Friday, May 22, 2020

China’s Delayed Congress Meets May 22 – Sign All is Well?

After a two-month delay, the National People’s Congress’s annual meeting of political and business elites will start on Friday, May 22. It represents a risk to assemble several thousand of the country’s top leaders in Beijing, but it signals China wants the narrative to be that it managed the virus and is back to normal.

President Xi’s and the leadership’s handling of the coronavirus will be the lead topic as it is a part of the global public relations effort to counter criticism and assert China’s growing global strategy.

But, the economic rhetoric and plans will be critical. President Xi Jinping has recently placed more emphasis on restoring jobs and less on growth projections. That’s partially a reflection that the economy has contracted more in the first quarter than since Mao died in the mid-1970s. The credibility of his leadership and the legitimacy of the party are at some risk.

Also, the reports and conversations on Hong Kong will be watched closely. Hong Kong has mostly exhausted the central government’s patience due to riots, parliamentary disruption and the damaged economy. China argues sovereignty is threatened and national security. It alleges interference from the U.S. Also, a surge of nationalist fervor is affecting China’s rhetoric and possibly the substance of the relationship. Expect tighter control.

Chinese leaders have been wearing masks. How many actually show up versus teleconference will be a sign of the risk assessment. Upwards of 5,000 participants and associated interests could show up for the Congress and the parallel meeting of the party’s political advisors at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Cory Gardner Runs on “Bringing Home the Bacon”

Although President Trump is one of Senator Cory Gardner’s major burdens in his re-election, he is also helping Gardner make his case that he is the best person to serve Colorado and should be re-elected. Gardner has scored a host of impressive wins for Colorado in his first term, mostly with the help of Trump and backed by his Republican Senate colleagues.
  • Move Bureau of Land Management headquarters to Grand Junction
  • Place start-up of new Space Force in Colorado Springs
  • Fund Arkansas Valley Conduit ($28 million)
  • Fully fund Land and Water Conservation Fund 
  • Acquire masks from Asian contacts due to Senate Committee work
President Trump brings Sen. Cory Gardner to the stage as
he speaks to supporters at the Broadmoor World Arena,
February 20, 2020 | AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post
Senators who focus on bringing in projects and funding to their states as a primary congressional activity and campaign message has falling out of favor, especially during tough re-elections, with the rise of nationalized campaigns, polarization and intense partisanship. But historically, it has been a frequent approach by Colorado senators, with Republicans Ben Campbell and Wayne Allard, both re-elected, adept at it in recent years. It fits with Gardner’s primary advantage of being in the majority senate party and having a friend in the White House. The election in 2018 made clear it’s impossible for Republican candidates to avoid Trump. They may as well use him as best as possible.

Gardner also emphasizes that the projects often had bipartisan support. Bipartisanship always tests well in Colorado polls and is a characteristic voters say they like.

Pandemic and Public Opinion: Colorado

Colorado is beginning to open up its businesses. The media is covering the uneven lifting of restrictions due to different state and city rules, along with a few outlier businesses opening on their own timelines and rules. Protests of the regulation have received coverage. But, public opinion polls – both nationally and in Colorado – tell a different story, one of a broad consensus on safety first and only then relaxing the rules.

Open and Close
The majority of the public still support restrictions with just a modest shift in the last few weeks toward fewer restrictions.
  • Nationally, 68 percent say their greater concern is that restrictions on public activity will be lifted too quickly, while 31 percent are more concerned that states will not lift restrictions quickly enough, essentially unchanged since early April (Pew, 4/29-5/5).
  • Three-quarters say the country should keep trying to slow the spread of the virus, even if it means keeping many businesses closed. A quarter instead say the country should reopen the economy, even if it results in more infections (Post/Ipsos, 4/27-5/4).
  • Colorado also records 64 percent prefer restrictions over quickly easing up – Colorado: keep rules – 64%, ease up – 29% (see chart below). (Magellan Strategies, 4/15-4/21)
Although like nearly everything in America, there are partisan differences. Republicans are closely divided in Colorado, with 44 percent preferring keeping rules and 49 percent wanting to ease up. Democrats (80%) and independents (68%) are in favor of keeping rules. The Colorado poll reported in the Denver Post was done in April online.

