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July 7th, 2021:

McConaughey Poll II: It’s all still ridiculous

Sorry, none of the canonical sequel subtitles fit here.

Gov. Greg Abbott, after trailing potential challenger Matthew McConaughey in the spring, has rebounded and now has a slight — but not statistically significant — lead over the movie star in a hypothetical matchup in next year’s race for governor, according to a poll released Sunday by The Dallas Morning News and the University of Texas at Tyler.

Abbott, a two-term Republican, is favored by 39% of Texans of all political stripes, while McConaughey, who hasn’t picked a political party or even committed to running, draws backing from 38%. Nearly a quarter of Texans said they’d vote for someone else.

The poll, conducted June 22-29, surveyed 1,090 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

It showed that since April, Abbott has improved his standing with all voters, though he’s still behind among independents. He is likely to handily dispatch fellow Republican and former state Sen. Don Huffines of Dallas in their tussle for the GOP gubernatorial nomination. Among Texans who say they’ll vote in the Republican primary, Abbott leads Huffines, 77% to 12%.

While no major Democrat has announced against Abbott, former El Paso congressman and presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke hasn’t ruled out another bid for statewide office.

If O’Rourke tosses his bandanna in the ring, he starts out behind: While about two-thirds of Democrats support O’Rourke, 78% of the more numerous Republicans back Abbott. And Abbott’s edging O’Rourke among independents (35%-28%), for an overall lead of 45%-33% in their general-election showdown.

[…]

Pollster Mark Owens, who teaches political science at UT-Tyler, noted that Abbott improved his standing with potential GOP primary voters, with 67% of them picking him over McConaughey in June, compared with just 59% in April.

Simultaneously, Abbott nearly doubled his admittedly small support among Democrats, to 15% in the latest poll. Among independents, McConaughey continued to lead Abbott, though by 39%-29%, compared with 44%-28% in April.

“Signing new laws and optimism of new jobs across the state has given a renewed context for Governor Abbott to regain support from conservative voters who were disaffected by pandemic restrictions,” Owens said.

See here for the poll data, and here for my discussion of the previous poll, for which all of my objections still apply. The one unsurprising thing about this poll is that it shows a reduction in support for McConaughey among Republican voters along with a corresponding rise in support for Greg Abbott among Republicans. This is not a surprise since (spoiler alert) Greg Abbott is the Republican candidate in the race, and Matthew McConaughey is not, and could not be in a November scenario against Abbott. It’s not noted in the story, but McConaughey’s support among Democrats also fell, from 66-8 in the April poll to 56-15 in this poll. That too is a reflection of the fact that at least at this time, McConaughey is not the Democratic candidate against Abbott, either. He still could be, if he wanted to and was willing to work for it, but until such time this is all just make believe.

As for the Beto/Abbott matchup, first let me say thank you for including the question, and second that in this poll Beto wins Democratic voters by a 66-17 margin. I feel confident saying that if this is the November 2022 race, Beto will get more than 66% of Democratic voters, and Greg Abbott will get less than 17%. Abbott will also get more than 78% of Republican voters – he wins them 78-9 in this poll – and Beto will get less than nine percent, though not that much less since there’s less room for it to shrink and there are always some crossovers. Point being, again, all this is a made up exercise in meaningless numbers.

The somewhat interesting result in this poll is the Don Huffines-versus-Greg Abbott question, which is bizarrely asked of all poll respondents and not just Republican primary voters. That’s how you get a result of 39% of Democrats saying they would vote for Don Huffines, instead of 100% of Democrats saying they would fling themselves off a cliff, given an election choice of Huffines and Abbott. For the “Republican primary voters” subsample, Abbott wins 77-12, with 11% saying they would vote for someone else. This was all done before Allen West decided to inflict himself on us, and so it serves as a data point to see what if any effect West’s entry into the race has on Abbott’s base level of support among Republicans. Does West pick up whatever support he gets from the 23% who already said they weren’t voting for Abbott, or does he peel away some of Abbott’s support? My guess is it’s more the former than the latter, but we’ll see.

The poll also has some approval/disapproval numbers, some issues polling, and an AG primary question. I’ll get to that in the next post.

We will have that charter election

For that thing I still don’t have a pithy name for. Someone form a PAC and throw me a bone here.

A petition filed in April by a group seeking to give City Council members the ability to place items on their weekly meeting agenda contained enough valid signatures to trigger a charter referendum in November, the city secretary reported Friday.

