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October 3rd, 2012:

Interview with Sue Lovell

Sue Lovell

Former Council member Sue Lovell was not directly involved in the current Metro referendum, but as the past Chair of the Transportation Committee on Council under Mayor Bill White, she was instrumental in the creation and adoption of the city’s operating agreement with Metro, which is what authorized Metro to begin construction on the 2012 Solutions plan. She also lives three blocks away from where a University Line station would be built if it ever does get built, and along with other supporters of rail and the 2003 referendum recently expressed her displeasure with the current proposal. Here’s what we talked about:

Sue Lovell MP3

You can still find a list of all interviews I did for this primary cycle, plus other related information, on my 2012 Harris County Primary Elections page and my 2012 Texas Primary Elections page, which I now need to update to include fall candidate information. You can also follow this blog by liking its Facebook page.

Lyceum poll: Romney 58, Obama 39

This one is just nuts.

Republican Mitt Romney has a commanding lead over Democrat Barack Obama in the presidential race in Texas, with 58 percent to the incumbent’s 39 percent, according to a new Texas Lyceum Poll.

The same survey has Republican Ted Cruz leading Democrat Paul Sadler 50 percent to 24 percent in the race for U.S. Senate from Texas. Those two are among the candidates vying to replace Kay Bailey Hutchison, who didn’t seek another term. About a quarter of the voters were undecided in that race.

The Lyceum’s poll page is here. The basic problem with this poll is demonstrated in the methodology, described on page 7 in their poll summary:

Texas Lyceum Poll
From September 10-26, 2012, The Texas Lyceum conducted a statewide telephone survey of registered voters. The survey utilized a stratified probability sample design, with respondents being randomly selected at the level of the household. The survey also employed a randomized cell phone supplement, with approximately 16% of completed interviews being conducted among cell phone only or cell phone dominant households. A Spanish-language instrument was developed and bilingual interviewers offered respondents a chance to participate in English or Spanish. On average, respondents completed the interview in 19 minutes. Approximately 6,500 records were drawn to yield 1,175 completed interviews. The final data set is weighted by race/ethnicity, age and gender to achieve representativeness as defined by the Texas specifications from the 2010 Current Population Study. The overall margin of error for the poll is +/- 2.83 percentage points.

The ballot questions were asked of a random subset of the overall sample. All told, 666 registrants were asked the ballot question (margin of error = +/- 3.80 percentage points).

Some numbers and analysis—including the ballot items—were produced with a screen for likely voters. Voters were deemed “likely” if they indicated that they were registered to vote, indicated that they were “somewhat” or “extremely” interested in politics, and indicated that they had voted in “almost every” or “every” election in the last 2-3 years. Overall, this screen produced 805 likely voters out of 1,175 registrants, 68.5% of registered voter sample. The overall margin of error for the survey of likely voters is +/- 3.45 percentage points. For the ballot items, 443 respondents out of the 666 were likely voters, creating a margin of error of +/- 4.66 percentage points.

In other words, it’s the same bizarre “likely voter” screen that we saw in the UT/TT poll of May 22, which is not terribly surprising since UT prof Daron Shaw is involved in each. When you take such a restrictive view of the electorate, you get a strange partisan mix, as you can see in the crosstabs, on page 41. The Lyceum sample is 53% Republican, 35% Democrat, and 11% independent. You also get an electorate that’s 67% white, but only 5% African-American (page 42), which is less than half what other pollsters have been projecting. Hell, if that’s what the electorate looks like in November then yeah, Dems are going to get stomped up and down the ballot. But for crying out loud, even GOP pollsters like Mike Baselice tend to estimate the GOP advantage in Texas at about eight to ten points. That Wilson Perkins poll from last month had it at 38% R, 31% D, 29% I. At the risk of being accused of poll un-skewing, if the Lyceum poll had the same partisan mix, the result would be Romney 50.2%, Obama 39.5%, undecided 10.3%; the reason for Obama’s poor showing largely comes from a pathetic 30% share of the Independent vote (Romney got 45% of indies, the rest were undecided). But even this result would portend an election similar to that of 2008, rather than a hard to imagine 2004 Bush-style whipping.

