Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Consult your Truth-O-Meter before voting in Texas party primaries

It's our pleasure to check what candidates and officeholders say.
It's our pleasure to check what candidates and officeholders say.

You can’t take a Truth-O-Meter to the poll if you’re casting a ballot in the Texas party primaries Tuesday.

Next-best thing? Our pre-primary rundown of claims we checked, mostly of Republican candidates for lieutenant governor.

We’re not folding in our checks of gubernatorial hopefuls Greg Abbott and Wendy Davis, each of whom faces little primary opposition. But see Davis’s PolitiFact report card here and the one for Abbott here.

Also, every fact check we mention below is posted to the right. Easy!

Notable fact checks before the primaries

Our Pants on Fire rating, meaning something is inaccurate and ridiculous, was bestowed on several statements by Republicans seeking your support:

--Barry Smitherman, the chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission running for attorney general, declared that the Earth is not warming. Contrary to this claim, experts including the state climatologist concur that the planet is warming. They also warn against cherry-picking individual climatic indicators or timeframes to conclude otherwise.

Also from the AG race, we rated as Mostly True a charge by Ken Paxton, a McKinney state senator, that Smitherman doesn't have the legal experience to apply for most jobs in the AG's office. Most lawyer jobs at the agency require three years of lawyer experience. Smitherman has less than that. Still, Paxton should have specified he was speaking about the agency’s lawyering jobs.

We rated as Half True a claim by candidate Dan Branch, a Dallas legislator, that he worked with Ronald Reagan and helped him win re-election. Branch was an underling for a Texas committee devoted to helping Reagan win re-election and to electing other Republicans. But his claim left the inaccurate impression that Branch was right alongside Reagan, perhaps as a White House aide or joining in the president's day-to-day travels.

--Earlier, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, who seeks a third term, incorrectly said 25 percent of human trafficking victims are located in Texas. This Pants on Fire claim echoed an outdated percentage for a subset of the planet’s trafficking victims, that is, "certified" adult victims from outside the U.S. described some five years ago as located in Texas from April 2004 through January 2006--and that calculation did not account for U.S. citizen-victims. We didn’t find an estimate of the share of the world’s trafficking victims located in Texas, though a 2012 United Nations estimate seems to show Texas is not home to a huge share; victims are more prevalent in Asia and Africa than in the developed world.

A Democratic Senate candidate, David Alameel of Dallas, drew a Half True rating for his claim that more than 40,000 U.S. troops remain in Afghanistan and that under his "best-case" scenario, at least 10,000 will remain at the end of 2014. This claim was close in spirit, but reflected outdated information. There were about 34,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan just before he piped up. Also, a general had reportedly recommended reducing U.S. troop levels to 10,000--or zero--by the end of this year, though no decision had been announced.

--A Cornyn challenger, U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman of Friendswood, said Cornyn voted twice in 2013 for President Barack Obama’s plan providing amnesty for illegal immigrants. In reality, Obama did not offer an amnesty plan, though he endorsed the Senate-approved legislation, which envisioned ways that unauthorized immigrants could attain citizenship. This was also the plan that Cornyn consistently voted against; two "aye" votes singled out by Stockman were procedural, relating to whether floor debate commenced and not to the legislation's merits. Pants!

Stockman also said Cornyn had backed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst when Dewhurst faced Ted Cruz for their party’s 2012 U.S. Senate nomination. We rated that False; Cornyn was neutral. We also found False a Stockman claim that in every poll, Cornyn "always loses to any conservative the voters have heard about." Poll results varied.

The four-way fray for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor--Democrat Leticia Van de Putte is unopposed in her primary--generated several flawed claims.

Dewhurst, seeking his fourth term, said he is the only statewide elected official who is a businessman. Not so, we found, rating this False.

We found Mostly False a Dewhurst claim that he had I have cut taxes 63 times, including a 2006 property tax reduction that ranks as the largest in state history." Dozens of tax breaks, some of them extremely targeted, passed into law on Dewhurst’s watch, but it's not like Texans are less tapped by such taxes of late than before. Also, Dewhurst didn't personally cut any taxes; those decisions involved the House, Senate and governor as well. The 2006 school property-tax-rate reduction was historic. But Dewhurst’s statement fails to acknowledge that actions Dewhurst helped usher into place the same year led to hundreds of millions of dollars in lesser tax increases.

State Sen. Dan Patrick of Houston, among Dewhurst’s primary challengers, incorrectly said he is "the only candidate for lieutenant governor to oppose in-state tuition for illegal immigrants." Patrick is the one candidate who has filed specific proposals to repeal the law. But each of the Republican candidates was public about opposing the law before Patrick debuted his ad, which continues to leave the impression that other candidates favor the law or have taken no position on it. That’s not so.

Todd Staples, the state agriculture commissioner bidding for lieutenant governor, said savings he achieved helped fund cameras on the border and that as a result, more than 21,500 arrests were made and 46 tons of narcotics were confiscated. Half True, we concluded, saying the statement could leave the misleading impression that a few hundred thousand dollars committed on Staples’ watch to an established program near the border culminated in the touted arrests and confiscations. The grant money supported the border effort. But we didn’t see a way to tie particular arrests and confiscations to the grants. Also, his statement left out the critical fact that about 90 percent of the operation’s funding had come from federal aid awarded through the governor’s office.

Also Half True: Staples’ claim that Dewhurst "went out for drinks" as senators considered legislation tightening state abortion restrictions. Dewhurst had said that he stepped out to a restaurant during part of a lengthy Senate debate on abortion legislation June 18, 2013. But Staples did not prove he had drinks, and we found no such confirmation.

We rated as Mostly True a claim by another lieutenant governor hopeful, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, that firearms homicides decreased 40 percent after Texas passed a law permitting licensed residents to carry concealed guns. Data for Texas show declines of either 32 percent or 42 percent since the state law took effect, but we did not conclude that the measure authored by Patterson explains the decrease, which occurred nationally for multiple reasons.

You can’t tote a Truth-O-Meter to the polls. But all of our fact checks are organized by the person or group speaking and by subject. And if you can’t track something down, write us. We’d love to see you on Facebook or Twitter as well.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.