Letters are posted as we receive them during the week, and before they are printed in the paper, so check back frequently to see new letters. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor, use this postmarks submission form, or email your letter directly to Thanks for your patience.
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Push Polls Are Very Rare

RECEIVED Mon., Jan. 20, 2014

Dear Editor,
    I don't have a dog in the fight for Travis County judge, but Michael King's shoddy journalism ["Brown vs. Eckhardt vs. … McCombs?" Newsdesk, Jan. 18] needs to be addressed.
    For the record, I've worked directly on many campaigns and have consulted on dozens, from local to federal, and I worked with pollsters on all of them. What Mr. King fails to understand about legitimate polling is that the motive for conducting – and paying for – a poll is less about getting a horse-race number and more about testing messages. Those messages include positives on the candidate conducting the poll ("Would you be more likely to vote for Ms. Eckhardt if you knew she …?") and negatives on the opponent, to see what moves likely voters, or voters in targeted demographics. If it turns out that a certain position the opponent took moves more likely voters (or moderate women, aged 40-55), then that issue might be used in direct mail, TV ads, voter-to-voter communications, etc.
    It's understandable that a private citizen receiving a call where they hear negative questions about the opponent would assume that it's a push poll. But for a push poll to work, it would need to be blasted out to enough of the voter universe (perhaps a majority) to influence the entire electorate, rather than just a random sampling. Mr. King presents no evidence that the poll was received by an abnormally large number of Austinites.
    Mr. King displays a fundamental misunderstanding of polling, which is surprising and disappointing for someone who has been covering local politics as long as he has. As I said, a private citizen can be forgiven for failing to grasp the distinction between a (rare) push poll and a legitimate and common poll of likely voters that tests negative messages. But a journalist is subject to higher standards. Had Mr. King asked any political consultant in Austin not connected to either candidate, they would have quickly explained why this call is not a push poll. Instead, even after updating his post, he resorted to snark that doubled down on his error, rather than trying to confirm facts.
Drew Dupuy
   [Michael King responds: Based on his stated experience, Drew Dupuy should presumably know that campaigns do not normally release the details of their own polling, neither the target demographic nor the presumed numbers of people polled. In this case, the Eckhardt campaign declined even to confirm the identity of the pollsters operating its computerized poll. By Dupuy's definition, if a campaign claims there was no push poll, there was no push poll. In this instance, I'll believe my own ears.]

Doubt Project Would Work

RECEIVED Mon., Jan. 20, 2014

Dear Editor,
    I'm hard-pressed to believe that sinking I-35 underground for one mile (and $600 million) could in any way improve traffic in Austin, except possibly for that one mile you are underground in six lanes of traffic – and that is doubtful [“Reconnect Austin: Part One,” News, Jan.17]. How this project could affect the miles-long backups that form in each direction just north and south of the city is questionable, as is how this will alleviate traffic on MoPac and any other north-to-south artery, as well.
    Perhaps that money would be better spent making the various toll roads free, to encourage drivers who have no business in the Downtown area to bypass it altogether; and by not adding toll lanes to existing highways, but simply adding much-needed lanes for all to use on I-35 and MoPac.
Ralph Savioli

Serious Concerns About County Judge Race

RECEIVED Sun., Jan. 19, 2014

Dear Editor,
    Multiple successful managerial styles exist but in the Travis County judge's race, operational knowledge, experience, and networks in county government will be the ultimate determinate of the successful officeholder [“Brown and Eckhardt Face Off in Circle C,” Newsdesk, Jan. 14]. The county judge is a position comparable to the city manager and the mayor (administration and policy) all rolled into one. Unlike the city's mayor, good leadership will result not only from effective style, but also the relative experience in county management and governance. It isn't an elected office appropriate for the inexperienced politician.
    Andy Brown and many of those supporting and endorsing him have two things to consider: 1) Is it possible you don't know "what you don't know" about the office of county judge? 2) Is there a serious movement afoot to put someone in that office who can be "managed" by more powerful "others"? And on the last question, speaking as one who knows, I note that Andy Brown's most recent campaign finance report looks a lot like Gerald Daugherty's – heavy in real estate and engineering dollars and, equally concerning for the Democrats, heavy in Republican leadership dollars. Is there a long-term strategy in this notable support by the "other" party leaders? Would a weak and poorly performing Democratic county judge give opportunity for the Republicans to 1) allow the partisan interests better chance to "manage" that inexperience, and/or 2) set the foundation for a successful Republican bid for judge in the future?
    The Democratic machine had better be careful of that for which it wishes. The county judge's powers are complex and seriously misunderstood by most voters, yet this is probably one of the most important locally elected positions because of its potential to influence/impact – positively or negatively – local taxes, social services, public safety, and infrastructure. Voters should be analytical about this race and pay serious attention to the candidates' relative qualifications, not the superficial hype and endorsements.
Karen Huber
Former Pct. 3 Commissioner

