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Fact-checking TV ads in California governor’s race

PolitiFact California is fact-checking claims in the 2018 California governor's race. PolitiFact California is fact-checking claims in the 2018 California governor's race.

PolitiFact California is fact-checking claims in the 2018 California governor's race.

Chris Nichols
By Chris Nichols April 25, 2018

Two new TV ads paint rosy biographical pictures of the top Democrats in the race for California governor. But how accurate are these ads?

PolitiFact California examined the 30-second spots for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

We haven’t placed formal Truth-O-Meter ratings on claims in the ads. We have, however, offered some early impressions about whether they stick to the truth, leave out key facts, or mislead.

Newsom is the race’s frontrunner while recent polls place Villaraigosa third, behind Republican John Cox, a San Diego businessman.  

We’ll start with Newsom’s ad called "First." It was released statewide April 23rd and paid for by Newsom’s campaign.

Here’s the full text:

"The LA Times called Gavin Newsom ahead of the pack, from gay marriage to gun control. The first mayor to recognize marriage equality. The first to provide healthcare to every resident. The first to take on the National Rifle Association and win. The one candidate with a record of bold leadership and bold results. It’s why Kamala Harris, teachers, nurses and firefighters support Gavin Newsom for governor. Courage for a change."

We analyzed three key claims:

1. "The first mayor to recognize marriage equality"

This appears to be correct. In February 2004, then San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom instructed the city to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The move violated state law and took place years before marriage equality was a popular political platform for Democrats.

The California Supreme Court ultimately voided the 4,000 licenses issued, but Newsom’s action helped spark his political rise. It also came years before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage.

2. The first mayor "to provide healthcare to every resident"

Newsom is referring to Healthy San Francisco, a program that provides basic health services to uninsured San Francisco residents and has been described as a universal health care program. Newsom signed it into law as mayor in 2006.

The short statement in the ad gives the impression the program is comprehensive and applies to everyone. In fact, it has its limits.

It’s open only to low-income San Francisco residents 18 to 64 who have not had insurance for 90 days or more. The program is best described as "universal access to care," according to its director.

"I try to eschew the term coverage because it is not insurance coverage. It’s not portable. If you go across the bridge to Oakland and something happens, it doesn’t cover you," Alice Chen, chief medical officer for the San Francisco Health Network, which administers Healthy San Francisco, told PolitiFact California for a detailed article on the program in August 2017.

Chen said the program does give residents access to the city’s many community clinics and hospitals.

3. "The first to take on the National Rifle Association and win"

Campaign observers and rival campaigns argued Newsom’s ad was off base on this claim. Dan Morain, in a column for CALmatters, for example, noted former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, then-San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein and Villaraigosa all successfully pushed for gun control measures, long before Newsom spearheaded Proposition 63 in 2016. That is a statewide initiative that placed limits on guns and ammunition. A federal judge has blocked a portion of that law.

In 2016, Newsom was no longer mayor. He was the state’s lieutenant governor.

In a phone interview, Newsom’s campaign spokesman Nathan Click clarified that Newsom was the "first person in California history to propose and pass a statewide ballot measure strengthening gun safety laws."

"When you’re trying to convey a series of ideas in 30 seconds, you’re limited by the format," Click added.

Claims in ad for Villaraigosa

We also reviewed claims in the TV ad "Ahead," paid for by Families and Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor 2018.

The independent expenditure committee is run by the California Charter Schools Association Advocates. The committee received $7 million last week from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and $1.5 million from Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad. The donations are expected to boost Villaraigosa’s chances as he competes in a crowded field ahead of the June primary election.

Here’s the full text of the ad:

"To move California forward, we need to help more Californians get ahead. That’s why Antonio Villaraigosa brought both parties together to balance the state budget with record investments in public schools and new career training programs. As Mayor of LA, he brought police and residents together to take illegal guns off the streets and reduce violent crime by nearly 50 percent. That’s Antonio Villaraigosa: A governor for all of California."

We inspected these key claims:

1. "Antonio Villaraigosa brought both parties together to balance the state budget with record investments in public schools"

This claim refers to Villaraigosa’s tenure as speaker of the California Assembly from 1998 to 2000. To support it, the committee that paid for the ad pointed to a Los Angeles Times news article from 1999. It reported the 1999-2000 fiscal year state budget increased "state aid for schools by $2.3 billion, to a record $26 billion."

The campaign for Treasurer John Chiang, a Democrat also running for governor this year, criticized this claim noting the state "had little choice" but to fund public education due to a voter-approved Proposition 98.

A spokesman for the committee that paid for the ad said that criticism isn’t supported by the facts. He cited an August 1999 report by the Legislative Analyst’s Office. It found the "Legislature appropriated more General Fund monies than required to meet the Proposition 98 constitutional minimum. This is the second year in a row that the Legislature has made such a decision. Specifically, the Legislature appropriated $286 million more than the 1998-99 minimum funding level and $109 million more than what would have been required to satisfy the guarantee in 1999-00."

2. "As mayor of LA, (Villaraigosa) brought police and residents together to take illegal guns off the streets"

This claim appears to be correct. News articles from Villaraigosa’s tenure show the city created a gun buyback program and held events to show them off, including one in 2009 in which the mayor planned to show off 1,700 firearms. A Los Angeles Daily News article from 2013 reported the program had taken nearly 12,000 guns off city streets and had continued under current Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti.

3. "As mayor of LA, … (Villaraigosa) brought police and residents together and reduced "violent crime by nearly 50 percent."

In October 2017, we examined a similar claim by Villaraigosa and found LAPD crime statistics support the statement.

Experts we spoke with noted, however, that violent crime had been falling well before Villaraigosa took office. They also said that key factors that drive crime trends, such as the economy, changing demographics and incarceration rates, are largely out of the control of a mayor. The short claim in the ad doesn’t capture this context. We rated the earlier statement Mostly True.

PolitiFact California will continue to examine these and additional claims in TV ads in the California governor’s race. Suggest a fact check at [email protected], or contact us on Twitter or Facebook.

Visit our "Tracking the Truth" project to see all our fact checks in the 2018 California governor’s race.

UPDATE: After publication, a spokesman for the group that paid for the ad about Villaraigosa said criticism by the campaign for John Chiang for California Governor wasn’t backed up by evidence. We have updated that section of our article.

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Our Sources

"Ahead", TV advertisement, Families and Teachers for Antonio Villaraigosa for Governor 2018, accessed April 2018

"First", TV advertisement, Gavin for Governor campaign, accessed April 2018

Nathan Click, spokesman, Gavin for Governor campaign, April 24, 2018

The Mercury News, How a battle over same-sex marriage 14 years ago sparked Gavin Newsom’s political rise, Feb. 11, 2018

CALmatters, What Matters, April 24, 2018

Los Angeles Daily NewsGun buyback nets 1,500 weapons — and debate over program’s value, Dec. 16, 2013

PolitiFact California, Did LA’s violent crime drop by nearly half during Villaraigosa’s time as mayor?, Oct. 18, 2017

PolitiFact California, Did Gavin Newsom get his facts right on universal health care?, Aug. 1, 2017

Chiang for California campaign, news release, April 19, 2018

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Fact-checking TV ads in California governor’s race