Thursday, December 30, 2010

Grading Bill Ritter

How would you grade Bill Ritter? Will the one-term governor leave a legacy or be forgotten quickly?

Tim Hoover and Lynn Bartels wrote a balanced piece in Sunday’s Denver Post (12-26-10), and I weighed in with a commentary that suggested his dislike of politics and lack of skill at it turned into a fatal flaw that undermined his agenda and contributed to his feeling the job was not right for him.

How Would You Grade Ritter?
A to F

Public communication
Legislative tactician
Policy strategist
Political skills
Organizational skills (government and interest groups)
Emotional strength and balance

Hickenlooper Stays Out of Mayor’s Race

No doubt the economic and political interests that helped promote and sustain John Hickenlooper as mayor will begin to pick sides in the upcoming May election. But, Hickenlooper wisely is keeping his confidences. As I told Lynn Bartels, his endorsement would be powerful, but involve him in a tough fight in which his term of office would become an issue.

See Denver Post article: Gov-elect Hickenlooper silent on who should replace him as Denver mayor

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Democrats Hold Senate Seats in West – Shift Races From Referendum to Contests

The Republican wave swept eight western congressional seats, but failed to capture any senate seats. They picked up two governor seats, one in New Mexico, which was competitive, and Wyoming, which was a foregone conclusion.

The following chart lists western states top to bottom from most Republican to most Democratic in the 2008 presidential election. Wyoming is the top of the list where Republicans picked up the governorship. California, with its lack of any partisan change in the midterm, is at the bottom.

The most competitive western states are in the middle of the chart. And indeed, Colorado featured the nation’s closest senate race and Nevada saw Harry Reid stay afloat after a titanic battle.
The recent Pacific Chapter for the American Association of Public Opinion Research conference had several panels that reviewed the midterm election results (
The lack of partisan movement in western states’ senate seats was seen as a product of races that were shifted from referendums on Washington, President Obama and national Democrats to contests between two candidates. Huge money and negative advertising put the contests on campaign platforms that rose above the national Republican wave.

 Some of the Tea Party senate nominees had vulnerabilities that could not be overcome by massive Republican and conservative advertising budgets. Sharon Angle in Nevada and Ken Buck in Colorado were both ahead at various points in their respective campaigns, yet lost due to verbal and positioning missteps and weaknesses.
The six senate seats that changed hands were in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. While each state had specific issues and candidate features, partisanship and the sour economy appeared to dominate. But a part of the West’s resistance to the Republican wave was the West’s weaker partisan loyalty and more independent voters. Those voters are more susceptible to attack advertising, which dominated the campaigns, and less influenced by partisan or, in the election, anti-partisan trends.
California is a special case in that some of the political rigidity at the congressional level is explained by decades of redistricting manipulation. Also, the exit poll showed 22 percent of the electorate was Hispanic, and they overwhelmingly voted Democrat. But like other western Democrats, both Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer spent mightily and attacked incessantly to shift the races from referendums to contests.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Compromise on Reapportionment

The commitment of legislative leaders to attempt a compromise plan on redistricting Colorado’s congressional districts is historic. The courts have been necessary to resolve most redistricting battles after recent censuses. Creating more competitive districts is not in the interest of incumbents or partisans. Generally, plans protect incumbents and attempt to shift sufficient partisan voters into Colorado’s few competitive seats to one or the other party’s advantage. Recent performance shows the most competitive districts have been the 3rd and 4th.

The average district will have about 261,000 voters (redistricting is based on total population and there are different registration rates in each district). Denver’s 1st district has the least registered voters and the Arapahoe/Douglas County’s 6th has the most.

Unaffiliated voters tend to shift between parties more than partisans, but also tend to have liberal and conservative preferences, for example, unaffiliated voters in the 2nd district lean left and those in the 6th lean right.

Minor changes are easier than major changes, and given that Colorado will not get an additional district this year, it should be easier.

See Denver Post article: Measured approach to redistricting tried
and Denver Post article: Census ranks Colorado as ninth-fastest-growing state

New Political Team – More Partisan Balance

Colorado begins 2011 with a new political team and more partisan balance. The Democratic era in Colorado, which began with the victory of the Salazar bothers, Ken and John in 2004, closed this year with John Salazar’s loss of his U.S. Congressional seat. Republicans swept everything below the top two races, governor and U.S. Senate, which Democrats continue to hold.

The Republicans’ control of the U.S. House with two new Republican congressmen from Colorado will be the party’s most valuable platform for new leaders and to change the direction of national policy. Control of the Colorado House of Representatives will be the strongest local stage to challenge weakened Democratic dominance and groom new leaders.

