Friday, December 22, 2017

Republicans Get a Win After Health Care Debacle

On July 28, the Republican Party hit its lowest point in a tumultuous year with Donald Trump as president and control of both houses of the legislature.

“Repeal and replace” of Obamacare crashed and burned in a high drama vote on the floor of the Senate with John McCain joining two colleagues to sink it. But during that week, it was decided to drop the border adjustment tax and depend upon growth to make up for lost revenue from the tax cuts. That decision removed a major impediment to moving the tax reform legislation and the loss of the health care legislation made the effort an existential requirement. No tax reform, no legislative accomplishments, no control of Congress and the end of careers for many powerful members.

Analysts point out a number of conditions that helped tax reform avoid the fate of “replace and repeal.” Legislative leaders decided to:
  • Build a consensus, including with the President, around reducing corporate taxes. It was the most popular item in the caucus and the most related to the growth, highlighted by the surging market.
  • Forget the deficit. Argue growth and dynamic scoring will cover the shortfall.
  • Focus Trump and don’t let him wander off the reservation
  • Start with big number and pull it back: cuts of $2 trillion or more down to a modest $1.5 trillion, vary the rate from 18 percent to 21 percent to win votes and balance the books.
  • Get lucky. John McCain comes on early, Kevin McCarthy keeps California delegation mostly on board
  • Stay flexible on the final bill to bring on board senators with special needs
  • Set a date – year end – and use it to drive deals and decisions
From the Senate vote on December 2, to the final vote on December 20, the deals were done. Now, the questions become: Can Republicans sell what appears an unpopular bill, and separately, can they translate it into a winning theme for the 2018 congressional elections?

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Will the Dow Save Donald Trump?

President Trump is stumbling into the new year with a 37 percent approval rating. It was little understood that the 46 percent start-up approval rating was going to be a high point in a year-long steady decline. He will, of course, take justifiable credit for the tax cut legislation, but like many of his policy successes over the last 11 months, he nearly always devalues them by behavior widely judged as inappropriate for an adult, much less a president.

Why is Trump not receiving credit for the economy in his overall approval rating? At 46 percent, Trump does have a job approval for the economy better than his overall rating. But, it hardly reflects the investor and business classes’ confidence in the market. Nor do the numbers appear as positive as they should given the President’s frequent mention of the market, the record-low unemployment and uptick in the gross domestic product, which is now at 3 percent after lingering at 2 percent since the great recession. There are several factors that are affecting Trump’s ability to get credit for the good economy.

Partisan polarization, which is at record levels, affects nearly every political attitude, including people’s views about the economy and Trump’s effect on it. For example, 91 percent of Republicans approve his handling of the economy, but only 11 percent of Democrats. Of course, Trump enthusiastically participates in using partisanship, especially negative, in his politics, such as attacks on “Chuck and Nancy” in the Alabama Senate race.

Unpopular Legislation
Although congressional Republicans were no doubt right to pass the tax cut legislation simply because they were being judged politically incompetent after the loss of health care repeal and replace, pieces of the legislation are highly unpopular with the public in general. Support for the tax cuts has never exceeded a third of the public and opposition often more than 50 percent. The latest Gallup and Quinnipiac polls both report only 29 percent approve the “Republican tax plan” and only 67 percent of Republicans in Quinnipiac (70% in Gallup). Most people (64% in Quinnipiac) believe “wealthy Americans” will benefit the most from the plan.

Fitness for Office
Probably the President’s biggest approval rating problem relates to his tone and behavior that offends even those who like his policies or his anti-establishment attitude. For example, 66 percent of the public believes he should stop tweeting from his personal Twitter account, including 47 percent of Republicans (Quinnipiac).
  • 57% don’t believe the president respects people of color “as much as white people”
  • 57% not “fit to serve as president,” including 59% of independents
  • 52% “embarrassed to have Donald Trump as president”
Although the President is seen as a strong person (58%) and intelligent (55%), his behavior over the last 11 months has convinced majorities he’s not “level headed” (65%) and doesn’t have “good leadership” (59%) skills.

The President’s approach to relentlessly reinforce his base has alienated support among independents and even Republicans that would otherwise support him. Until he changes that strategy, the benefits of the economy are unlikely to lift his personal job approval.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Have the Rules of Gravity Been Suspended?

In 2016, none of the old political rules seemed to apply. How did Donald Trump win the presidency, yet lose the popular vote by an astonishing 3 million, even polling 10 points less in popularity than his competitor, Hillary Clinton, and having more than half of the electorate believing he was unfit for office?

