Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Al Sharpton is fired up about Rick Perry

On MSNBC, Al Sharpton examined Gov. Rick Perry's record and sparred with a spokesman from the Texas Public Policy Foundation.

Hosting a show on MSNBC, Al Sharpton — minister, activist and former Democratic presidential candidate — turned his attention to the Texas governor’s week-old presidential campaign, claiming that "right-wingers are buying Rick Perry's message like it's the greatest thing since sliced bread."

But Sharpton sees a problem with Perry's campaign performance. "It's 100 percent fact-free," he said.

His evidence? A well-traveled video clip of Perry talking to a boy in the New Hampshire town of Portsmouth on Aug. 18. In the background, the child's mother urges her son to ask Perry about evolution.

Perry says: "Here your mom was asking about evolution, and you know it's a theory that's out there, and it's got some gaps in it. In Texas, we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools — because I figure you're smart enough to figure out which one is right."

We dug into whether Perry was correct that public schools in Texas teach creationism and evolution. False, said the PolitiFact Texas Truth-O-Meter. Among the reasons: In a 1987 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional for public schools to teach creationism, and the state's current science curriculum standards make no mention of creationism while requiring that evolution be covered in high school classes.

Although it's possible that some Texas teachers address the subject of creationism in class — the standards say students should examine "all sides" of scientific theories — there is no state law or policy to intermingle instruction on creationism with that of evolution.

Sharpton's next example of what he sees as Perry going "fact-free": comments the governor made Aug. 17 on global warming. "I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized," Perry said in Bedford, N.H. "I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects. I think we're seeing it almost weekly or even daily, scientists who are coming forward and questioning the original idea that man-made global warming is what is causing the climate to change."

Perry added that plans to address climate change by limiting carbon emissions would cost "billions, if not trillions" of dollars and that America should not spend that much money on "scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question."

Our colleagues at PolitiFact National researched whether Perry is correct that there is significant disagreement among scientists on the causes of global warming and rated the governor’s statement False.

They found solid consensus among the major scientific organizations that global warming is being caused primarily by the emission of greenhouse gases from human activities and that the skeptics seem to be small minority.

PolitiFact National also points out that a petition endorsed by 31,000 signers opposing restrictions on carbon emissions has been criticized for not checking the credentials of its signers or even proving that all of them exist.

Moving on, Sharpton next aired a clip from an interview that Perry did in October 2010 in which Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith says "abstinence education" doesn't appear to be working in Texas. "I think we have the third-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, among all the states," Smith says.

Unfazed, Perry replies: "It works."

PolitiFact hasn't checked the evidence on whether teaching teenagers to abstain from sex is an effective tool in preventing pregnancies. But we looked into the state ranking that Smith referenced after New York Times columnist Gail Collins wrote in February of this year that "Texas ranks third in teen pregnancies."

Collins received a Mostly True. The director of the University of Texas Prevention Research Center in Houston, whom Collins quoted in her column, told us that Collins referred to pregnancy rates when it would have been more accurate to cite birth rates. Texas has the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate nationally, Susan Tortolero said, but the third-highest teen birth rate.

Next, Sharpton brought on Josh Treviño of the conservative Austin-based Texas Public Policy Foundation for a debate on Perry’s record. During that conversation, Sharpton flashed on screen about a dozen Texas "facts," two of which we've touched upon in previous fact-checks.

The first — Texas is No. 1 among states in "percent of population uninsured" — was fact-checked by PolitiFact National for an item published this month testing New York Times columnist Paul Krugman's statement that "one in four Texans lacks health insurance, the highest proportion in the nation."

The Truth-O-Meter gave Krugman a True. The U.S. Census Bureau's latest numbers put the uninsured population in Texas at 26.1 percent, and a 2010 Gallup poll concluded that 27.8 percent of state residents lacked coverage. In both cases, Texas had the highest rate of any state.

The second familiar stat aired by Sharpton: Texas' high school graduation rate ranks 43rd.

We checked that fact last year when Bill White, then a Democratic candidate for governor, included it in his first television ad. "Texas should be America's great state of opportunity," White said in the spot, which began airing Feb. 1, 2010. "But how can we move forward when our graduation rate ranks 43rd out of 50 states?"

White found that statistic in the 2010 Texas Fact Book, published by the Legislative Budget Board, which advises lawmakers on budgetary matters. The fact book says Texas' estimated public high school graduation rate for 2009 was 43rd, with 61.3 percent of students graduating.

The board in turn pulled the statistic from State Rankings 2009, a publication from CQ Press, a nonpartisan publisher of information related to American politics and policy. CQ Press relied on data from the National Education Association in Washington and the National Center for Education Statistics to compare the estimated number of public high school graduates in 2009 with the number of students who were enrolled in ninth grade in fall 2005.

White received a True for his statement.

According to the most recent data from the center, which is part of the U.S. Department of Education, Texas had a four-year graduation rate of 75.4 percent in the 2008-09 school year, putting it No. 29 among states.

On the other side of the conversation, Treviño touched on at least one fact that we've previously checked. Giving "one of the major reasons that Texas has the stats it has," he said: "We have 1,000 Americans a day fleeing the Obama economy, moving to the Texas economy, and that actually really jacks up not only our unemployment figures but our insurance figures."

In January 2010, we rated Mostly True Perry’s statement that "more than 1,000 people … move to Texas every day."

From the U.S. Census Bureau, we learned that an average of about 635 people come to Texas every day. The Internal Revenue Service also estimates the number of people migrating to Texas, and according to its data, 493,840 people switched their residence to Texas between the time they filed their taxes in 2007 and when they filed in 2008. That's about 1,353 people each day.