As the chart shows, Colorado went from an overwhelmingly Republican state starting with Gov. Bill Owens at the top of the ticket, basking in a 63 percent re-election victory in 2002, to a near Democratic monopoly with Bill Ritter’s 17-point election in 2006 and Barack Obama’s unprecedented 9-point presidential win in 2008.

As the 2012 election cycle begins, Colorado is up for grabs. Obama will start off his re-election below 50 percent in approval (midterm Colorado exit poll gave Obama a 47% approval) and, although Hickenlooper has the potential to be a popular governor, he will likely not be very partisan.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

What is the Future of the Salazars?

Ken Salazar was a major force in Colorado politics and policy for two decades, but his absence from the state and his brother’s loss of the 3rd Congressional District race raises questions about his political future and the strength of the name as a political brand.

The Secretary of the Interior job is always controversial. It has high-profile, often controversial, issues with powerful conflicting interests. Ken was burdened in 2010 with having to manage a Katrina-sized environmental disaster in the Gulf.

Also importantly, cabinet secretaries rise and fall with their bosses, and President Obama had a terrible 2010. Salazar appears to remain in Obama’s favor and his political base in Colorado and Hispanic heritage are important assets for an administrator going into a tough re-election.

John Salazar could stay in government service. He claims he may run again for congress in 2012. How the District is redistricted will be a factor. Also, 2012 could be another difficult Democratic year. But mostly, John doesn’t have a nine-to-five temperament. He seems most comfortable with his own style and pace. Congress offered that, but so does his ranch.

Ken still has many friends in Colorado, but he could serve as Interior Secretary for six more years, and local politics does move on. His return to Colorado may be more Hank Brown-like; i.e., serving in high level jobs, then running for partisan office.

See also New York Times article: After Tough year, Salazar Brand May be Tarnished

Monday, December 20, 2010

Country Rejects Pelosi, But California’s Political System Makes No Change

The Republicans’ midterm wave, which swept across the country, splashed into the Colorado River and ran out of momentum.  The record 63 congressional seat victory failed to include a single seat in California.  And, although western Democrats did better than the rest of the country holding off Senate challenges – for example, in Washington, Nevada and Colorado –they gave up eight congressional seats in six states.

The Democratic and liberal tilt of California’s political system and culture was a subject of the recent PAPOR conference (see blog post of December 7).

Large states in the east, midwest and south with Democratic and Republican majorities, including several battleground states, all made some accommodation to the shift in the national mood, for example: 5 seats in Ohio, 4 in Pennsylvania, 6 in New York, 4 in Illinois, 4 in Florida, 3 in Tennessee, 3 in Virginia and 3 in Texas shifted Republican, and as noted, 0 in California.

So, as the rest of the nation rejected Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s leadership and removed the California Democratic delegation from its position of power, California voters re-elected them and made no partisan change.

And, of course, the remaining Democratic House caucus elected Pelosi minority leader ostensibly to ensure liberal interests were protected in the new political environment and with a president prone to compromise.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Obama Selects Channel 9 for Debut Defense of Tax Compromise

Colorado’s status as a 2012 battleground state was reaffirmed by President Obama when he invited Channel 9’s Adam Schrager to the White House.

Obama has launched an aggressive effort to convince voters that he got the message on getting things done and taking on his own party if necessary to do it.

Is it possible Obama may run against Nancy Pelosi for re-election?

See latest Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll supporting compromise, including most Democrats.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

SCFD Rex Morgan Award

Thanks to the SCFD Board, its hardworking staff and all those who were able to attend the Dec. 1 Rex Morgan Award. I was greatly honored by the kind words of friends and supporters of the SCFD.

Attached are my prepared remarks. My theme was that a modest and innovative funding mechanics blossomed into one of the most unique and envied citizen-directed, local government organizations in the country. Its success is partially a reflection for the growth of public and urban leaders’ realization that cultural infrastructure is as important to quality of life and the economy as many brick and mortar projects. The District’s 22 years of performance is also a product of a host of good public policies and good politics embedded in the statute and implemented by successive boards and cultural stakeholders.

As you know, the SCFD has significantly contributed to making Denver a special city in a culturally enriched region. This award is a tribute to all who helped found, preserve and extend this District.

Happy holidays.