Forecasts have become much more guarded since November 2016. But, by history and current metrics, if political gravity can be considered a law of nature, the Republicans should fall and the Democrats rise in the midterm elections. The general rule has been that the presidential party loses seats in midterms. Bill Clinton lost 54 seats in 1994 and control of the House; Barack Obama lost 63 seats in 2010 and Nancy Pelosi lost the Speaker’s gavel as a result.

And, of course, this president and his party have some exceptionally weak numbers after their first year in control of Washington, D.C. The President’s approval lingers below 40 percent. It has, in fact, hit the low 30s in some late November, early December polls.

The generic ballot test, which is judged a harbinger for a major shift in seats, has ranged from 8 to 11 points favoring the Democrats for months, a historic high. The Democrats need a net 24 seats to give Pelosi back the gavel. Finally, the seat-by-seat analysis from several analysts, such and Cook and Sabato, indicate Democrats have recruited a quality class of challengers and will fund them well – a Pelosi strength.

But this is the age of Trump and the old rules must be always tested and re-tested. While it seems unlikely, Trump and some of the policies, most of which do not have majority support of the public, could gain in popularity over the next 11 months. And, the economy continues to roll along.

In addition, Democrats must win a net of 24 seats. They have a few incumbents (12) in Trump territory that they must hold. At least three are open seats. Plus, they must win more new seats than just the 23 Republicans that are in districts Clinton carried — they are going to have to take a few seats from Republican incumbents in Trump territory. Possibly, the Alabama senate win demonstrates they can find candidates and a message to carry Republicans who have soured on either the President’s policies or his demeanor. And, of course, they won the Virginia and New Jersey governorships just as the Republicans did in the run-up to their successful 2010 midterm victory.

So if gravity holds, Democrats should have a good chance for their needed 24 seats, but it’s early and November 2016 challenged all the old rules.

Read Sabato’s Crystal Ball: House 2018: Less than a year out, race for control is a coin flip

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Mayor Hancock’s Re-election Prospects – Denver Post, Jon Murray Interview

In a long Denver Post article (12-12-17), Jon Murray outlines the challenges to Mayor Michael Hancock’s third and final election for Denver mayor. The odds remain in favor that Denver’s strong major form of government will reward Hancock with his third term. Usually, guiding major revenue elections is one of the best indicators of a mayor’s strength, and Hancock just guided a successful $937 million bond election.

But, there are three factors that create a challenge for Hancock’s re-election:
  • An anti-establishment attitude that is affecting most American politics, including Denver. In 2015, it helped propel a new Denver auditor and several council people.
  • New residents and a Millennial generation have little loyalty to incumbents, memory of their accomplishments and the way things are usually done.
  • Continued political stress about growth and development. As I told Murray: “Ciruli’s advice to Hancock: ‘You should spend the next 18 months with laser-like focus on the public anxiety regarding growth.’”

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

SCFD, a Public Policy Success Due to Compromise, Civic Unity and Public Service

In a speech at Mayor Hancock’s award ceremony for the arts on November 27, I described why the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) has maintained voter support in four elections since 1988 that created and renewed the district, including the latest in 2016.

Denver’s district is unique in its regionalism, its broad funding distribution and frugal administration. Many areas of the country have tried and failed to create a similar district, most recently Seattle’s cultural advocates lost an election. Having helped create the district and worked on its many elections since the mid-1980s and observed the challenges that other areas around the country and state have faced, I believe three values distinguish the Denver metro area: its civic and cultural leaderships willingness to compromise, the ability to unify and the commitment to public service.

2017 Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture
Acceptance Statement by Floyd Ciruli, Recipient of the Leadership in Arts Award

Thank you Mayor for the recognition. The audience is full of people who have helped during the 30 years of campaigns that have created and sustained the SCFD — an organization that has made this region such a standout in cultural vibrancy, access and educational opportunities that the entire country envies.

Some in the crowd are members of our cultural organizations’ volunteer boards, some manage the institutions and many are the campaign professionals that ensure voters know where to locate the SCFD on crowded ballots and why it’s worthy of their support.

I have had the good fortune to work with them in promoting the district for many years. They share a couple of important values. And as a new generation steps up to provide the leadership for the district, let me describe these values.

Compromise – In every year since the creation of the SCFD, a willingness to work together and compromise as we adjust the act has been a high point of the district from its creation in 1988 through the renewals in 1994, 2004 and, most recently, 2016.

Compromise is essential. We are a diverse community — from geography, to constituencies, to cultural preferences. I thank our team, especially our mayors, legislators and business leaders, for coming together and supporting the final proposals and legislation.

Civic Unity – And that highlights the second value, which is civic unity. Most recently, a SCFD-type proposal failed in Seattle’s King County, a progressive and prosperous community, primarily because they lacked civic unity. The Seattle Times opposed it, as did some vocal county leaders.

