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October 30th, 2006:

Candidate Q&A: Jim Sharp

Here’s one last entry in my series of Q&As with local candidates: Jim Sharp, running for the First Court of Appeals. This one runs a little long, so I’ve put it in the extended entry.

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Chron CD22 poll

Obviously, the big news today is the Chron poll of CD22 (reported last night on KHOU), which claims that the race is a lot closer than anyone thought it would be. Here’s how the Chron puts it:

Thirty-five percent of respondents said they would vote for a write-in candidate, a statistical tie with the 36 percent support for Democrat Nick Lampson, according to the poll of more than 500 likely voters in the 22nd Congressional District.

Most who say they will write in a candidate plan on naming Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, the Houston city councilwoman backed by the Republican Party. Two lesser-known candidates also are running as write-ins.

One voter in four is still undecided.

Libertarian Bob Smither, the only person besides Lampson on the general election ballot, drew 4 percent support.

“Most” means about 80%, according to the poll’s internals, which you can see here and here (both PDFs). Which in turn means that Lampson leads the written-in Sekula Gibbs by a 36-28 margin. Not quite as sexy as 36-35, but there you have it.

There are many points to discuss in this poll. Most of what I’ll be referring to comes from one of the two PDFs linked above.

– The poll sampled 504 registered voters, of whom 450 said they were “likely” to vote this year. I’m here to tell you, ain’t no way in hell any random sample of 500 registered voters contains 90% likelies. SurveyUSA has been pegging about 58% of its samples as likely voters, presumably based on past voting history. That’s too high as well for a non-Presidential election, in which 35-40% turnout is the norm. In this case, it appears the voters self-identified as likely. And a lot of them fibbed about it.

– Where that may make a difference of course is in its mix of partisan identity. The sample is 32% Democratic, 52% Republican, and 16% Independent. But how many of each of those groups is really likely to vote? That matters quite a bit. This is a weird year in many ways, so any method for determining voter likelihood is not much more than a guess. Are the Democrats more fired up here, as is the case around the country? Or are the Republicans excited about maybe winning a race they’re supposed to lose? I don’t know how you can judge from this poll.

– Forty percent of poll respondents say they normally vote a straight ticket; the rest say they do not. I’ve looked at straight ticket voting several times, and in 2004, over 70% of the votes Tom DeLay got in Harris County came from straight tickets. As with the likelihood question, I think some of these respondents are not answering truthfully. Most people don’t want to admit they don’t vote, and most people don’t want to be thought of as rigid partisans (this is why there are more self-identified “independents” than there are people who genuinely vote both parties).

– About half of Democrats in the sample say they’ll vote a straight ticket; for Republicans it’s 42% straight, 56% not straight, 4% not sure. The Dem numbers are in line with historical patterns, the Republicans are a bit low, but understandably so given the advertising telling them to not vote a straight ticket.

– A total of 149 Republican repondents said they would not be voting a straight ticket. A total of 146 Republicans said they’d vote for a write-in candidate. To say the least, that’s a high concentration. It suggests that this may be Sekula Gibbs’ ceiling of support.

– Conversely, 108 of 161 self-identified Democrats said they were voting for Lampson, with an additional 35 saying “not sure”. This suggests that Lampson’s support may be understated.

– 26% of Republicans (69 out of 262) and 24% of Independents (19 out of 81) say they’re not sure who they’re voting for. It’s hard to judge what they might eventually do. In a subsequent question that named Sekula Gibbs on the ballot, the 61 “not sure”s were pushed, but only 18 then identified a candidate. No such pushing was done for the Lampson/Smither/Write In question, where there were twice as many (123) “not sure”s. One might surmise that these are the people least likely to vote.

– It’s hard to believe that Bob Smither will get only 4% of the vote. Past history suggests that Libertarian candidates, when they share a ballot with only one major party contestant, get 10-15% of the vote. My guess is that Smither will pick up a number of the not-sure voters, probably more Republicans since those are the ones he’s specifically targetting.

– One last point to note is that the war in Iraq was by far the most important issue cited by the respondents, easily beating terrorism, the economy, and immigration. Nearly half of Democrats listed it first, as well as neearly half of Independents, while it trailed only terrorism among Republicans. I point this out mostly because it jibes with the recent poll in CD04, where the question wasn’t asked but the pollster reported that almost everyone wanted to discuss it.

The bottom line is that I think this article makes the race sound tighter than it is. I do think it’s tighter than I thought it would be – while it hasn’t spent $3-4 million, the NRCC has spent over one million dollars, and that’s had an effect – but to characterize it as a tossup between Lampson and Sekula Gibbs at this point is an overstatement. Kos, Juanita, Vince, and MyDD also discuss this.

Mother Jones on Martha Wong

Mother Jones has a profile of Martha Wong that’s worth reading. There are a few things to discuss in it, starting with the headline “Deep in DeLay Country, a Backlash Takes Shape”. Personally, I think of Fort Bend as “DeLay Country”, not HD134, but maybe that’s just me. I also think an article on the feisty countywide campaigns being waged by the Fort Bend Democrats might have been more illuminative of the backlash effect, but whatever.

Right off the bat, we get this:

Until recently, few people in Houston would have called Martha Wong conservative. She was the first Asian American elected to the city council in this blue-collar town and was a champion of immigrant workers; once in office, she fought for hiring more Chinese-speaking police officers, funding low-income housing, and preserving the bus system. Urban voters sent the Republican to the state Legislature in 2002, believing she was a political moderate.

