.

The inability to correctly identify the acronym, NAACP, is a very small deal, but it nicely reinforces a major theme of her opponent – Giellis lacks important government- and political-related knowledge and specifically does not know the city or its diversity. The Mayor and his allies are arguing to go with the experienced hometown candidate, and this reinforces it. Michael Hancock’s base in the minority community demonstrated its usual low interest in the May 7 first round election with low turnout. This strengthens his case to the minority community that something important is at stake in this race.