From our first visit with the Metro Mayors Caucus in 2014, that quickly pledged its support, to securing support from the county commissioners and chambers, the region’s civic leadership that pulls together for important projects is a significant asset.

Public Purpose – Finally, in every SCFD election cycle, I conducted an early poll. It asked 40 or 50 questions, but one was more important than the others. And, if it received a positive response, we could set the campaign strategy and get to work. Many of you know the question because I’ve talked about it often, and that is the favorability test.

Our cultural organizations, especially the best known, have sky-high positive reputations — higher than our universities, our sports teams and our political leaders. I believe that it reflects not only the popularity of culture, but the organizations’ multiyear, day-in and day-out commitment to providing access, education for children and families, and accountability.

As long as we continue the willingness to compromise, the ability to unify and the commitment to a public purpose, the SCFD will be around as long as Denver is around.

Monday, December 11, 2017

What the Hill Happened?

What happened in the 2016 election and does Hillary Clinton’s book, “What Happened,” offer a reasonably objective analysis? The Denver Press Club panel on Hillary Clinton’s book, 5:30 pm to 8:30 pm.


Monday, Dec. 11: What the Hill Happened?
A discussion about the 2016 presidential election and Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened,” on the evening of her Denver appearance at Tattered Cover.

Moderator: Vince Bzdek, editor-in-chief of The Gazette
Floyd Ciruli, pollster, political analyst
Mandy Connell, KOA radio host
Ian Silverii, Executive Director of Progress Now
Kim Howard, deputy political director for the Hillary for Colorado campaign

On September 26, 2017, I wrote an analysis in Colorado Politics that argued that the book’s focus and that of the Democratic Party is wrong and leaves them weaker as they attempt to prepare for the 2018 midterms and Donald Trump’s re-election campaign in 2020.

Read Colorado Politics: "What Happened?" Clinton book asks the wrong question

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Republicans Win on Taxes

Congressional Republicans recognized they couldn’t end the 2017 legislative session without a major accomplishment, especially after the high-profile failure to pass health care “repeal and replace.” Saturday morning at about 1:06 (EST), they passed a major revision of the tax code by 51 to 49 votes. No Democrat supported it and only one Republican failed to support it – Bob Corker of Tennessee on deficit grounds.

Republicans are the party to lower taxes and they now can claim the issue. As expected, they argue it will pay for itself by spurring growth and point to the DOW as evidence. Unfortunately, polls show, like health care, the law is not popular. Only 29 percent of Americans approve of it and only a quarter (24%) believe the middle class would benefit (wealthy win, 64%).

The Democrats lost the Senate vote making their usual defensive argument about distribution and equality issues instead of jobs and growth. Also, they claim the deficit will increase by up to one trillion dollars. Unfortunately, fewer people care about the deficit today than in the early Obama administration, and the Democrats, as the long-established party of “tax and spend,” has little credibility arguing for fiscal prudence. Also, few people (30%, Pew 2017) believe any significant progress will be made on the handling of the deficit.

Democrats may gain some longer term benefit as the public reacts negatively to the taxes effect on personal income, but for now, the Republicans and President Trump will claim a victory that will especially satisfy their corporate and business constituents.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Judge Moore in the Race in Alabama

Alabama Judge Roy Moore is in the first post Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, sex scandal election.

One week out (Dec. 12) and the special senate election in Alabama is a toss-up. The RealClearPolitics average has Roy Moore (R) ahead by 2 points, but two recent polls give Doug Jones (D) the lead.

Moore recovered from a November opinion deficit that developed after the November 9 Washington Post story that began a series of articles relating to various sexual encounters with young women (one was 14 at the time) in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Democrat Doug Jones was ahead by 4 to 8 points in several post scandal polls. But Moore went back into the lead by November 20.

Moore won a four-person primary with 39 percent on August 15 and a run-off on September 26 over the incumbent Luther Strange by 10 points (55% to 45%). Republicans typically win the state. President Trump won by 28 points in 2016 and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose appointment set off the special election, won re-election in 2008 by 26 points and by even more in 2014 against a write-in.

Moore should win the race, and the closeness reflects fall-out from the sex scandal. Even the Washington Post poll showed Alabama voters who favored Jones said they would prefer a Republican representing the state over a Democrat by 50 percent to 44 percent. The issue that is keeping Jones in the race has voters closely divided. Thirty-five percent think Moore made the sexual advances, 37 percent are unsure and 28 percent believe he didn’t. Moore is fighting for his political survival by arguing the race is against the Washington Democratic establishment, claiming the charges are false and focusing on core conservative issues of abortion and gay rights.

