Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Texas Truthiness in 2010

We've published more than 6,000 Truth-O-Meter fact-checks since we launched five years ago.
We've published more than 6,000 Truth-O-Meter fact-checks since we launched five years ago.

We went searching for popular statements that we rated True in 2010 only to find that just one ranked among readers' top 50 favorite PolitiFact Texas pages.

Our fact-check of a claim by U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, ended up the 10th-most-read story on our site. While the Senate fought over extending unemployment insurance to the nation's jobless last summer, Cornyn said during a July conference call with reporters that Senate Republicans weren't against extending such benefits but wanted them to be paid for.

"Sen. (Mitch) McConnell offered a fully paid two-month extension of unemployment insurance," he said.

We rated that True — McConnell had proposed financing an extension with stimulus money.

Cornyn wasn't the state's only political player to speak the truth — it's just that falsehoods are more popular with readers. After we failed to find more than one True statement in our 50 most-read pages on the PolitiFact site, we dug a little deeper. Presenting the four other True statements that were among our 100 most-read fact-checks:

55. Democratic gubernatorial nominee Bill White said in March that "debt has almost doubled in Austin under Gov. (Rick) Perry." In fact, we found that the amount of state debt has more than doubled since Perry became governor in 2000. It turns out that transportation debt is responsible for most of the added load, increasing from basically nothing in 2000 to $11.8 billion outstanding as of Aug. 31, 2009. That's because before 2001, the Texas Department of Transportation lacked the authority to borrow money to pay for road projects. Voters gave the agency that power in 2001.

75. Mark Hinkle, chairman of the nation's Libertarian Party, said in September that "exit polls indicate that Democrats get over 70 percent of LGBT votes in federal elections." We found that Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and President Bill Clinton in his 1996 re-election bid carried more than 70 percent of the lesbian, gay, bisexual vote while Vice President Al Gore took 70 percent in the 2000 presidential contest. (Kerry and Gore lost; Clinton won.)

77. Perry, who was elected to his third full term in November, said in a September TV ad that "we've created more than 850,000 jobs, more than all the other states combined." From January 2001 to June 2010, Texas gained 853,400, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

78. In his memoir, former President George W. Bush wrote that in his first 17 months as president, the United States doubled its $500 million a year commitment to fighting global AIDS, more than any other country in the world. That's true. PolitiFact National checked a similar True 2009 statement by U2's Bono, who credited Bush with tripling U.S. spending to fight AIDS in Africa.

95. In his first TV ad, which aired in February, White said that the state's "graduation rate ranks 43rd out of 50 states." We found that Texas has been sliding in the ranks — from 35th in 2001 to 42nd in 2008 to 43rd in 2009, according to a publication issued by CQ Press, a widely-regarded nonpartisan publisher of infomation related to American politics and policy.

White received the first True from the PolitiFact Texas Truth-O-Meter after we fact-checked a statement on his campaign website claiming that White "saw Houston's crime rates drop to the lowest levels in more than 25 years." Turns out there was a downward trend in crime nationwide. And Houston Police Department statistics confirm that Houston's crime rate hit a 25-year low during White's tenure.

Perry earned his first True rating soon after White. In November 2009 Perry slammed his GOP primary opponent, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, saying that "Hutchison has voted nine separate times to raise the national debt ceiling." We found that since joining the Senate in 1993, she had voted nine times to raise the debt ceiling. She also voted five times against raising the ceiling.

Hutchison swung at Perry, too. The governor often boasted about the state's job gains. But during a January debate between the Republican candidates, Hutchison said: "We definitely lost more jobs in Texas this (past) year than we gained. We lost 300,000 jobs in Texas alone this year."

True. When we published this fact-check Jan. 15, Texas Workforce Commission data showed a net job loss of 271,700 jobs in 2009.

We were surprised certain statements proved out. Count among them two from dueling nominees for state agriculture commissioner. Democrat Hank Gilbert, whom Republican incumbent Todd Staples thrashed in the November election, said the Texas Department of Agriculture was wasting money under Staples' leadership by seeking to buy 300,000 stress balls. The potential purchase was True — though we didn't judge whether the balls would be a waste.

Staples, during a meeting with the Austin American-Statesman editorial board, said: "More people hunt and fish in Texas in a given year than attend the ... games of the Dallas Cowboys, the Dallas Mavericks, the Houston Texans and the Houston Rockets combined." Indeed, far as we could tell, more people hunted and fished than attended home games for the four franchises in their last completed seasons.

Out of the more than 290 statements that we've fact-checked since Jan. 12, a total of 39 were True, including 26 by Republicans and 10 by Democrats. Peruse them here.

Happy New Year, readers! Here's to a truth-y 2011.