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December 10th, 2009:

KHOU/KUHF poll gives Parker a big lead

This was the top story on the 5 PM news.

The final 11News/KUHF Houston Public Radio poll shows Controller Annise Parker has a 13-point lead over former City Attorney Gene Locke.

In the poll, which was conducted this week by the Center for Civic Engagement at Rice University, likely voters pick Parker 49 percent of the time, and Locke 36 percent of the time. Fifteen percent of likely voters remain undecided. (See more poll data from the Center for Civic Engagement here.)

“Like in the general election, voters are breaking late,” said 11 News political expert Bob Stein, who conducted the poll.

“In order to win, Gene Locke needs to get a much higher turnout in the African-American community than we are projecting, which is 29 percent of the vote,” he said. “I think he also needs to start taking a bigger chunk of those undecided voters.”

The poll consists of telephone interviews with 442 registered Houston voters who described themselves as likely or very likely to vote in the mayoral race, or who told pollsters that they had already voted. It has a margin of error of +/- 4.7 percent.

If you look at the crosstabs, it shows that 35% of the sampled respondents had already voted. I think that’s on the low end for what proportion of votes have already been cast, but it’s certainly a plausible and quite possible number. And it’s very nice to know that they’re not just depending on self-reporting for voter likelihood. I’m more confident about this poll than any of the previous media polls as a result of that.

What struck me as odd was that the sample was 66% female. That’s more than one would expect. Interestingly, in this poll, Parker’s lead among women was smaller than it was in the Chron Zogby poll, but she had a strong lead among men, whereas she’d been tied in that group before. Make of that what you will. It would have been nice to know how Parker did among those who have voted versus those who plan to, but I don’t see that data anywhere. KHOU has more.

Endorsement watch: Another takeback

Got a press release yesterday from Lane Lewis announcing that he had won an endorsement that had previously gone to his opponent.

HARRIS COUNTY COUNCIL OF ORGANIZATIONS RESCINDS STARDIG ENDORSEMENT

Houston, Texas – City Council District A candidate Lane Lewis has earned the endorsement of the Harris County Council of Organizations (HCCO) after the HCCO rescinded their original endorsement of Brenda Stardig.

“The Harris County Council of Organizations is happy to get behind Lane Lewis and his campaign for City Council,” said DeWayne Lark, HCCO President. “HCCO sees Lane as the candidate with the integrity and experience to get the job done in City Hall. Lane will be a full-time Council Member dedicated to solving problems and that is what District A needs.”

“I am proud to have the backing of the Harris County Council of Organizations,” said Lewis. “I have the support of fire fighters, multiple police organizations, and the Houston Chronicle because they all know that I am the only candidate with the proven experience to take on flooding, crime, and over-development.”

I thought it was a bit unusual for an endorsement to be rescinded out of the blue, so I got in touch with DeWayne Lark and asked him about it. He said they re-screened after the general election – he said they didn’t always do that in the event of a runoff, but did it some of the time – and they were very impressed with Lewis, whom they had not spoken to before. He said they thought Lewis had some great, progressive ideas for the city and that he was very well-informed on the issues.

He also said that the organization was troubled by the fact that Stardig had been endorsed by Steven Hotze and had not rejected it. “That’s not the kind of endorsement you want to be associated with,” he told me. “We likened it to being endorsed by the KKK.” I reminded him I was going to blog about this after he said that. He said he knew.

So there you have it. A nice endorsement for Lane Lewis to get, and evidence that Steven Hotze is bad news for people other than just Gene Locke.

One last look at the early voting numbers

Here is a copy of that Johnston report I’ve been referring to, updated through the end of early voting. A few things to note.

– The total number of people who voted in the City of Houston election through the end of early voting is 63,560, which is really not that much different that the 62,641 that showed up early in November. Actually, that latter number is a bit inflated, since it includes all mail ballots collected through Election Day; ultimately, the 63,560 figure above will climb by a few hundred as the stragglers arrive at the County Clerk’s office. Still, my point remains that either you believe the December voters have voted early in a higher proportion as the November voters as has been the case in the last three city runoffs, or you believe that this runoff is different and the proportion will be different as well. How you project final turnout is closely related to that belief.

– Sadly, I cannot provide any information about the 2001 runoff. According to the response I got from the County Clerk’s office, they just don’t have the early voting numbers from 2001. Annoying, and a bit weird, but that’s the way it goes.

– The D/R ratio among early voters is 61/28. That is the strongest factor in favor of Ronald Green and Jolanda Jones. Barring a Republican surge on Runoff Day, if they can hold Democratic voters, they ought to win.

– The female to male ratio among early voters was 55-45, with the split among voters who hadn’t participated in November being even more pronounced at 59-41. That strikes me as being favorable to Annise Parker, as the crosstabs from that Zogby poll showed that her lead came entirely from an advantage among women.

– The percentage of African-American voters who had not voted in November is slightly higher than overall, at 33-29. That’s favorable to Gene Locke, though it’s not that big a deal. Look at it this way: Of the 10,250 new voters, 3382 were African-American. Had this pool of voters looked the same as the whole thing, that number would be 2972. Assuming they go for Locke at an 80-20 clip, which given that Parker got 20% A-A support in the Zogby poll isn’t unreasonable, and he nets 2030 votes in the actual sample versus 1784 in a 29% A-A sample. That’s a pickup of 246 votes total, which seems unlikely to be a difference-maker. Of course, a surge on Saturday and it’s a different story. We’ll see how it goes.