Masks
Another Colorado poll also done online in May reports 78 percent of Coloradans support masks in stores and workplaces. It had bipartisan support, with 68% Republicans and 87% Democrats in favor (Keating Research, 5/1-5/3).
  • Nationally, use of masks continues to increase: 77 percent now say they’re sometimes (28%) or always (50%) wearing a mask when they leave the house (Axios/Ipsos, 5/8-5/11).
Confidence in Information
Magellan also reported that only 29 percent of Coloradans trust information on the virus from President Trump versus 50 percent who say they trust Governor Polis.
  • Nationally, only 36 percent view the president as a trusted source of information about the outbreak (CNN, 5/7-5/10). Along with social media, more than half (54%) identify the Trump administration as one of the two most common sources of misinformation about the virus (Gallup, 4/14-4/20).
  • Eight in 10 Democrats say they trust Dr. Anthony Fauci and the CDC as sources of information about the outbreak. Fewer Republicans, albeit still majorities, say the same – 61 percent and 72 percent, respectively (CNN, 5/7-5/10).
Keating’s poll states Polis’ approval rating went up from 50 percent last fall to 66 percent today.

Lifting Restrictions
David Brooks, in his New York Times commentary reprinted in the Sunday Denver Post Prospective section, agreed that America is less divided than we seem online or between our partisan cable news shows. Indeed, the Keating poll indicated that 68 percent of Coloradans supported Polis’ “safer-at-home” phase easing of restrictions. Interestingly, more Republicans supported it (75%) than Democrats (63%). Republicans probably liked the relief and opening up of businesses and the Democrats the continued emphasis of health rules.

Of course, polling is a snapshot of opinion, and in a fast moving political environment, it will shift. But for now, neither Coloradans nor Americans are ready to ignore science-based

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Pandemic and Petitions

The pandemic threw Colorado’s 2020 petition process into a gridlock. In response, Governor Jared Polis just changed the rules of signature collection and has added chaos to the environment.

Typically, Colorado has a half dozen to a dozen propositions on a November even-year ballot. This year, petition proponents – mostly on the left – saw an opportunity for their favorite causes, from tax changes (increases), to fracking limits, to paid medical and family leave. Initially, a record 318 initiatives were filed. And at least 24 are ready for circulation. But, they were all waiting for the stay-at-home order to be lifted to start circulation.

But Polis on May 15, with a long-standing inclination for controversial ballot initiatives – witness his 2006 Amendment 41 on lobbying or his 2014 oil and gas initiatives – listened to the liberal advocates and changed the rules. Due to the Governor’s rule change, the two dozen initiatives lined up could use the new mail and email rules, which may make it much easier to achieve the needed valid signatures of 124,632.

The state’s business and public affairs establishments rushed a lawsuit that is likely to add more delay and confusion to the process. Polis had been on a roll on executive orders. He may have run out of luck on this one.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Pandemic and Colorado Senate Race: Gardner Starts TV, Democrats “Debate”

Cory Gardner started his Senate TV advertising with a traditional Colorado-type ad emphasizing the themes that were more common in politics a few decades back: nonpartisan attitudes and working for the state. The ad uses news footage of getting masks through contacts from his Senate experience in the Far East. It includes Governor Polis praising him and highlights his non-partisan efforts.

Gardner is trying to simply improve his image, while Democrats are distracted with their June 30 primary. Gardner has been the target of a host of negative attack ads from left-wing PACs and advocacy groups. He is considered the most vulnerable Republican incumbent up in November. Recent polls have him running behind even President Trump in voter favorability.

On May 14, John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff held a Zoom forum. Few noticed. Romanoff wanted a debate and tried to land a few punches. Hickenlooper used the format to mostly stay above the fray. No real winner and not much of an audience. Zoom is a difficult platform for a debate and the Democratic Party isn’t encouraging a fight.

The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Five

COVID-19 Deaths
The world count of COVID-19 victims just crossed 300,000 as America records 90,258 victims on Sunday, May 18, a 20,000 plus increase in approximately the last two weeks (a 32% increase).

The Tension
A major fight has broken out over the best; i.e., safest and fastest, strategy to lift the stay-at-home and essential business orders. President Trump, seeing it as a way to revive his flagging campaign and focus on the economy as the narrative he runs on, has been encouraging states to rapidly reopen, supporting protests, and criticizing governors and health officials (Dr. Fauci), who he believes are too cautious.