Floyd Ciruli
December 7, 2010

SCFD article and Rex Morgan Award Speech

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Rise of World Public Opinion

Since the beginning of this century, a world public opinion industry has developed and became a staple of public opinion reporting. The Pew and Gallup organizations are the most visible in America, but there are a large number of organizations that collect data from reputable local polling vendors and aggregate it into studies and reports for private and public consumption.

One of the frequent users of the data was Dan Lund of Mexico-based Mund Group. Sadly, Dan just died from a sudden heart attack, and you can see his last analysis of world opinion published by GlobeScan here.

A few interesting observations from Dan’s final report are that when national populations were asked if they felt the world was going in the right direction, in North and Latin Americas, two of its most pessimistic countries are the USA and Mexico. Assuming the public is both reflecting their views of their own country’s direction and their nation’s position in the world, citizens of both the USA and Mexico are not pleased. And Europe, Italy and France are the least positive on the world direction. Japan joins the least positive group from Asia.

The most positive national populations are the more authoritarian states of Russia and China, who are also benefiting from upward economic surges that have given broad elements of their population hope for the future. In Asia, India is also highly optimistic about the world direction.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

2010 PAPOR Conference

The 2010 PAPOR Conference agenda is now set. The San Francisco conference, December 9-10, promises to have a lively discussion on engaging topics.

As the PAPOR President, I will welcome more than 70 participants and some of the nation’s and western U.S.’s top researchers in a range of courses, panels and networking events for two packed days.

This year’s theme, “Research in Changing Times,” has guided panel and presentation development. Of course, the midterm election has provided a rich source of fresh survey research data concerning partisan changes – or, in some areas, the lack of change, and several panels will investigate national, western states and California voter decisions.

See the conference newsletter at:

Friday, December 3, 2010

Denver Issues are on Soft Side

As the Denver mayor’s race begins, there will be an endless conversation about the top issues. Economy, jobs, budget cuts, traffic and potholes will receive frequent mention. A few of the smarter candidates will try to put their issues into a theme, such as Federico Peña’s “Imagine a Great City,” which skeptics then referred to as “Freddie and the Dreamers.”

But, Peña was right that a city’s greatness is more than just airports, convention centers and viaducts. A new Gallup survey shows social infrastructure and aesthetics may be more important to citizens’ attachment to their city than basic services and bricks and mortar. The soft issues are most strongly related to citizens’ satisfaction with their community and the community’s ability to mobilize people for civic action.

Gallup measured citizen satisfaction in 26 communities nationwide, along with a sense their community was moving in direction, their willingness to recommend it, and their general pride in their community.

The key drivers of citizens’ attachment to their community were:

The key issues in the Denver’s mayor race will be more related to maintaining Denver’s social networks, its welcoming attitude, its overall aesthetics and educational offerings than the basics, which are assumed to be a given. Value is added when a community gains a reputation for its diversity, accessibility and opportunities.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Denver Election Cycles Between Insider and Outsider

The modern era of Denver mayoral politics began in 1983 with the election of State House Minority Leader Federico Peña as mayor. There are many interests that influence Denver city elections. City government interests, such as city workers, especially police and fire unions; neighborhood groups, such as Park and Capitol Hill neighborhoods or the northwest side; ethnic group identities, such as Hispanic and African-American voter blocs; business associations and locations, such as downtown or LoDo. Since 1983, these groups tend to align in a fashion that produces a struggle between candidates and interests from inside city government and those outside.

Peña was outside city politics; Wellington Webb, the City Auditor, was inside; and, of course, John Hickenlooper, the LoDo businessman, outside.

In the 2011 election, the early candidates rumored and announced reflect the inside vs. outside dichotomy, with a few blending both.

Additional themes can become blended into the discussion. Do voters want change or continuity? New vision or steady management? A politician or a non-politician?

In the last election, Don Mares, the insider as City Auditor, won the right to challenge frontrunner Hickenlooper in the runoff. He was crushed. Whereas in the 1991 open seat election, Denver DA Norm Early, representing the outsider interests, won the first round, but lost decisively to insider Webb. Which shall it be in 2011 – insider or outsider?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Wave Hits County Commissioners

Of the 35 new county commissioners, Democrats lost 10 seats they had held and gained only one.  Republicans also lost a seat to an unaffiliated candidate.

The nationalization of the election that strongly affected congressional elections (Republicans took record number of 63 seats) did not stop with federal officeholders.  Along with winning two new congressional seats, Colorado Republicans picked up six State House seats (taking control) and one in the State Senate.  Republicans also defeated two Democratic incumbent statewide constitutional officeholders – State Treasurer and Secretary of the State.