I’m not going to waste any more time on this poll. I am, however, now tracking all of the Texas polls that I become aware of, which you can see on the sidebar. We’ll know soon enough who’s right and who’s crazy. What really annoys me is that the rest of the poll, in which all of the “unlikely” voters were also asked, showed some fairly decent results for Democrats, including a near-even split on the Affordable Care Act and plurality support for expanding Medicaid. Unfortunately, unlike that earlier UT/Trib poll, they apparently didn’t ask the entire sample who they’d be voting for, so we have no basis for comparison there. Like I said, we’ll see what the voters actually have to say.

Three hundred million trees

That’s the latest estimate of the toll from last year’s drought.

The numbers are ugly. A whopping 301 million trees have died across state forestlands as a result of the 2011 drought, the Texas A&M Forest Service reported Tuesday.

The latest count was determined after a three-month, on-the-ground study of hundreds of forested plots, as well as satellite imagery from before and after the drought. It includes trees killed directly by the drought and those so weakened that they succumbed to insects and disease.

The Brazos Valley region took the heaviest hit, losing nearly 10 percent of its trees on forested land. North Texas and western northeast Texas lost 8.3 percent and 8.2 percent, respectively.

Harris County is included in the 6.5 percent loss in the western section of southeast Texas. That’s nearly 19 million fewer trees than the near 290 million live tree count before the drought. Far east stretches of southeast Texas got better news: a 1.3 percent loss, down 7.5 million trees from pre-drought 597.1 million live trees.

The full report, with a chart of the losses in each region, is here. The good news, if you can call it that, is that previous estimates of tree loss in Texas had ranged as high as 500 million. The bad news is that parts of the state, most notably in South Texas and the Panhandle, remain in exceptional or extreme drought. This estimate also doesn’t include the five million trees lost in the cities to the drought. Let’s hope it’s a long time before we have another year like 2011.

Helena’s magnets

It’s been awhile since my last Helena Brown post, hasn’t it?

Houston City Attorney David Feldman has asked Councilwoman Helena Brown to reimburse the city nearly $3,000 in taxpayer money she spent on refrigerator magnets that he contends amount to re-election swag.

Brown’s office has declined to pay the money back, and both sides have asked the Texas Ethics Commission for an advisory opinion on who is right.

The first-term councilwoman is distributing thousands of the refrigerator magnets to her District A constituents.

Brown has hired her own attorney, who wrote to Feldman that the purpose of the magnets is to make her office more accessible to her constituents, “most of whom spend a majority of their time at the home, so that they might have her office information handy for speedy constituent response resolution.”

“The thousands of magnets will be included in a mailout to the constituents of District A when we announce the District A Civic Convention to be held later this year, ” Brown said in an email last month. “The purpose of the magnets is to facilitate constituent communication and, therefore, timely response to community needs.”

Feldman, in documents obtained by the Houston Chronicle through a Texas Public Information Act request, has asked Brown to pay back the money, alleging the magnets constitute political advertising. That would be a misdemeanor violation of the Texas Election Code.

“The Council Member has been in communication with the Ethics Commission prior to the City Attorney’s request for an opinion from them. The Council Member also has requested an opinion from the Ethics Commission,” John Griffing, Brown’s communications director, stated in an email.

Feldman didn’t file a complaint, he just asked for an opinion. The TEC’s next meeting is November 29, and we won’t hear anything until then. I have to say, of all the things CM Brown has done while in office, I find this to be one pretty innocuous. I worked in customer service for a long time, and the slogans on those magnets sound like the sort of things that would come out of a “Mission, Vision, and Values” meeting. Yeah, it’s probably better to use campaign funds on this sort of thing, especially for one who likes to be apocalyptic about city spending, but in the grand scheme of things I don’t think it’s a great sin to charge it to one’s Council budget. We’ll see what the TEC thinks about it. Campos has more.