Although there is a constituency for his agitation, it’s modest, and his offhand references to safety are drowned out by his blunderbuss economic cheerleading. Although the states are opening at a variety of rates, most are taking a slow, phased approach watching infection rates and hospital utilization.

The growth of victims in New York City has slowed and represents 31 percent of the national total. The next 9 states represent 37 percent, and many haven’t slowed yet (68% total). The remaining 40 states represent 32 percent of total deaths. Changes in these proportions will be an indicator of the application of caution and best practices in the states as they open for business.

Unemployment
Unemployment claims continue to climb as 2.9 million filed the last week, increasing the total filings since March to 33.5 million. The latest Wall Street Journal survey of economists from May 8-12 reported an expected unemployment rate in June of 17 percent, up from the April 14.7 percent reported last week. The economy, as it enters a second quarter of downturn, is approaching nearly twice the slowdown of 2008-10. Many economists believe the unemployment rate is more accurately 20 percent.

The economists agree with our blog observations of a slow “Swoosh” shaped recovery. Federal Reserve chair, Jerome Powell, who earned an “A” from 72 percent of the economists for his early monetary actions (interest rates to near zero, purchase trillions of government debt and loans to American businesses) said on Wednesday, May 13:

“There is a growing sense the recovery may come more slowly than we would like…and that may mean that it’s necessary for us to do more.”

He implied another major spending bill was needed. The House of Representatives just passed $3 trillion package for states and local government and other programs with a slim 9-vote margin. The bill is opposed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and President Trump. But, expect the May unemployment report released in June to be very painful. Trump and the Republicans are going to start looking for political cover.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

China, the U.S. and Global Leadership in the Pandemic

Is America a dysfunctional state? Can it recover a global role? Could the COVID-19 argument lead to conflict?

Two American foreign policy’s most urgent concerns today are the deteriorating U.S. relationship with China and the lack of global leadership. This Thursday, I will join Professor Suisheng (Sam) Zhao as we explore both of those topics, specifically the origin, causes and likely outcome of the growing confrontation with China and what should be the U.S.’s role in global leadership. Please join us at 3:00 pm (MT) on Zoom for the conversation.

Thursday, May 14, 2020
3:00 pm to 4:30 pm MST
Zoom Meeting Details
Meeting ID: 926-3541-6507

Unemployment Rate Nears Depression Level

My mother told me stories of her parents feeding people passing through Kansas and Colorado in the 1930s looking for work, many coming from the rail yards, and in the 2008-10 Great Recession, nearly everyone had some financial hard times. But, the latest unemployment rate recorded for the month of April was at 14.7 percent, well beyond the Great Recession and approaching the hardships of the 1930s when one out of every four workers was out of work.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that 20.5 million workers lost their jobs in April, erasing the jobs gained since the last recession. And, another 6 million Americans were unemployed, but not counted due to not looking for work because they believed they would be called back to their previous jobs. The last time the unemployment rate was this high was at the end of the Great Depression (1940) and before the start of WWII.

Hospitality and Leisure Industry
Not surprising, the hardest hit sectors are the hospitality and leisure industry, professional services, retail and health totaling more than 13 of the 20 million out of work. The job types not affected are those that require physical presence that can’t be automated. Many are now considered essential, such as food workers, retail sales (grocery, convenience stores), hospital workers and home health aides, often lower paid with fewer benefits.

The unemployment is not spread equally among Americans. More women (15.5%) are unemployed than men (13%), and more Hispanic (18.2%) and black (16.3%) workers than white (13.6%). The unemployed mostly lack and/or only have high school degrees (38.5%). Only 8 percent of the 20 million unemployed are college graduates or higher.

Unemployment Claims
The weekly report of new unemployment claims continue to decline from the initial high of over 6 million per week to 3.2 million in the latest report. But, it is a sign that layoffs and furloughs continue at a high rate after 7 weeks from the start of the shutdown in the 3rd week of March.

The Wall Street Journal article, “Hope for Speedy Rebound Dim” (5-12-20) captures the growing consensus among economists and the business community that the recovery will be long and difficult. As described in previous blogs on the pandemic (The Twin Towers of Pain series), a host of economic, psychological and health factors will affect the recovery – especially the behavior of consumers, patients, students, office employees, sports participants and others as they assess the risk of various activities. I suggested a recovery in the shape of the letter “L” with a long slope up after the initial drop. The WSJ says some expect a NIKE logo-style “Swoosh” recovery is most likely. In either case, slow and cautious.