In a letter to Mayor Sylvester Turner and council members, City Secretary Pat Daniel said her office verified that 20,482 petition signatures — above the threshold of 20,000 — contained the name, signature and other required information of registered voters who live in Houston. The city secretary’s office counted 31,448 of the nearly 40,000 signatures submitted by the Houston Charter Amendment Petition Coalition, the group behind the petition drive, according to Daniel.

The referendum, if approved by voters, would amend Houston’s charter to allow any three council members to place an item on the council’s weekly agenda. For now, the mayor wields almost full control of the agenda, including the ability to block any measures, under the city’s strong-mayor form of government.

Three council members already are allowed to call a special meeting and set the agenda, but the maneuver rarely attracts a required quorum of council members.

The charter amendment coalition — a politically diverse mix of groups that includes the Houston fire union, the Harris County Republican Party, the conservative group Urban Reform, Indivisible Houston and the Houston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America — has said it intends to place the measure on this year’s November ballot. City Council has until Aug. 16 to approve the referendum ahead of the Nov. 2 election.

See here, here, and here for the background. City Council has until August 16 to put the item on the November ballot. I expect this to pass, but I don’t plan to vote for it, for reasons I have already explained. I hope I’m wrong about the sideshow effect of this.

Back to the public input phase for I-45

They hear, but will they listen?

Hemmed between a request for a pause by federal highway officials and an outcry from opponents, planners of a massive rebuild of Interstate 45 in Houston are taking their plans back to the public in what may be a last effort to keep the project on pace.

The Texas Transportation Commission on Wednesday said more public scrutiny is needed of the plan for remaking I-45 north from downtown Houston to Beltway 8.

“Basically, let’s take this project and put it back out for public comment … then we will see where we go from there,” Commission Chairman J. Bruce Bugg said.

Additional public input on the I-45 project — at least the seventh time state officials have asked for comments — will be accepted via the month-long comment process for the Texas Department of Transportation’s 10-year plan, set to start July 7. The decision to seek more public comment, should it lead to the project being delayed or removed from the plan, was viewed as a necessary but unfortunate step by commissioners.

“I think it is very sad that we are at the point we are at with this particular project with regard to the amount of work and the amount of public engagement,” said Commissioner Laura Ryan, who lives in Houston.

Tying the project to the long-range plan is significant because as costs increased to a current estimate of $9 billion for the work, it represents about $1 of every $8 Texas will spend on highways during the next decade.

Officials estimate TxDOT has spent $503 million developing the project to this point. Delaying or significantly redesigning the project could make it the costliest highway hiccup in Texas history, far exceeding the $15 million spent on the Trans-Texas Corridor more than a decade ago before the planned tollway got the heave-ho.

[…]

The Federal Highway Administration in March asked TxDOT to pause development activities on the project. That was clarified in a June 14 letter to include any property acquisition and final design efforts after opponents found people still were receiving property offers.

“We’re frustrated that it’s taken the federal government stepping in to get TxDOT to do the right thing,” said Molly Cook, a Stop TxDOT I-45 organizer.

The right thing, however, is what remains in dispute. Supporters have increased their pressure in recent years, as local elected officials have changed. For more than 15 years to the present, Bugg noted there has been strong regional support for the project because I-45 is a crucial travel corridor for all of southeast Texas. Sixteen times, the Houston-Galveston Area Council, the local regional planning agency made up of various elected and appointed officials, unanimously backed the project.

Many local officials still do, including state Rep. Ed Thompson, R-Pearland, who urged transportation officials meeting Wednesday in Austin to charge ahead.

“I do firmly believe this corridor needs to be completed and if TxDOT can push on that they ought to,” Thompson said.

Citing the importance of I-45 to trucking and evacuation of the Gulf Coast in case of disaster, Thompson said delays in construction come with consequences opponents might not recognize.

“I do understand their concerns, but this is also vital to our entire region,” he said.

See here, here, and here for some background. As the story notes, there are competing interests here, as the city of Houston and Harris County and a bunch of neighborhoods and residents have serious concerns about the many effects of the project, while people who are mostly from far outside of Houston and the affected area want this built yesterday. It’s on TxDOT to balance those interests, and the opponents are not going to meekly roll over. It’s not my problem that TxDOT has spent a ton of money on this project without being able to deliver something that is acceptable to those who will be the most directly affected by it.