Poll shows Garfield County voters are divided on energy issues | PostIndependent.com

Poll shows Garfield County voters are divided on energy issues

John StroudPost Independent StaffGlenwood Springs, Colorado CO

A bipartisan public opinion poll in Garfield County shows voters generally support the current county commissioners, but tend to disagree with some of their recent actions and political stances on energy-related issues.While 53 percent of voters gave a positive job approval rating to the Board of County Commissioners as a whole, none of the board members surpassed 50 percent when it came to their individual job approvals, according to the poll.Recent decisions by the commissioners related to energy development also appear to be dividing the community, according to the poll results.The poll was paid for by Checks and Balances Project (CBP), a government and industry watchdog group that has been critical of the Garfield County commissioners’ involvement in a controversial meeting in Vernal, Utah, earlier this year to draft oil shale policy.The CBP poll used both a Democratic polling firm, Peak Campaigns, and Republican pollsters Bellwether Research & Consulting.It was conducted on Sept. 9-13 among 405 registered voters in the county, including 134 Republicans, 97 Democrats and 174 unaffiliated voters.According to CBP spokesperson Ellynne Bannon, the poll attempted to lay out pro and con arguments for each question.The poll comes as two of the three Republican county commissioners, John Martin and Mike Samson, are coming up for re-election on Nov. 6. Running against the two incumbents, respectively, are Democratic challengers Sonja Linman and Aleks Briedis.Overall, “this poll shows a greater number of Garfield County voters disagree with the county commissioners than agree with them,” Bannon said.Both Martin and Samson have discounted the poll, saying the questions were biased and in one case inaccurate.”These polls are often conducted in a way that, depending on how the questions are worded, it can make a great deal of difference in the responses,” Samson said. “I think people deserve to know the whole story.”Energy policyThe poll addressed three recent decisions by the commissioners, including their participation in the Vernal meeting, which was attended by other elected officials from three different states as well as industry representatives, but was closed to the public.”Slightly more voters overall disagree [46 percent] with the decision than agree [42 percent] with it,” according to a report from polling firms on the Garfield County poll results.Among the Democrats polled, 65 percent disagreed with the decision to participate in the meeting, while 29 percent agreed with it. Most Republicans, 56 percent, agreed with the board’s decision to participate, while 31 percent of Republicans did not.”A plurality of unaffiliated voters disagreed [48 percent], but 41 percent agree,” according to the poll report.”We have never tried to intentionally do anything wrong or illegally,” Samson said of the meeting, noting that he led the effort to rescind a resolution that came out of the Vernal meeting because of the concerns that were being raised.A slight majority of voters, 51 percent, also disagree with the board’s decision to hire a consulting firm from Texas to help the county in its dealings with the federal government as new protections for the greater sage grouse are being drafted.Although that firm, American Stewards of Liberty, is not mentioned by name in the questioning, only 27 percent of voters agreed with the decision. The remainder said they did not have an opinion.Samson said he stands by the decision to seek the organization’s help.”They have been very valuable and helpful in informing and educating us on how to work with the federal government on these issues,” Samson said.The poll also asked if voters agreed with the decision to dismiss the county’s former oil and gas liaison, Judy Jordan, though again she was not mentioned by name in the poll question.More voters disagreed, 43 percent, than agreed, 31 percent, according to the poll results.Martin pointed out in a recent interview that the poll question erroneously stated it was the commissioners’ decision to fire Jordan, when it technically was a decision made by her supervisor at the time.The poll also asked voters if they thought the oil and gas industry had too much influence on the county commission.”Overall, 45 percent of voters agree more with those who say the industry has too much influence, and 46 percent agree more with those who say the industry is important and the board has shown independence,” according to the poll report.Most Democrats, 61 percent, said the industry has too much influence, while most Republicans, 64 percent, said the industry is not too influential on the commissioners. Unaffiliated voters were more evenly divided on the question, with 50 percent saying the industry has too much influence, 41 percent saying it doesn’t and 9 percent saying they did not know.Bannon maintained the poll shows that the commissioners “have divided voters down the middle on oil and gas and oil shale issues.”But Samson said he believes the commissioners are right to seek the input of industry, other government agencies and the general public on energy issues.The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percent. The poll questions, responses and other data can be found at: http://checksandbalancesproject.org/2012/09/26/bipartisan-poll-garfield-county-commissioners-actions-on-drilling-oil-shale-dividing-voters/jstroud@postindependent.com

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