Saturday, October 25th, 2014

PolitiFact Texas fact-checks the Texas primary contests

Texans go to the polls on Tuesday to pick nominees for the general election.
Texans go to the polls on Tuesday to pick nominees for the general election.

Texas primary voters go to the polls on Tuesday, to choose among candidates vying for their party’s nod in November.

Statewide, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn is being challenged by U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman. Cornyn is part of the GOP’s Senate leadership, while Stockman has tea party support. Cornyn has been leading the polls, though, and may well fend off the challenge.

PolitiFact Texas -- our partners at the Austin American-Statesman -- have been fact-checking that race as well as other down-ballot contests, including primary races for attorney general and lieutenant governor.

Here are highlights from their recent fact-checks.

U.S. Senate

• Cornyn, who seeks a third term, said that 25 percent of human trafficking victims are located in Texas. This echoed an outdated percentage of a subset of the planet’s trafficking victims, that is, "certified" adult victims from outside the United States, and the calculation did not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. 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. The ruling: Pants on Fire.

• Stockman attacked Cornyn for his votes in the Senate on immigration, saying 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. PolitiFact Texas rated this one Pants on Fire.

• Stockman also said Cornyn had backed Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst when Dewhurst faced Ted Cruz for their party’s 2012 U.S. Senate nomination. Actually, Cornyn was neutral; our ruling was False. Stockman also claimed that in every poll, Cornyn "always loses to any conservative the voters have heard about." Poll results varied, so that got a False as well.

• On the Democratic side, David Alameel of Dallas said 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. We rated his statement Half True.

Attorney general

• 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. We rated his statement Pants on Fire.

• Also running for attorney general is Ken Paxton, a McKinney state senator, who said 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 his statement Mostly True.

• Candidate Dan Branch, a Dallas legislator, said 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. We rated the statement Half True.

Lieutenant Governor

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 as lieutenant governor, said he is the only statewide elected official who is a businessman. Not so, we found, rating this False.

• Dewhurst also said that he had 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. Actions Dewhurst helped usher into place the same year led to hundreds of millions of dollars in lesser tax increases. We rated the statement Mostly False

• 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. The rating: False.

• 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. That 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. We rated the statement Half True.

Staples also said 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 the statement Half True.

• Another lieutenant governor hopeful, Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, said 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. We rated the statement Half True.

For more on the Texas races, check out the PolitiFact Texas home page. You can also follow them on Facebook or Twitter. The Texas primary is set for Tuesday, March 4.