Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

California mudslide

Barbara Boxer attacks Carly Fiorina as "too extreme" in the California Senate race.

With two of the hottest political races in the country, California has become a battleground for lots of attacks. We've recently examined several of them:

An ad from Meg Whitman, a Republican business executive who ran eBay, takes a shot at Democrat Jerry Brown for his actions as governor in the 1970s and '80s.

"How can you retire at age 55?" asks the narrator. "Just ask Jerry Brown. He gave California state employees collective bargaining powers. Since then, the unions have grown stronger and stronger. Now, state employees can retire at 55 with much of their salary for life. And taxpayers are on the hook for $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities."

We examined the history to see if Brown was responsible for the retirement rules in California and found mixed evidence. Brown did support giving collective bargaining to state employees. But was that move responsible for fat pension deals that are creating problems for the state budget? That's not so clear, and we reviewed the evidence in detail in our complete report. We rated Whitman's statement Half True.

Turning to the California Senate race, we looked at Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer's attack ad against Carly Fiorina, a Republican and the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard.

Boxer's ad takes a shotgun approach, attacking Fiorina on assault weapons, oil drilling, entitlements and abortion.

"Carly Fiorina, she's against banning assault weapons, and that's reckless and dangerous," the ad states. "She's for risky new oil drilling that could threaten our jobs. Fiorina's plan would mean slashing Social Security and Medicare, which would devastate seniors. And she'd make abortion a crime.

We looked at three of the charges.

On assault weapons, Fiorina opposed the 1994 ban and won the NRA's endorsement by saying she would oppose re-enacting it. Still, Fiorina gave herself some negotiating room for future bans that might differ from the old one. So we rated Boxer's statement Mostly True.

We also checked the statement that "Fiorina's plan would mean slashing Social Security and Medicare." We actually found that Fiorina doesn't have a specific plan for Social Security and Medicare, and Boxer's campaign makes assumptions based on Fiorina's promises to slash government spending. So we rated that statement Barely True.

Finally, we looked at the claim on abortion, and decided not to make a formal ruling on our Truth-O-Meter. But here's a summary of what we found:

Fiorina on abortion

The ad says that Fiorina would "make abortion a crime," and says its source is Heather Estes of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which supports abortion rights -- not exactly a neutral source.

"Carly Fiorina has said that she will absolutely vote to overturn Roe v. Wade," said Estes in a statement provided by the Boxer campaign. "She has vowed to try to take our country back in time, and open the door for states to make abortion a crime and women and doctors into criminals."

Fiorina does oppose abortion and has won the endorsement of the National Right to Life Committee. She calls herself pro-life, and says she believes life begins at conception. On Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case, Fiorina has said that she would vote for repeal if given the opportunity, but would not personally introduce legislation to do so.

The Boxer campaign said these positions means Fiorina favors criminalizing abortion. Fiorina says it doesn't. The most pointed exchange on the issue came during a Sept. 30, 2010 debate.

"Barbara Boxer engages frequently in a shocking misrepresentation of my record, but nowhere is that more unconscionable than her continued assertion that I support the criminalization of abortion. She knows very well that this is not true. There are no circumstances under which a woman in California would be denied an abortion," Fiorina said.

Fiorina is right about California's rules. In 2002, Gov. Gray Davis signed a law guaranteeing the right to an abortion in California. "The state shall not deny or interfere with a woman's fundamental right to choose to bear a child or to choose and obtain an abortion," according to the law. That law would apply if Roe v. Wade were overturned.

The moderator then asked Fiorina about other states. "I think this is typical, typical politics, when people want to talk about the issues that matter most to them –- Where is my job? Why is government debt out of control? -- Barbara Boxer always punts to the divisive issue of abortion to try and change the subject," Fiorina answered.

We then tried to determine for ourselves what would happen if Roe were overturned. The Boxer campaign pointed to an analysis from NARAL Pro-Choice America that 15 states have laws on the books that would criminalize abortion if Roe were overturned. Other reports we reviewed found slightly different numbers.

But most experts say that if Roe is overturned, states across the country would re-examine laws on the books and pass new laws to clarify state rules, with unpredictable results. Some states would probably prohibit abortion, while others would allow it.

So here's what we know: Fiorina says she supports the repeal of Roe v. Wade. She said that she does not support the criminalization of abortion. In California, at least, the repeal of Roe would not change access to abortion. Still, other states could make abortion a crime, and some probably would. We're not rating the statement because of the unpredictability of post-Roe laws, but we wanted to pass along our findings for voters to consider.