Monday, September 22nd, 2014

The best of 2010 from PolitiFact state sites

A military appreciation Christmas tree at the White House in Washington.
A military appreciation Christmas tree at the White House in Washington.

PolitiFact now has partner sites in eight states, stretching from Georgia to Oregon and from Rhode Island to Texas. As part of our year-end review, we're highlighting some of our favorite state items.

Florida

Marco Rubio -- who easily won a spirited three-way contest in Florida for a U.S. Senate seat -- was one of 2010's biggest political winners, with a charisma and public profile that is already inspiring comparisons to Barack Obama when he won his Senate seat in 2004

When it launched on March 1, PolitiFact Florida focused on Rubio by testing a central claim of his campaign.  Were 57 of the 100 ideas he promoted as the state House Republican agenda in 2007 and 2008 turned into law by the Florida Legislature, as his campaign claimed?

PolitiFact Florida, a joint project of the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald, concluded that 24 of Rubio's 100 ideas unquestionably became law, including education and property insurance reforms, plus another 10 that were partially enacted. But 23 of the ideas either didn't become law or were not framed in a way that could be achieved legislatively. So PolitiFact Florida rated his claim Half True.

Georgia

The Georgia Republican gubernatorial primary between former U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal and former Secretary of State Karen Handel was a bruiser. One of Deal's hardest-hitting attacks was that Handel was a member of the Log Cabin Republicans, which works for gay rights. Handel and her strategists repeatedly denied that she was ever a member of the group, including in a June 9 article in Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

 PolitiFact Georgia looked into it and found a long trail of evidence.

During the period in question, Handel was running for the Fulton County Commission, and, like other candidates in both parties, courted the politically active gay community. The the Log Cabin leader at the time specifically recalled Handel handing him the check for her membership dues. That account was supported by electronic records that list her as a dues-paying member through July 2003 and, in another file, through July 2004.

Because Handel and her aides continued to deny the charge, PolitiFact Georgia rated the claim Pants On Fire!

Ohio

When Fox News personality and radio host Glenn Beck used a small town in Ohio as an exemplar of pull-yourself-up-without-federal-aid pluck, PolitiFact Ohio got suspicious.

On his Nov. 22 radio show, Beck told the story of Wilmington, a town of 13,000 people in Southwest Ohio that lost about 8,600 jobs when DHL Express, its largest employer, pulled out in 2008. In Beck's version of the story, its residents pulled together to save the town through self reliance and prayer. What makes the Wilmington really special, he continued, is that Wilmington refuses government assistance.

"It went from the No. 1 most up-and-coming city, and a city everybody wants to live in, to ground zero. And this town hasn't taken any money from the government. They don"t want any money from the government," he said on his show

But PolitiFact Ohio quickly found Beck's story full of holes. The city of Wilmington itself has received federal assistance, including money from the federal stimulus bill that Beck often rails against. Government and social service agencies that serve residents of Wilmington and surrounding Clinton and Clark counties have received state and federal money. Development agencies and companies in Wilmington have received state aid or pledges of state aid. And unemployed residents of the town and county are receiving unemployment and other jobless benefits.

The surrounding county even received $7,009,811 in stimulus money through September, including aid to the Wilmington city schools, the Clinton County Department of Jobs and Family Services and the Clinton County Community Action Group, a non-profit organization that aids the poor in in the region and provides free weatherization to residents.

Wilmington Mayor David Raizk said he"s chasing any government help he can get. "I've beat on more doors than I can count," he said. "Not because we are looking for hand-out -- but we are looking for a hand up. My job is to get whatever assistance I can get for the citizens here and to help create jobs for the citizens here and to help create jobs for them."

It was enough to earn Beck a Pants on Fire.

Oregon

In November, PolitiFact Oregon noticed a statistic on Portland's Safe Routes to School program summary page: "Nationally, 50% of children who are hit by cars near schools are hit by cars driven by parents of other students."

While the number on its face seemed to make sense -- who is most likely to be driving near schools than parents? -- the figure begged even more questions: How many children are hit by cars each year? What is the sample size? And how did they track the numbers to figure that parents of other children were involved in half of those cases?

PolitiFact Oregon wanted to find out.

After a long and winding trail through state, local and national officials, PolitiFact Oregon located Wendi Kallins, who launched the original safe routes pilot in Marin County, Calif. She said that she was unable to track down the original documentation and added, "I don't recommend using the stat unless you can track down the original."