See The Buzz:
The Twin Towers of Pain
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Two
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Three
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Four

Monday, May 11, 2020

Massive State Budget Deficits: Colorado and California

Both California and Colorado are preparing for massive state government budget deficits estimated today in the billions. California is anticipating a $54.3 billion shortfall. They are projecting budget deficits through 2024. Colorado’s $30 billion state budget is expected to have a $3 billion gap that the State Legislature will first address after Memorial Day. May 26 is the date, recently moved back, the legislature reconvenes for the first time since it adjourned mid-March due to COVID-19.

Each state has reserves it can use and some sources of funding easier access in terms of restrictions on use and less painful in their immediate impact on programs and employees. Also, there will be some federal funds newly available for specific use, such as COVID-19 costs. But still, there will be painful shifting of funds and program reductions in both states to meet balanced budget requirements. Unlike the federal government, they can’t print money.

In Colorado, sales tax that supplies municipal and some special district budgets and augments some county budgets is starting to drop. A $44 million, one- percent sales tax collection in the six-county Denver metro area was down approximately 8 percent in March, a month that experienced only a couple of weeks of the shutdown. The drop in April should be spectacular.

Gov. Jared Polis provides an update on the state's response to the
coronavirus | Andrew Kenney/CPR News

Gov. Gavin Newsom updates the public about California's response
to the coronavirus outbreak | Office of the Governor of California

Friday, May 8, 2020

Ron Brownstein on Donald Trump and the Colorado U.S. Senate Race in CNN

Sen. Cory Gardner and President Donald Trump
Political columnist Ron Brownstein wrote a long opinion piece describing the close alignment of U.S. Senate races and the fortunes of President Trump in the states. I was quoted pointing out that Cory Gardner is as good a candidate the Republicans have produced in Colorado since Bill Owens, but that he will still have a struggle running with Donald Trump.

Republican incumbents Collins in Maine and Sen. Cory Gardner in Colorado face the challenge of holding seats in states where Trump lost last time and now stands as an underdog again. Gardner's odds appear especially bleak given Trump's decline in the state. "Gardner is one of the best politicians the Republicans have produced in that state since" the 1990s, says Floyd Ciruli, director of the Crossley Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Denver. "But I just don't think being the best Senate candidate the Republicans have produced and lots of money can deal with ... just what looks like [a] wave against Trump in terms of Colorado."
John Hickenlooper and Joe Biden

The latest Keating Group poll (Democratic pollster and consultants) reinforces the point that Trump and Gardner are running essentially together and are very behind the likely Democratic nominees, John Hickenlooper and Joe Biden.

Although these numbers are unlikely to hold going into the fall, it is a very deep hole to climb out of.

Pueblo Crushes Municipalization

Steve Welchert and Mayor Nick Gradisar
By 76 percent, Pueblo City voters rejected municipalization of the private utility now run by Black Hill Energy in an effort supported by a number of local politicians, including the new Mayor Nick Gradisar and an array of political activists. Well-known political consultant Steve Welchert ran the campaign to defeat the proposal. No doubt, the chaos of the pandemic affected voters’ support for more debt and risk. Pueblo voters, who are nominally Democrats, are, in fact, very fiscally frugal and skeptical of their own government growing bigger.

The lesson of Pueblo officials should be considered carefully by the myriad of liberal activists preparing to burden the November ballot with expensive new proposals.

Read Pueblo Chieftain: Municipalization sharply rejected by Pueblo voters

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Open for Business and Living With the Risk

As America and much of the world attempt to shift out of shelter-in-place rules, the number of deaths continues to rise. The U.S., at 71,260, is now nearly 50,000 more fatalities over its total on Easter of 22,000 (April 12). The Trump administration wants to shift the narrative from the Task Force, which President Trump has abandoned to focus on the economy, with him cheerleading the openings.

There has been a shift in the rank order of top nations in number of fatalities. Brazil is the first country south of the equator moving up rapidly in the number of deaths, most recently overtaking Germany, Iran and the Netherlands. President Jair Bolsonaro, who has resisted the lockdown, is famous for calling COVID-19 a “little flu.” The United Kingdom, another country slow to shelter-in-place, has now overtaken Spain and Italy as its losses approach 30,000. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also promoting the start of economic activity.

