Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

PolitiFact Florida Mailbag: 'You are shills for this vicious fascist governor'

Some of our readers' comments recently have been as colorful as these mailboxes.
Some of our readers' comments recently have been as colorful as these mailboxes.

Readers had two high-profile issues on their minds recently -- voting rights and health care. Here’s a sample of recent feedback we’ve received on our ratings. Comments have been edited for length and style.

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Voting rights

We fact-checked a statement in a fundraising email from the liberal group MoveOn.org. It said, Gov. Rick Scott "tried to kick 180,000 people off the voter rolls." We rated that False. State officials identified a preliminary list of 180,000 people, but actually tried to remove only 2,600 people from the rolls.

One reader said we missed the point.

"It is all about semantics, isn't it? The fact that Scott even comprised a list is indicative that he tried to remove that many voters. (He) had those names checked against other data in the state and only then determined that merely a handful were really suspect ... less than 2 percent. But, he did try to identify 180,000 voters and would have tried to have them removed from registration if the list had been accurate for its purpose. So, yes, if he could have removed 180,000 names, he would have, and he did try. … Suffice it to say, the battle is raging at the state level now. The GOP has at least temporarily stopped any forward motion on the federal level. They can and are winning the war at the state level with unabashed Pants On Fire lies to their conservative supporters. OK. Maybe I exaggerate that a little. It gets a Half True."

A ‘backdoor poll tax’?

We also fact-checked Democratic U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, who said requirements for voters to prove their citizenship amounted to a "backdoor poll tax." We rated the statement Half True. Hastings is correct that there are similarities between the poll tax and Florida’s recent search for noncitizen voters. In both cases, minorities were disproportionately affected. And in both cases, it added costs and burdens to vote. But poll taxes had a far more widespread effect than Florida’s search for noncitizen voters.

Two readers reached opposite conclusions on our fact-check.

Take one:

"An alarming number of older Floridians, mostly black, don’t have birth certificates. For those born at home or through a mid-wife, proving birth is nearly impossible and expensive. For those who just don’t have a birth certificate, including students and others who have just lost theirs through the years, the cost is still involved, as well as a time factor. Many states take up to three months to provide a Certificate of Live Birth; so therefore the requirement is, in fact, excessive, expensive, and in violation of the Voter’s Rights Act. Taking this in context, your ruling should have been Mostly True."

Take two:

"This should be Mostly False. Of course MOST illegal voters are minorities.  People are not sneaking across the border from Canada and overstaying their visas from Norway! The race, creed or color does NOT matter. What matters is if they are in this country illegally or not. Why is this so difficult for some people to understand?"

'Suppressing' the vote

We fact-checked MSNBC host Chris Matthews, who had a spirited back and forth with Lenny Curry, the head of the Republican Party of Florida, on the show Hardball. Matthews said that under Florida’s voting law, a requirement to turn in voter registrations within 48 hours "makes it impossible to meet the deadline if you’re working right to the end of the week." We rated that False. The law allows for groups to turn in voter registrations on the next day that elections offices are open.

One reader said we should have fact-checked Curry.

"Why not count Curry's ‘No, there was no intent to suppress the vote’ as a huge Pants on Fire lie, since we all know it is? You are shills for this vicious fascist governor and the Republican Party that wants to deny blacks, Latinos, and Democrats their right to vote and wants to destroy the lives of anyone who isn't rich. Why don't you admit it? And if the 48-hour voter suppression rule was so ‘reasonable’ why was it struck down in court?"

In another report, we did fact-check Curry, who said, "More than 250 (voter registration) groups, ranging across the entire political spectrum, have filed with the state and are registering voters right now." We rated that Half True. Less than half the groups registered a single voter since new restrictions  took effect, and six groups have registered nearly 90 percent of all voters when Curry made his comments.

"Why are you splitting hairs on these political statements? … Yes they are registered, big deal. But, as your report states, less than half of those have registered any voters. Misleading is the same as false. Why do you give these politicians points for misleading voters? What you should have done is compared this to 2008 election at the same time and actually show that the voter restrictions have resulted in fewer registrations, instead of giving these people points for misleading."

The politics of Medicare

Health care was another issue that drew reader feedback in recent weeks. After the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal law, Gov. Rick Scott said the law rations care, like systems in Canada and Great Britain. We rated that False, because the health care law doesn’t come close to imitating those systems. As an aside, we noted that Medicare is somewhat similar to Canada’s single-payer system, in which the government pays the bills for health care.

One of our readers took issue with that comparison and sent us a lengthy comment.

"I do take a small exception to the facts as presented in today's article, when you talk of various (foreign) governments paying the bill for health care for everyone. You give the impression that our government pays all of the costs for Medicare for those over the age of 65.

"I, in fact pay, pay about 5 percent ($99.90 per month) of my income as an insurance premium each month into Medicare. If I had not been fortunate and had not worked at a fairly decent salary over my lifetime, the percentage would be even higher, because the premium is the same regardless of your Social Security benefit . There are people of my acquaintance who in fact pay from 10 percent to 15 percent or more of their Social Security retirement to Medicare every month. That is not counting the amounts of money that I and my employers paid over my 55-plus working years into the the Social Security fund that everyone now calls an ‘entitlement.’

"We all realize that what we pay does not cover all of the Medicare costs, but please do not let the politicians and those who write about these things think that we do not pay a fair percentage of our income towards health care."

 Not a fan of Rick Scott

We also fact-checked several other statements from Scott. He said that company with 20 employees could go out of business because of requirements to provide insurance to their employees. We rated that Pants on Fire, because companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from mandates and fines. He also said a Medicaid expansion would cost Florida $1.9 billion a year. We rated that False, because the number was significantly exaggerated.

We got this comment from a reader: "On Rick Scott: They voted for a liar and a thief and got one. Now they know what a sociopath looks like."

A note of praise

We’ll end with a note of praise.

"Thank you for the fact-check on the governor's statements regarding the Affordable Care Act. Your reporting is a true public service to the citizens of Florida and to the readers of the Tampa Bay Times."