If Republicans lose the Alabama Senate race, it will add more evidence 2018 could be a repeat of 2010 when Barack Obama and Democrats lost both Virginia and New Jersey governorships and then a special election to fill Ted Kennedy’s senate seat during the 2009 run-off. In January 2011, Nancy Pelosi handed the gavel over to John Boehner after losing 63 seats.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Tillerson Gone?

“One by one, our old friends are gone. Death – natural or not – prison-deported.” (Johnny Ola, The Godfather Part II, 1974)
President Donald Trump smiles at Secretary of State Rex Tillerson after
 he was sworn in in the Oval Office of the White House, Feb. 1, 2017 | AP
Although there were skeptics, Rex Tillerson began his term as Secretary of State with much of the foreign policy establishment hopeful his international business experience, corporate management and more mainstream viewpoints would make him effective in leading the agency.

He has been broadly judged a failure. Some of the problems have been his own making, but most are reflective of the President and the administration. On a host of levels, Tillerson was given an agency the President did not like and intended on diminishing in a world that is considerably more challenging than when President Obama began his term.

Can Tillerson make the one year anniversary on January 20, 2018?

See The Buzz:
What chaos?
Bannon about to join Flynn?

Monday, December 4, 2017

November 7 Election: Democrats Nearly Equal Republicans

Out of 3.2 million ballots mailed in the November 7 off-year election, more than a third of Coloradans (38%), or 1.2 million, returned them.
  • Democrats nearly equaled Republicans, and both beat unaffiliated voters. (There are 10,000 more Democrats registered than Republicans.)  The modest Republican advantage in Colorado appears to have disappeared during the last decade. Both parties must now fight for weak partisan and independent voters.

  • More women voted than men – 625,000 (53%) to 561,000 (47%) (data rounded to nearest thousand)
  • Voters 40 years old and younger – mostly Millennials, represented 20 percent of the electorate and older voters (61 and above) 44 percent.
  • Denver, with the most registered voters in the state (403,000), came in second (144,000 votes cast) behind El Paso County (155,000) in votes cast.

Denver Bond Win Good for Hancock Re-election

Mayors and other Colorado political executives are judged on their ability to persuade voters to support tax initiatives in the state’s constitutionally-constrained tax environment.

Denver voters’ 70 percent level of support for $937 million in new bonds for seven categories of city projects helps secure Mayor Michael Hancock’s 2019 third and final re-election, assuming he desires to run.

Nearly 46 percent of the bonds were for transportation to try to help address the top complaint from Denver voters concerning traffic and density. But the election is more than a year and a half away and Hancock will likely need more strategies on affordable housing and neighborhood development to keep the anti-growth politics manageable.

Read Denver Post: Denver voters strongly approve $937 million bond package for roads, parks, libraries and cultural facilities

Friday, December 1, 2017

Dow Leaps on Tax Cut News

On Thursday, November 30, as the Republicans appeared to be closing in on 50 votes to secure the promised tax cuts that should help corporate earnings, the Dow leaped 331 points, a 1.4 percent increase to cross the 24000 (24272) threshold in a near-record 30 trading days. It represents a 5900 point increase since the November 2016 presidential election, or a 32 percent increase and 23 percent year-to-date uptick. It is the fifth 1000-point increase since that election.

A spate of good news for investors accompanied the latest surge, including a growing economy (3% recent quarterly GDP), upbeat consumer confidence, relaxation in regulations including for banks, a new Fed chief promising more steady monitory policy, on oil a sweet spot and big technology companies promising more profit making applications and innovations.

Little has changed since the Dow crossed the 23000 on October 18, 2017:

“The Dow is benefitting from a world that appears in a synchronized recovery with Europe, China and Pacific Rim countries all experiencing steady growth after the lingering Great Recession. Federal Reserve is holding calm, oil has stayed in a tight range and earnings are still good. No doubt, a correction is coming, but as of today, the market looks slated for more growth.”

Denver Invests in its Culture

As predicted, Denver voters gave a powerful affirmation to its cultural facilities (see Denver Voters Have Historically Valued Their Cultural Institutions). In the recent $117 million bond election, a spectacular 71 percent of voters said “yes.”

Seventy-three percent of Denver voters supported renewal of the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District a year earlier (November 2016), the money from which goes to operations of the facilities, including public access such as free days, art, culture and science programs and exhibits.

Cultural facilities pledged their own fundraising efforts. Improvements expected at the Denver Art Museum are new welcoming and education facilities with renovation of the historic Ponti Building; the Denver Botanic Gardens’ new science, art and education center; the Denver Zoo’s new animal hospital; the Denver Center for Performance Arts theater renovations; and improvements in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science core facilities.