As a result of PolitiFact's research, Julie Yip, the safe routes coordinator at the Oregon Department of Transportation, said she would stop using the figure, since the National Center for Safe Routes to School, which is not the same as the partnership, could not verify the figure and does not use it. The city of Portland also said it would scrub the statistic from its website.

The twisted tale of this claim offered a case study in how falsehoods get passed along with good intentions but with nothing to back them up. Just because a statement keeps getting repeated doesn't mean it's true -- even if a source is cited. So PolitiFact Oregon found the claim False.

Rhode Island

In an October news release, Rhode Island Democratic Party Chairman Edwin R. Pacheco penned an attack on Christopher H. Little, the attorney general candidate for the Moderate Party, a third party in the nation's smallest state. Pacheco zeroed in on Little's claim to be an environmental champion, countering that he was contaminated by his private law work for polluters.

Pacheco cited three instances in which he claimed that Little represented clients who were polluters -- two Massachusetts towns that took the federal Environmental Protection Agency to court over a proposed sludge dump, a chemical company whose North Carolina facility was designated a hazardous waste site, and a Massachusetts-based gasoline station operator that was fined for a gasoline spill.

But when PolitiFact Rhode Island looked more closely, it found serious flaws in Pacheco's argument. It found that Little was not "on the side of the polluters" in the Massachusetts sludge case, and it found that his representation of the North Carolina and Massachusetts companies were on work unrelated to the hazardous waste site and the gasoline spill, respectively. So PolitiFact Rhode Island rated his statement False.

Texas

Republicans were eager to distance themselves from President Barack Obama in 2010 -- so much that some GOP officials claimed they never even spoke with the president.

In a July 13, 2010, interview with Fox News Channel's Neil Cavuto, Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) was asked how he would describe his relationship with the Obama White House. "You know, I have, frankly, never had a call from them. So they may have checked in at some staff levels that I'm not aware of," Perry said.

But when PolitiFact Texas looked into it, it located an April 29, 2010, White House press release announcing that the president called the governors of states adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico, including Perry, "to discuss the BP oil spill situation and assure the governors that the administration will continue to use every single available resource at our disposal in the response efforts."

Separately, a July 6, 2009, White House news release said that Perry was among five governors to take part in a conference call with Vice President Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, a White House spokesman said that Perry had been invited to be on a call with senior administration officials involved in the response to the oil spill every day since May 4. Perry "has participated on a number of those calls and has been represented by his staff on many more," the spokesman said.

Finally, Perry"s official schedule for June 29 listed an 8:15 a.m. entry stating "Phone Call: White House Intergovernmental Affairs/BP Oil Spill."

If that schedule is correct, then Perry got a call from the White House two weeks before the Fox interview aired. PolitiFact Texas rated the claim Pants on Fire!

Virginia

In a Nov. 13, 2010, radio interview, William Howell, the speaker of Virginia"s House of Delegates, said that "there"s talk in Congress now about basically confiscating your private 401(k) or IRA plan and rolling it into Social Security to strengthen Social Security."

That statement caught the attention of PolitiFact Virginia.

When PolitiFact Virginia asked Howell for the basis of his claim, he said, "That idea has been floating around from Democrats for years." But actual evidence was scant. PolitiFact Virginia found not a single story in a national newspaper that warned of confiscation. A representative of AARP, the nation"s largest lobby for seniors with a reported 40 million members, says it "hasn't heard anything about it at all."

And while the idea -- or more precisely, the fear of it -- has attracted much attention on the Internet, the source of the claim almost always comes from testimony at a Oct 7, 2008 hearing of the House Committee on Education and Labor. One of the speakers was Teresa Ghilarducci, an economics professor at the New School for Social Research, who proposed that Congress "allow" workers to convert their IRAs and 401Ks into a Guaranteed Retirement Account, according to a video of the hearing. Yet there was no talk about coercion or government seizure of existing accounts.

So PolitiFact Virginia rated Howell's claim Pants on Fire!

Wisconsin

Long before he entered the race for governor, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett (D) trumpeted the work of Police Chief Edward Flynn, who rode into town in January 2008 with the mayor's strong backing. And his campaign website touted this claim: "Under Tom Barrett's leadership, violent crime in Milwaukee has decreased by over 20 percent -- to its lowest levels in more than 20 years." 

But PolitiFact Wisconsin found that the claim did not hold up. The Barrett camp had effectively cherry-picked the starting point for the comparison, and it used homicides as a stand-in for all violent crime. In reality, the 20-year high point for violent crime was in 2006, two years into Barrett's term.

PolitiFact Wisconsin rated the claim False -- and in response to the item, the Barrett campaign changed the statement to make it accurate.