Democratic gubernatorial candidate John Hickenlooper has released his first campaign ad, and beneath the terrific production value and smart branding lurks a very disturbing message. See if you can catch what I'm referring to:
That's right, at 15 seconds in, Hickenlooper says, "Colorado needs a governor who brings people together to create jobs and cut government spending." And this isn't one of many policy in one of many ads -- this is the only policy message in the campaign's very first, agenda-setting ad. So it's very deliberate and very important.
Remember, Colorado has for years been aggressively slashing its budget thanks to the recession and the pressures of the odious Taxpayer Bill of Rights (which, though temporarily suspended by Ref C, still made a major spending impact). Because of these huge cuts, we've seen draconian reductions in teachers, police forces, road maintenance and basic infrastructure. Thanks to Colorado Springs' experience with all these awful cuts, our state has become the infamous national cautionary tale about what happens to a state whose political culture becomes obsessed with the idea that the best kind of politician is the one who most aggressively promises to "cut government spending" -- regardless of the consequences.
Because Republicans are likely to split the vote in this three-way race featuring GOP nominee Dan Maes and third-party candidate Tom Tancredo, this gubernatorial race is all but a coronation for Hickenlooper, which means he could be using the free pass to do what Colorado Democrats in the recent past have been doing to great electoral and public policy success - namely, countering the right's insidious "cut government spending" mantra with a more constructive vision. But instead, Hickenlooper's ad, while certainly cute in its construction, is actually using the free pass to reiterate the Republicans' central (and most legitimately dangerous) argument about what Colorado's fundamental challenge really is.
What's particularly bad about this is that we have some idea of what Hickenlooper thinks should and should not be cut from government spending. Though his ad doesn't specify where he wants to cut, Hickenlooper recently opposed Democratic efforts to reduce corporate welfare subsidies here in Colorado.
So we know he's not interested in cutting those subsidies, which, of course, then leaves programs for regular working people on the chopping block. We're talking stuff like schools, and low-income assistance and police and firefighting. Indeed, it would be nice if a Colorado reporter would ask Hickenlooper exactly which government programs he believes need to be cut, and what areas he thinks Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter's administration is overspending on (by the way, I'd be happy to be the journalist who asks Hickenlooper these questions, but since Hickenlooper caught his foot in his mouth on my radio show a few months ago, he has unfortunately refused our invitations to come back on the show, preferring a monthly appointment on Mike Rosen's conservative forum on KOA). Considering the hard work done by progressive groups and Democratic legislators to oppose TABOR and other TABOR-like initiatives, it would also be nice if those groups and those legislators took public issue with Hickenlooper's central "cut government spending" message.
No doubt, this ad will get lots of applause from Democratic politicos here in Colorado and in D.C. They will say it's construction, slick choreography and humor are brilliant -- just brilliant! And, as I said, it certainly is a nice piece of marketing. But in a state that is facing extreme crises because of the "cut government spending" mantra Hickenlooper echoes, this ad is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
The worst part is, Hickenlooper didn't have to make this the central message of his campaign (by the way, just as polls show congressional Democrats don't have to make conservatives' deficit reduction mantra the central message of the Democratic 2010 campaign). Again, this race is probably going to be a coronation, which means there's no extreme pressure for him to simply parrot Republicans' most insipid talking points. In fact, he could have decided to talk about his laudable courage in successfully advocating modest tax increases here in Denver in order to preserve government spending on key municipal priorities. Or, he could have followed the lead of another Western Democratic governor, and trumpeted innovative ideas to raise more revenue and therefore avoid more spending cuts.
Instead, he did the opposite. He doubled-down on a promise to generally "cut government spending" -- as if government overspending (not spending on specific programs he identifies as wasteful, but spending as a general concept) is the number one problem in Colorado. In making the choice he made, in telling us that he thinks that this is the central problem facing our state, Hickenlooper is telling us exactly what kind of policies he will pursue as governor.