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Validity of lawmakers’ KBRA poll under fire 


By Elon Glucklich, Herald and News 10/15/10

   Editor’s note: This is one in an ongoing series about the impact of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. An advisory measure about the KBRA and dam removal is on the Nov. 2 ballot. 


   The issue: Three state legislators conducted a public opinion poll last year, asking for thoughts on the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and dam removal settlement. Two-thirds of those polled said they opposed the KBRA.


   Why voters should care: Stakeholders on both sides of the KBRA have used public opinion as a means of defending their positions. Each side says its view represents the best interests of Klamath Basin irrigators.


   What opponents say: The lawmakers’ poll is misleading. Questions often can be asked with slanted wording that influences responses. The lawmakers also did not ask enough residents for the poll to be valid.


   What proponents say: The poll confirms what opponents of KBRA have long been saying: restoration and dam removal will force taxpayers to foot the bill for a project that will greatly reduce the region’s future agricultural capability.


   A public opinion poll conducted last year by three state lawmakers indicated about two-thirds of Klamath Basin residents oppose the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement and hydroelectric dam settlement.


   But supporters of the KBRA argue that the polling was skewed and asked too few residents to be an accurate gauge of public opinion.


   The KBRA aims to resolve water conflicts among stakeholders in the Klamath River Basin. It also advocates removal of four dams.


   Klamath County voters on Nov. 2 will be asked whether the county should or should not be involved in the agreement and its implementation. The vote is advisory.


   Oregon State Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, and state Reps. Bill Garrard, R-Klamath Falls and George Gilman, R-Medford, conducted the poll in May 2009.


   With the help of a polling company owned by Oregon state Sen. Larry George, R-Sherwood, the three lawmakers were able to reach 301 county residents.  


   Those residents were asked five questions, including whether they favored or opposed the KBRA, how they felt about purchasing land for the Klamath Tribes and how they felt about KBRA meetings being confidential and closed to the public.


   Poll results


   Sixty-five percent of those polled said they opposed the KBRA, while 11 percent said they supported it. Twenty-five percent said they didn’t know.


   Sixty- eight percent polled said they opposed the agreement purchasing land for the Klamath Tribes, while 7 percent said they favored it. When asked about confidential meetings, 73 percent said those meetings were detrimental to public policy. Five percent said the meetings were good public policy.


   The polling “told us what we had been hearing from our constituents across the county,” Whitsett said, adding he had been receiving calls from people concerned about the KBRA since it was first announced.


   Garrard said he participated in the polling because he wanted to know where his constituents stood on the KBRA and dam removal issues.


   “At the time we took the survey, my primary interest was finding out, do people want the KBRA or don’t they?” Garrard said, adding the results helped form his opinion on the issue.


   “It’s pretty overwhelming that they oppose dam removal,” he said.


   “A lot of dishonesty”


   But some KBRA and dam removal proponents believe there was a high likelihood the polling was skewed.


   Kirk Oakes, Democratic candidate for Klamath County commissioner, called the dam removal survey a “push poll.” A push poll is a campaign tactic used to sway public opinion, based on misleading or biased wording of the questions.


   “It was designed to elicit a specific response,” Oakes said. “There is a lot of dishonesty going on” in regard to the KBRA.


   “The arguments that are being placed against dam removal are based on a lot of individuals” who have a financial stake against dam removal, he said

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