Archive for October 21st, 2010

Surprise Poll in CD-1

A new poll has come to light, showing Republican Mike Fallon trailing longtime paperweight Representative Diana DeGette by only 10 points, with DeGette unable to break 50%.  The telephone poll of 700 likely voters has DeGette at 44%, Fallon at 34%, and the undecideds at 22.5%.  The poll was conducted by ccAdvertising, one of the larger national Republican polling firms, and has a margin of error of 3%.

A couple of things to note.  First, as mentioned above, DeGette is under 50% in a district she’s held for, well, forever.  The pollsters did adjust for expected voter turnout, using a fairly complex model.  I have no idea how their track record for accuracy compares to, say, Rasmussen.

I also note that the sample appears to over-weight Republicans considerably, with the D-R-U breakdown coming in at 40-31-28.  The actual voter registration in Denver is about 50-20-30.  That said, the party breakdown is a result of voter self-identification.  The pollsters apparently called in the prevailing proportions, but about 10 percentage points’ worth of Democrats refused to identify themselves as Dems, calling themselves Republicans or unaffiliated instead.  How to treat party identification is an unresolved problem in poll methodology, but in this case, the pollsters are also trying to account for expected turnout, and probably used self-identification as a response rather than a demographic.

Again, assuming the pollsters called representative proportions of likely voters, 48% of those responding favor repealing Obamacare, while 52% oppose.  This is more favorably disposed to Obamacare than the national average, but indicates a high level of dissatisfaction with the law even in a heavily Democrat area like Denver, and is no doubt contributing to Fallon’s support.  Mike’s an ER doctor, and has made actual health care reform a keystone of his campaign.

Does this mean that the race is winnable?  That last 10 points is going to be awfully hard to make up, but the pollsters look at that 22% undecided as a gold mine of potential votes.  After 18 years, DeGette’s a known quantity, and she probably can’t say much about herself that will move the needle in her direction.  More Republicans are undecided than Dems, indicating, perhaps, that they still haven’t heard much about Mike. And over 45% of Unaffiliated voters are undecided.  Of those unaffiliated voters, though, many are probably Dems no longer willing to call themselves Dems to pollsters, who are still probably inclined to vote Democrat.  ccAdvertising thinks that the undecideds could well break 9-1 for Mike.  While I think that’s an extraordinarily optimistic projection, in reality, they’d only have to break a little better than 5-2 for him to actually win the seat, assuming that the partisan breakdown is correct.

All in all, this has got to be good news for Fallon; I just wish it had come a month ago.

UPDATE: Welcome NRO readers!  When you’re done, feel free to go over to my own campaign website, at SharfColorado.

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Public Pensions, Public Purse

On the campaign trail, I’ve spoken to any number of public employees and retirees who are worried about PERA, understand the problems, and who recognize the system needs to be changed.  Some retirees are even willing to take cuts themselves, although I think asking them to do so would be a breach of faith.  Employees and even reitrees are clearly more flexible on this issue than their unions are.  To his credit, Mayor Hickenlooper has proposed changes to Denver’s pensions to try to make it more solvent:

For future employees only, the proposal would increase the minimum retirement age from 55 to 60, further decrease the pensions of those who retire early and increase the time required for vesting from five years to seven years….

This year, city workers had to contribute an extra 2 percent of their paychecks to offset losses in the pension fund’s investments…
The most recent analysis shows the pension plan ended December 2009 with 88.4 percent of its obligations funded, better than many other public pension plans, including the one for state workers.

Now, an 88.4% funded status is excellent, especially given the status of other public pensions.  It speaks well of the conservative management of plan assets, although it’s worth noting that Denver may be using the expected return as the discount rate, rather than the level of obligation, which would overstate the plan’s funded status.  (Full disclosure: I’m friends with Steve Hutt, who attends my synagogue, and haven’t had a chance to ask him what discount rate the plan uses.)

Nevertheless, defined benefit plans will almost always encounter, over their lifetimes, a rough patch rough enough to make them insolvent without greater contributions.  The Mayor’s efforts are better than doing nothing, but will face opposition in the City Council from unions, and don’t address the fundamental problem of making promises the city can’t keep.

This is important, because dealing with PERA will be an important job of the next governor and legislature.  According to Business Insider, Colorado’s pension fund is only 12 years away from actual insolvency, 8th-worst in the country.  Unless we deal with this, by getting obligations to current and imminent retirees fully funded, and then converting to a defined contribution plan for new and younger state employees, we will end up bankrupting the state.  Pension obligations – backed by unions whose greed is not representative of their members – will eat us alive, leaving almost nothing for actual services and functions.

I’m not sure that John Hickenlooper is willing to make that decision, but I am certain that the current legislative majority isn’t.  We need to elect one that is.

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