Truth is elusive in Wisconsin recall campaign
The partisan passion on both sides of Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall as taken a toll on truth-telling.
As Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Democratic challenger Tom Barrett battle to a June 5, 2012, conclusion, we took stock of our rulings on the recall race and found a decided tilt to the False end of the Truth-O-Meter.
Thirty-four of the 54 recall-related claims we’ve tested landed on Pants on Fire, False or Mostly False. We judged a mere seven True or Mostly True. The rest hugged the middle at Half True.
Let’s take a look back at some highlights, er, lowlights:
The campaign rhetoric over gender discrimination generated heat but not much light, much of it over a GOP-backed bill that eliminated one legal remedy -- state court lawsuits -- in cases of alleged gender bias at work.
Barrett contended Walker said "no to equal pay for equal work for women" by signing the bill. We rated it False. Barrett went too far. Discrimination remains illegal and women who believe they are paid less because of their gender still have other options for pursuing their claims, including federal court.
Legal observers acknowledged the potential significance of the state court enforcement option but were split on how important it is.
We gave Walker a Mostly False for dismissing the previous law as "kind of a gravy train" for lawyers. Not a single lawsuit had yet been filed in state court since that option was made possible by a 2009 law approved when Democrats controlled Madison.
Democrat Kathleen Falk, who lost to Barrett in the recall primary, earned a False for saying Wisconsin women "are paid 81 cents to the dollar of a man doing the same job." That is a gap, a report found, but for all jobs. The report did not compare pay at the same job.
On the issue of firearms control, we rated Mostly False an NRA claim that in 1994 as a congressman, Barrett "voted to ban 15 different kinds of guns, even a lot of common deer rifles."
Some deer hunters used some of the weapons at the time of the ban on assault-style guns, but experts agreed that those weapons were not commonly used for deer hunting.
The front-and-center issue of job creation generated a flurry of statements.
Walker and his allies went hard after the worsening unemployment picture in Milwaukee with Barrett as the city’s mayor. He was elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008 and 2012.
The Republican Governors Association got the numbers right when it said unemployment was up 27 percent during Barrett’s time, but put too much of the blame on the mayor, we found in rating the claim Half True.
Barrett got the same Half True label when he tweeted that Scott Walker "has caused Wisconsin to lose more jobs than any other state in the country."
The mayor correctly cited a federal report showing Wisconsin lost more jobs than any other state from March 2011 to March 2012, based on monthly surveys of a small sample of employers. But, we found, Barrett overstepped in laying it all on Walker’s policies.
As the race entered its final weeks, Walker attempted to put a positive spin on the negative job news with the early release of jobs numbers from a more comprehensive survey of employers.
We rated Mostly False the governor’s claim that -- based in part on the raw survey data he released -- he deserved credit for an increase of 33,200 jobs in Wisconsin dating to his first month in office, January 2011.
The figure is a mix of two different data sets and Walker overstated how much a governor’s policies can influence economic trends.
We handed out False ratings when Walker said his new numbers were final (they still await vetting by federal officials) and when Barrett said the governor had just "dreamed up" the figures (they are routinely gathered by the states and used to correct the monthly job-creation estimates).
On tax-and-spend issues, Walker delivered a mixed message when he said: "We wiped out a $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes." The deficit -- a projected budget shortfall he inherited -- was real, but Walker’s reduction in tax credits for the working poor and low-to-moderate income homeowners constituted a tax increase. We rated his claim Half True.
Walker got a Mostly False for claiming Barrett was campaigning on "lifting property tax" limits Walker and Republican legislators put in place.
The effect of Walker’s two-year budget on education was hotly debated.
The rhetorical divide was wide: Barrett said Walker’s state-aid cuts and cap on local property taxes "gutted" local schools, while Walker said his aggressive move to roll back collective bargaining rights would allow school districts to make up for the losses by imposing greater costs on employees for health insurance and pensions.
In a Behind the Rhetoric piece, we found both sides were exaggerating with their sweeping claims, based on interviews with 17 Milwaukee-area school districts. (Other backgrounders were on the WEA Trust, out-of-state campaign cash and how schools are situated for the future.)
It’s clear that some districts lost out in year one of the changes, while others offset the state-imposed cuts or even gained some fiscal ground.
Finally, we rated Half True a claim by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele that Walker’s union limits fell millions short of saving the county enough to offset state aid cuts.
"By the numbers, Abele is correct that the changes the county made under Act 10 reforms did not completely make up for the lost revenue," we wrote. "But the county failed to take full advantage of Walker’s law."