After six weeks or more of lockdowns in most developed countries, the pressure to restart lives and economics is irresistible, but the risk of a second wave of infections is great. U.S. medical authorities suggest the death total could climb to 130,000 by June if the public doesn’t adhere to good separation and hygiene rules. Masking or no masking is the new flashpoint between the risk adverse and the “let’s just live with it” crowd. In any event, the new normal will be very different than the recent past.

See The Buzz:
The Twin Towers of Pain
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Two
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Three
The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Four

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Twin Towers of Pain: Part Four

COVID-19 Deaths
The last week recorded 13,000 victims of COVID-19, up from 55,000 to 68,000. As states begin to open up retail businesses and segments of the public clamor to get back to activity, will there be a spike in cases and accompanying deaths? The public health community is watching closely, especially for the public’s willingness to maintain social distancing, hand washing, masking and other protective measures. Americans have shown compliance with the public health rules, but after a disruptive president, a hostile online subculture and intense economic hardships, the nearly seven-week shutdown is beginning to break down.

The Tension
Every governor is struggling to resolve the tension between the twin towers of pain, how to maintain the maximum safety level of the public, yet get the economy moving and reduce the hardship of unemployment.

Unemployment
The latest report of unemployment claims of 3.8 million shows that, while the rate of weekly increases has slowed, the total of 30.3 million out of work is extraordinary and historic. It represents more than 18 percent unemployment, a record not archived since the Great Depression.

Some people are returning to work, but economists predict the slow economy will produce a second wave of unemployment among white collar workers who were able to work at home, including government employees and workers in the oil and gas sector. The looming recession, loss of local government tax revenue and the oil bust will cause the next increase.

The president believes the recovery will be swift and fully realized by November for the election – a v-shaped curve. However, if consumers are slow to restart gathering and spending compared to the recent past, the course of the recovery may be a long and only a gradual slope upward.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Denver Post’s The Spot: Denver Judge Starts Rewriting Election Rules

Andrew Romanoff and John Hickenlooper
The Democratic primary of June 30 was set after the April Democratic State Assembly as a two-person contest when the Assembly only nominated Andrew Romanoff, the state party activist and grassroots candidate, to face off against John Hickenlooper, the well-financed party establishment candidate who got on the ballot by petition.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, a Denver judge, Christopher Baumann, ruled additional petition-seeking candidates will be let on the ballot in spite of not having sufficient signatures because COVID-19 and the shelter-in-place orders interrupted their efforts. The judge received appeals for relief from three candidates and decided that two had sufficient signatures to qualify and one did not.

In an interview with Justin Wingerter in the Denver Post’s political newsletter, The Spot (5-1-20), I suggested his decision appeared subjective and arbitrary and believed it upsets a set of rules governing all the candidates, their supporters and the parties.

My quote:

“It really destabilizes a system that was designed in a certain way,” said Floyd Ciruli, a longtime pollster and political consultant. “Within a certain timeline you have to get a certain number of signatures and the assumption, frankly, is that most people won’t. It’s extremely hard to do.”

My point was that the system was designed to avoid a ballot crowded with self-motivated longshots. I specifically felt it hurt Andrew Romanoff who needs to win the anti-establishment, left-leaning vote. “Romanoff needs a head-to-head as much as possible.”

See The Buzz:
Denver Post: Coronavirus and Colorado Primary

Friday, May 1, 2020

Colorado Water Policy in the Pandemic

The Colorado Water Congress (CWC) and its Colorado Water Stewardship Project (CWSP) will examine how the COVID-19 is affecting water policy.

On Monday, May 11 at noon, the CWSP is organizing a webinar on the COVID-19 impact on ballot initiatives in 2020, signature collection, Colorado politics and budgets in general, and specifically sports betting revenue that could be available for water.

CWC Webinar
Featuring Steve Leonhardt, Burns Figa & Will, P.C.; Floyd Ciruli, Ciruli Associates; and Doug Kemper, CWC

Monday, May 11, 2020
Noon to 1:00 pm

REGISTER HERE

The CWSP works to ensure that CWC members and water stakeholders from around the state are prepared for any ballot initiative that might be of interest to the Colorado water community. The Project guides CWC’s ballot initiative work consisting of legal challenges, public polling and messaging.