I think I’m mostly numbered out till after the election. Hope you found these posts useful.

Culberson sticks his nose in

Last week, when we heard that the Federal Transit Authority had notified Metro that they would be cleared to begin preliminary engineering of the University Line project if no member of the local Congressional delegation objected by today, I figured there was only one Congressman who mattered. Sure enough, right on cue, here he comes.

[U.S. Rep. John Culberson filed a formal objection with the Federal Transit Authority late Tuesday.] The Houston Republican, a persistent critic of the transit agency, contends Metro is in a “precarious financial condition.” He also criticized some of Metro’s financial projections, because they assume future voters will agree to $620 million more in bonds, and approve a major change in how Metro divvies up its 1-cent sales tax revenue.

[…]

Metro officials dismissed his letter, saying it contained errors and that Culberson used an outdated financial forecast.

“He would have you believe we can’t afford University. Not true,” said Metro President Frank Wilson. “This is a clever excising of information.”

Metro Chairman David Wolff charged that Culberson’s action was politically motivated.

“He is just pandering to a hard-right constituency that just cannot accept the idea that the majority of people in Houston want light rail and they want it built,” Wolff said. “It’s just part of his delaying tactics and it’s unfortunate.”

Fortunately, the FTA is not required to bow to Culberson’s demands. They can still make up their own minds, and given how long this process has dragged out, I hope they will not let this get delayed any further.

Mayoral candidate Annise Parker seized on Culberson’s letter to reiterate a campaign theme that Metro needs to display more “accountability.” Houston’s mayor effectively controls the Metro board by appointing five of its nine members.

“I share his concerns that Metro is over-estimating their revenue and under-estimating their expenses for these lines,” Parker said. “There are assumptions, and I’ve been clear and consistent through months of the campaign that I didn’t trust their numbers.”

I part ways with Controller Parker on this. I don’t trust Culberson, and while I’m sure there are valid questions about the finances, he’s not doing this out of genuine concern for the agency. This has always been about killing the University line, nothing more and nothing less. Please don’t egg him on.

Holmes fibs about his donation history to Hotze

As we know, Ned Holmes, the finance chair for the Gene Locke campaign, made a $20,000 donation to Steven Hotze’s Conservative Republicans of Harris County PAC just before Hotze sent out his homophobic mailer to voters. Holmes claims that the timing is coincidental because he’s a longtime supporter of Hotze. How that’s supposed to make me feel better about the Locke-Hotze relationship is unclear, but it doesn’t really matter because it’s also not true.

Reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, however, show that prior to his Nov. 24 contribution of $20,000, Holmes had donated to the PAC only once in the past eight years. He made a $2,000 contribution on April 20, 2000. Holmes denied to Olson that his most recent contribution was connected to the mail piece.

Well, I guess that one donation in 2000 was a long time ago. And maybe he always intended to be a once-every-9.5-years kind of longtime supporter. Which he kept secret from everyone, including his candidate. Yeah, that must be it.

Rick Casey is not impressed.

According to Hotze’s report, his committee was flat broke as of three weeks ago. Since then he raised $56,000, of which $40,000 came from Locke’s two backers.

Hotze’s report shows about $9,700 in expenses for the mailing in November and a balance of $44,285 in the bank.

I hope there are some unpaid bills for the mailer. I don’t want it on Locke’s conscience if his backers inadvertently bankrolled Hotze’s next hit piece.

I think Nick Anderson sums it up the best. I’ll just leave it at that. Nancy Sims has a few related words.

“McCaul Drops The Ball”

Following up on the reports about BAE Systems and the curious claims by Rep. Mike McCaul that his office had been “in regular contact with BAE Systems” during the bidding process, yet none of that communication was written, the Lone Star Project has a few questions for him.

• What specifically did you communicate to the Army in “late 2007?” Was it by mail or telephone? Can you produce all copies of your communication?

• If you were informed of the potential problem in 2007, what did you do to advocate for the Sealy plant officially and unofficially?

• Did you formally notify and ask for assistance from your fellow local, State and Federal officeholders regarding the potential job loss?

• You claimed that “my office has been in regular contact with BAE Systems prior to and during the rebid process.” Can you produce any documents that confirm “regular” communications?

• Since being elected to Congress from the 10th District, but prior to the loss of the BAE contract, have you spoken even once on the House floor promoting the quality of work and the importance of the mission at BAE Systems plant in Sealy?

We’ll see if McCaul has any answers. BOR has more.

Putting prisoners to work

This sounds like a pretty good idea to me.

Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee has proposed that the county consider putting more prisoners to work cleaning local bayous and parks.

The plan would give working inmates three days’ credit per day served in jail instead of the two they receive now so they could earn earlier release, Lee said.

“I’m putting it up for discussion because there has been overcrowding and it is an issue that would bring Harris County in consistency with other parts of the state,” he said.

Part of the rationale for extra credit for work details is that it would free up space in the jail as nonviolent offenders get out more quickly.

This makes sense on a lot of levels. Cleaning parks and bayous is something we would all benefit from. Getting the kind of inmates who would qualify to participate in this out of jail faster helps alleviate the overcrowding problem and saves money. It also apparently helps with recidivism rates. Offhand, I can’t think of any objections to this. Kudos to Commissioner Lee for proposing it.