Fact-checking the second Florida governor's debate

Former Gov. Charlie Crist and current Gov. Rick Scott debated at Broward College on Oct. 15, 2014.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist and current Gov. Rick Scott debated at Broward College on Oct. 15, 2014.

Rick Scott and Charlie Crist fought over who was the biggest fan of the truth Wednesday night, at the second debate of the governor’s race.

At the onset of the Oct. 15 debate, we thought we might not have anything to fact-check except whether the debate rules allowed candidates to have fans at their podium. Republican Gov. Scott initially didn’t take the stage at Broward College in Davie because challenger former Gov. Crist had a small podium fan. Florida’s political junkies know that Crist is famous for insisting on a fan at all his public events.

Scott eventually gave in and joined Crist on stage, where they attacked each others’ records as governor on a wide swath of issues -- jobs, education, the environment and more. They also recycled many of their favorite talking points from the campaign trail.

Throughout, Scott and Crist both said the other was playing fast and loose with the facts. So we’re here to fact-check some of the key claims they made during the debate and point you to fact-checks from our archives on similar topics.

On jobs

Scott said that "3,000 teachers lost their jobs when Charlie was governor." The claim omits some key points. The number was derived from media reports about possible layoffs; not all of them materialized. Clearly, some teachers were laid off statewide, but the claim lacks evidence that it amounted to 3,000 positions. Crist was not solely responsible for teacher layoffs. Crist and the Republican-led Legislature signed off on budget cuts amid a national recession. We rated that claim Mostly False.

Also, Scott’s claim glosses over the fact that Crist accepted federal stimulus money that preserved 20,000 teachers’ jobs, something Crist mentioned in the debate. Florida’s Education Department identified 19,166 full-time equivalent jobs affected by the stimulus money. That’s close to what Crist said, but that figure includes not just teachers but other types of school workers as well. We rated that claim Mostly True.

Scott noted about a half-dozen times during the debate that 832,000 people joined the ranks of the unemployed in Florida while Crist was in office.

The number is about right, but blaming Crist for it is questionable. Florida’s job losses during those years depended heavily on the national and international economic picture, not because of Crist’s particular policies. The statement is partially accurate but leaves out important details, so we rated it Half True.

On Medicaid

Crist said that in addition to bringing $51 billion to the state over 10 years, "some studies indicate" that expanding Medicaid would "create about 120,000 jobs."

Crist was referring to one study done for the Florida Hospital Association, a supporter of Medicaid expansion. That study predicted about 120,000 new jobs.There have been several studies that predict job growth related to Medicaid expansion, with one study putting the figure as low as 10,000 jobs. Crist cherry-picked the study with the highest statistic and omitted that it was done for an association that supports the expansion. Most economists and Medicaid experts say that it’s likely that the infusion of federal cash would lead to some jobs, but it is difficult to pinpoint the number.

We rated that claim Half True.

On a Duke Energy and Jeb Bush

Scott said Crist signed legislation allowing utility companies to charge customers for power plants that were never built. Crist interrupted and said no -- that was former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Scott and Republicans point to a 2008 amendment that Crist signed into law, but this amendment never led to any charging of customers for either facility at issue -- the Crystal River plant or the uncompleted Levy County plant. Instead, the operative law was signed in 2006, when Bush -- Crist’s Republican predecessor -- was governor. And ironically, it’s Scott whose decision has allowed a utility company to potentially benefit from the measure Crist signed.

We rate Crist’s statement True.

On gay marriage

Scott said voters can’t know where Crist really stands on gay marriage because he has changed his position. Looking back through his political career in Florida, we found that Crist’s opinion has traversed the spectrum. As a Republican gubernatorial candidate in 2006, Crist signed a petition to help get a gay marriage ban on the Florida ballot and said he supported "traditional marriage."

While governor, he appeared to soften on the subject, saying he was a "live and let live" kind of person. But he voted for the ban nonetheless. As a Senate candidate, he stopped short of endorsing gay marriage, saying he supported civil unions that afforded the legal benefits of marriage.

At Wednesday’s debate, Crist offered his full support for gay marriage.

That’s what we call a Full Flop.

On education

Crist said Scott cut $1.3 billion out of Florida schools during his first year as governor. There are various ways to add up the total cuts in K-12, but Crist is generally on the right track here. Crist uses the $1.3 billion figure that includes the cut in state and state-required local dollars, but the largest chunk was due to the expiration of stimulus funds. It’s important to note that much of K-12 education funding was restored, though it’s still below pre-recession levels. We rated a similar claim from Crist Mostly True.

Finally, Scott and Republicans often repeat that state funding for K-12 education is at its highest funding ever, and Scott repeated it at the debate. In sheer dollar amounts, there’s some basis for the claim, but it ignores inflation as well as how many students are in the system. Crist still holds the per-pupil record for education, but that was prior to the recession. We rated a similar claim from a TV ad Half True.