I guess that’s a matter of perspective. I’ve thought of Martha Wong as a conservative ever since the thong incident while she was on City Council. I can’t speak to the items cited during her term on Council, as I wasn’t paying particularly close attention back then, but her campaign slogan for State Rep has been “Be Right, Vote Wong” all along. Frankly, I think that’s a pretty sizeable clue as to her true nature.

As Wong climbed the rungs of power at the state Capitol, however, she seemed to cast aside many groups that define her district. For example, environmentalists have been drawing attention to extraordinarily high ozone levels in the part of Houston that Wong represents, yet Wong voted against five separate clean air measures. Schools are a big issue in the highly educated district, yet Wong, a former elementary school principal, opposed a bipartisan proposal to raise teacher salaries. Wong acknowledges that voters in her district are independent-minded yet in an interview couldn’t cite a single instance in which she’d voted against her party. The closest she came was on a proposed constitutional amendment banning gay marriage: She supported defining marriage as a union “between a man and a woman” but opposed a ban on civil unions. “Since voting either for or against the bill would have put me in conflict with my beliefs,” she wrote in a statement, “I abstained.”

“We might as well have a mannequin in the chair,” says Jeffrey Dorrell, a precinct chair in Wong’s district for more than a decade. Dorrell supported Wong over a more conservative Republican in the 2002 primary and then watched with chagrin as she scrambled once in office to demonstrate GOP bona fides. Dorrell, who is gay, is so angry about Wong’s stance on the marriage amendment – which was opposed by nearly 60 percent of District 134 voters – that he has resigned his post with the party and is organizing “Republicans for Cohen.”

The ironic thing, of course, is that an abstention on HJR6 really was as good as a No vote, since it needed 100 Yes votes to pass. That said, Wong voted yes in committee, which allowed HJR6 to come to the floor. That’s where she really could have made a difference, and she chose party loyalty over her district. I’m not exactly shedding a tear for her as a result. The fact that she couldn’t think of a single example beyond that of bucking her leadership tells you everything else you need to know.

The rumors that I hear say that the Republicans expect to lose this race. That stuff comes to me at least second hand, so take it for what it’s worth. I’ve thought all along that Ellen Cohen was the candidate to take Martha Wong out, and I see no reason to change that assessment. I will be surprised if this isn’t a pickup for the Dems next week.

RIP, Red Auerbach

NBA legend and Boston Celtics fixture Red Auerbach passed away over the weekend at the age of 89.

Arnold Jacob Auerbach was born on Sept. 20, 1917, the son of Marie Thompson and Hyman Auerbach, a Russian immigrant. Red grew up in the familiar and hardscrabble Brooklyn neighborhood called Williamsburg, where his father ran a dry cleaners. Red helped out with some of the pressing duties and also earned nickels washing taxi cabs. He was a teenager during the Depression, when unemployment in New York rose as high as 50 percent.

“I appreciated the fact that my father was a hard-working man,” Red once recalled, explaining his father’s influence. “Also that he was well liked.”

Auerbach gravitated to basketball because that’s what he had.

“In my area of Brooklyn there was no football, no baseball,” he said. “They were too expensive. They didn’t have the practice fields. We played basketball and handball and some softball in the street.”

[…]

In 1943 he enlisted in the Navy. By the time Auerbach was discharged in 1946, Walter Brown had helped start the Basketball Association of America. Mike Uline, owner of the Washington Caps, wanted to hire Auerbach as coach.

But Auerbach was married and soon to start a family, so the move was risky for him.

“I had a permanent job already, but I felt I could always get a job if it didn’t work out,” he recalled.

He took the job, filling a roster with the names of players he remembered from his days in the Navy. Red was only 29.

“Some of the guys on the team were older than me,” he said. “I just sold the guy a bill of goods to get the job. A lot of guys had better credentials.”

He paid no one on the team more than $8,500 and insisted on defense and conditioning from his players. In the 1946-47 season, his team finished 49-11. After three years of coaching the Washington Capitols and the Tri-Cities Blackhawks of Iowa in the BAA, and winning 143 of 225 games, he was hired by Brown to coach the NBA’s Boston Celtics. Brown was in debt and looking for a head coach for one last go-around with Boston.

Fortunately, Auerbach had Bob Cousy during his first year at the helm, helping him turn the Celtics from a 22-46 team in 1949 into a 39-30 team in 1950. Cousy was good right out of the box, scoring 15.6 points and averaging nearly five assists a game in his rookie year. But Auerbach almost didn’t get him.

Auerbach wasn’t short on opinions about who should play on his team.

“Am I supposed to win here, or take care of local yokels?” he asked, suggesting that Cousy was touted merely because he played at nearby Holy Cross.

Auerbach passed on Cousy in the draft, instead selecting 6-11 center Charlie Share. Local fans were irate. Due to outrageous fortune — several teams had folded — Brown offered Cousy $9,000 a year. He signed. Had Cousy taken umbrage at Auerbach’s “local yokel” remark and not signed, things might have turned out very differently. Celtic luck may have been born right there.

As former Celtics and Rockets coach Bill Fitch said, Auerbach was one of a kind. They don’t make them like him any more.

I grew up a Knicks fan, and though I’ve since adopted the Rockets as my team, to this day I despise the Celtics. It was ingrained with me as a kid. The reason why they’re worth hating after all these years is because of the success and the stature of Red Auerbach. It doesn’t matter that their last title was 1986. You just have to respect everything he did. I’ll always have some awe of that franchise because of him.

This Bill Simmons piece from 2002 gives you a great flavor of the man. He will indeed be missed. Rest in peace, Red Auerbach.