Supports Eckhardt For County Judge

RECEIVED Sun., Jan. 19, 2014

Dear Editor,
    I don't like to think of myself as hypersensitive to perceptions of coded language in newspaper coverage, and since I'm an ardent Chronicle fan, I want to be careful about suggesting Michael King's article “Brown and Eckhardt Face Off in Circle C,” [Newsdesk, Jan. 14] might have more of a bias than King intended.
    I like both Andy Brown and Sarah Eckhardt, but if you want to talk preparation for the job of Travis County judge, it's hard to debate who has the deeper and more valuable experience in broad-spectrum management with positive outcomes. If we want diversity in public office, we can't limit it to a discussion of race and ethnicity: An eminently qualified Eckhardt stands to break open a white-male-dominated field, and that's diversity, too.
Ellen Sweets

Is Gender an Unspoken Issue in County Race?

RECEIVED Sun., Jan. 19, 2014

Dear Editor,
    I am a big supporter of most of The Austin Chronicle's journalism and typically find it to be fair, informative, and enlightening. I would apply this opinion to much of Michael King's article [“Brown and Eckhardt Face Off in Circle C,” Newsdesk, Jan. 14], but something he wrote at the end of the article made me wonder. Having written pretty fairly of Sarah Eckhardt's strong achievements over the 15 years of her career working at the county and then contrasting that with what Andy Brown brings to the table – “bringing people together” was the refrain to an otherwise bland career, pounding home the idea that he didn't bring much else to the table – King closed his article by saying the two candidates were “not very far apart.” Was this a cryptic joke? They are 15 years apart in experience, at least! Does gender have something to do with this, Mr. King? Time you wiped off your old beliefs about women.
Michele Hallahan
   [Michael King responds: Michele Hallahan's carefully truncated quote reads in full: "Although their partisans might feel otherwise, on county issues they are not very far apart." Q.E.D.]

Decrease in Value of Solar Power Unfair

RECEIVED Fri., Jan. 17, 2014

Dear Editor,
    The new year began unfavorably for solar energy in Austin, as evidenced by the article “Then There’s This: Clouds Over Solar,” [News, Jan. 10], but Austin can not allow this unfortunate beginning to tarnish the potential that solar has in 2014.
    I attended the meeting held by the Austin City Council Committee for Emerging Technology and Telecommunications on January 15. At the meeting, Austin Energy and various community stakeholders voiced their expectations, plans, and concerns for solar in 2014. AE presented that the credit sweep cost AE customers upwards of $60,000 in lost solar production credit. Further, as stated in the article, the value of solar has been decreased by nearly 20% for 2014. AE pointed to the decrease in natural gas prices as a major contributor to this change.
    However, AE also relied on other variable manipulations to reach this result. For example, they decreased the useful life of solar installations from 30 years to 25 years, rather than the actual useful life, which can be greater than 50 years, because that is the warranty period on some of the installation equipment. As anyone knows the warranty on a product does not dictate the useful life, a car is not only useful for the five to seven years it has full warranty.
    Whatever the reasoning, this decrease in solar value can only be a mere wrinkle in the landscape of Austin’s solar future. However painful and unfortunate these arbitrary changes currently are, we can not allow them to prevent Austin from being a leader in change, as Austin has the potential to be.
    2014 is shaping up to be a crucial time for Austin and solar. Solar is certainly a hot topic among residents, utilities, industry leaders, and government, so this is the time to take a stand and support the change. There are 11 more months to ensure that these same harsh beginnings do not carry forward in years to come. As an Austin resident, I strongly hope that other residents will stand up and support solar for the remaining 11 months, and not allow this bump in the road to detour the path to change in Austin.
Justin Dertinger
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