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March 6th, 2014:

The UT/TT primary polls were completely useless

Wrong!!!

I expressed my contempt with the UT/Texas Trib’s Democratic primary poll result for the US Senate race last night, which they richly deserved. Sure, pollster Jim Henson admitted that “the first person to raise some money and run some ads could really move this”, and that’s largely what happened, but that got lost in all the national attention that was paid to Kesha Rogers being proclaimed the frontrunner in a poll where basically nobody had an initial preference. They had a “result” that was guaranteed to get them a ton of attention, and that’s what they got even though their track record in past Democratic primaries was shaky at best.

Well, now it’s time to pay them a bit of negative attention, because their Republican primary polls, which I originally noted had a decent track record based on previous results sucked eggs, too. Let’s take them one at a time and assess the damage. I’ll even be generous and start with the one poll they basically nailed, just to give them credit where it’s due. Here’s the poll story from which I’ll be quoting:

U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, facing a field of seven other Republican primary candidates in his bid for re-election, won the support of 62 percent of the likely Republican primary voters, followed by U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Friendswood, who got 16 percent. Support for the rest was in single digits: Linda Vega, 7 percent; Dwayne Stovall and Ken Cope, 4 percent each; Reid Reasor and Chris Mapp, 3 percent each; and Curt Cleaver, 1 percent.

Actual result: Cornyn won with 59.44%, Stockman came in second with 19.13%. Dwayne Stovall was actually in third with 10.71%, but I won’t crime them for that. From here, it’s all downhill.

In the heated Republican primary for lieutenant governor, incumbent David Dewhurst leads the pack with 37 percent of likely Republican primary voters at his side, followed by state Sen. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, at 31 percent; Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples at 17 percent; and Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson at 15 percent.

Actual result: Dan Patrick led the pack with 41.45%, followed by incumbent David Dewhurst with 28.31%. Staples had 17.76% and Patterson 12.47%, not that it mattered. That’s a pretty big miss, but it’s not their biggest.

The Republican primary for attorney general is a statistical dead heat between state Rep. Dan Branch of Dallas, at 42 percent, and state Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney, at 38 percent — a difference smaller than the poll’s margin of error. Railroad Commissioner Barry Smitherman got 20 percent. When they were initially asked about the race, 47 percent expressed no preference between the candidates.

Actual result: Paxton 44.44%, Branch 33.49%, Smitherman 22.06%. They did get Smitherman’s level of support correct, but they had the wrong frontrunner and the race wasn’t as close as they said. Oh, well.

In the race for comptroller, that group of initially undecided voters accounted for 54 percent, perhaps an indication of continuing flux in the race. Debra Medina, the only candidate who has been on a statewide ballot (she ran for governor in 2010), got 39 percent after voters were asked whom they would support in an election now, followed by state Rep. Harvey Hilderbran, R-Kerrville, at 26 percent; state Sen. Glenn Hegar, R-Katy, at 24 percent; and former state Rep. Raul Torres, R-Corpus Christi, at 11 percent.

Actual result: Hegar came thisclose to winning outright, with 49.99%. He was 151 votes short of a majority with four precincts still uncounted. Hilderbran was second with 26.01%, Medina third with 19.30%, and Torres last with 4.68%. I’m sorry, but that’s just embarrassingly inaccurate.

So in all three downballot Republican races as well as the Democratic Senate race, they incorrectly identified the frontrunner, with the extra indignity of having the almost clear winner of the Comptroller’s race not in the cut for a runoff. Well done, fellas. Well done.

Now you may say “c’mon, polling primaries is especially tricky”, and if you did I would agree. I’d also say that maybe their self-selected-sample-plus-secret-sauce methodology is especially poorly designed for polling in these specialized races, and I’d point to these very results as proof of that. You may also say that no one else was providing poll information on these races so at least they were telling us something, and I’d say we would have been better off with no information than we were with their badly wrong information. I’d also say they owe us an explanation for why they were so wrong, and a public examination and reconsideration of their methods given how badly wrong they were. If they can screw these races up so badly, why should anyone believe their general election polling? The ball’s in your court, guys.

I should note that I’m saying all this as someone who likes the Tribune and who thinks they generally do a good job. On this, however, they did a terrible job, and I’m not the only one who noticed. They should be embarrassed by this, and they should want to figure out where they went so far off track. I would advise them to be quick about it. Steve Singiser has more.

SCOTUS declines to hear Farmers Branch appeal

By all rights, this story should now be at an end.

When will they learn?

The U.S. Supreme Court brought closure Monday to the seven-year legal battle in Farmers Branch over a local ordinance that sought to ban landlords from renting property to people who are in the U.S. unlawfully.

The high court declined to review a lower-court ruling that declared the ordinance unconstitutional.

The measure was never enforced, but it fractured the suburb of about 29,000 residents and saddled its budget with more than $6.1 million in legal expenses. Bills of more than $2 million are pending. Payment was stalled by three different appeals.

“After more than seven years of litigation, during which the city lost at every stage, it is time for Farmers Branch to let go of its immigration ordinance,” said Nina Perales, vice president of litigation at the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, one of the firms that sued the city over the ordinance.

Perales said the Supreme Court sent “a strong message that local immigration laws are unconstitutional and hurt cities because they waste precious resources and undermine community relationships.”

Junie Smith, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and a former Farmers Branch City Council member, said she was celebrating the decision. “This is a two wine-cooler night,” she said.
Smith said she hopes it heals her city. “What hopes do I have for the city? Unity and a desire to move forward as a community.”

The persistence of the fight in Farmers Branch brought the suburb national celebrity. Its outside counsel, Kris Kobach of Kansas City, has litigated on behalf of other cities around the nation to test the power of local governments to discourage illegal immigration.

Kobach said that the legal fight is over.

“Many states and cities are still looking at ways they can discourage illegal immigration and reduce the costs. It remains a very live issue, and we are obviously very disappointed the Supreme Court didn’t step in on this,” said Kobach, who worked on the case for Dallas-based Strasburger and Price, which was retained by the city.

The Supreme Court also declined Monday to resurrect an ordinance in Hazleton, Pa. That ordinance, which was struck down by an appellate court, would have banned immigrants who are in the U.S. unlawfully from renting housing.

[…]

In addition to the $6.1 million it spent through February on expenses related to the illegal immigration lawsuits, the city spent about $850,000 to fight two voting rights suits.

The city estimates award of pending bills from opposing lawyers to be in the $1.5 million to $2 million range, said Charles Cox, Farmers Branch’s managing director of finance and city administration. That decision will be made by a federal judge.

Meanwhile, Bill Brewer of Bickel & Brewer said, “This is over. … Our hope is that the city will close this unfortunate chapter in its history and begin to embrace the changing demographics of the community – as part of a more inclusive and dynamic future.”

See here for all of my obsessive blogging about Farmers Branch. I too hope that the city will move on and pursue more just and productive endeavors. Ending their association with a hateful grifter like Kris Kobach would be an excellent first step. Hair Balls has more.

Good news and bad news on the Washington Avenue parking benefit district

As you may recall, a bit more than a year ago Council approved a plan to create a “parking benefit district” for the Washington Avenue corridor, which is a fancy way of saying they approved the installation of parking meters whose revenue would then be used to help pay for infrastructure improvements in the area, which could certainly use them. The first parking meters were installed last May, with the idea being that after 18 months Council would rewiew how it’s going and possibly make changes or even scrap the whole thing. So how is it going? Like the title says, there’s good news and bad news.

Meet the meter

Defying doomsday scenarios, paid parking doesn’t seem to have dented sales along Washington, which is set to welcome new shops, restaurants and bars this year. The wait at restaurants is as long as ever, and revelers dash across the street at all hours of the night while the clubs are open.

But parking revenue is below expectations, potentially delaying improvements like wider sidewalks and trees.

Residents worked with the city to form the parking district and start metered parking along Washington last May, in the hope of curbing the problem of people swarming the neighborhoods and flooding the streets with cars late into the night.

Businesses worried the new rules would drive business elsewhere, saying parking hassles might threaten the economic growth that made the corridor desirable in the first place.

Parking problems seem to be reduced after nearly nine months of paid parking, and taxable sales at businesses have not slumped.

“Nobody’s office phones are getting lit up anymore” with parking complaints, said Christopher Newport, spokesman for Houston’s regulatory affairs department.

Most visitors are parking farther away, either to avoid paying a meter or because no spots on Washington are available at peak times, Newport said. Where parking used to be a headache two or three blocks off Washington, diners and drinkers now are dispersing six and seven blocks away. Even so, residents haven’t rushed to file paperwork to restrict parking along their streets, Newport said.

“They either do not think people parking in front of their house is a big deal or they don’t want to go through the program,” he said.

[…]

The city’s agreement with the local board requires total revenue of $250,000 before any sidewalks, landscaping or other improvements can begin. Based on current rates, the district won’t reach that amount until 2021.

If the city lowers the threshold to $100,000, reduces the staff patrolling the district and shares some of the citation revenue with the local district, some small projects could be considered later this year.

See here and here for some more background, and here for the Washington Avenue PBD page. I always like having actual numbers with stories like these, so I sent an email to Christopher Newport for more details. He sent me the original presentation with the initial revenue projections, and this updated presentation that shows where things are now. Let me summarize the main points because it’s a little confusing.

  • The city did a survey over several weeks of how many cars were parked on a nightly basis in the affected area prior to the creation of the PBD. The count was usually right around 270-280 cars, so the projections were based on that.
  • In practice, about 170 cars per night have been parking at the meters. The total number of cars parking was the same as before, but now some drivers were going farther into the surrounding neighborhoods to avoid paying to park. This is the reason why meter revenue has fallen short of projections.
  • There is another source of revenue related to the PBD, however, and that’s revenue from parking citations, particularly for expired meters. That revenue all goes to the city, not to the PBD. One of the changes that will be made going forward is that a portion of this money, from citations that are a direct result of the creation of the PBD and the installation of the meters – i.e., citations for expired meters, not citations for things like parking too close to a stop sign or blocking a driveway – will be used to help pay for the overhead costs of the PBD. These revenues can’t be used to pay for infrastructure improvements in the PBD, but by using some of this revenue to pay for the overhead of the PBD, it will allow enough money to be collected and used for the hoped-for improvements.
  • The change described above is administrative, so it can be done with a stroke of the pen. The other change, to lower the threshold of revenue needed to begin doing improvements from $250K to $100K, will require Council approval. Assuming it is granted, that threshold should be reached in a couple of months.
  • Finally, the city will continue to talk with the surrounding neighborhoods about residential parking permits, which would serve to send those wayward parkers back to the meter zone. If the neighborhoods are okay with how things are, that’s fine, too.

So the bad news isn’t really bad, and with a couple of tweaks improvement projects can be proposed and approved this year. There will be another review of the program around the end of the year, eighteen months after the ordinance was passed, as specified in the ordinance. If things continue on this course, I would expect the PBD to be renewed.

Texas blog roundup for the week of March 3

The Texas Progressive Alliance is delighted to see marriage equality take another big step forward as we bring you this week’s roundup.

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