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178 posts from November 2014

November 27, 2014

PolitiFact's Truth-O-Meter tackles a claim about fat turkeys

On one of our regular cruises of political websites, we came across this from Mother Jones:

"Turkeys today weigh 29.8 pounds," the liberal magazine stated on itsFacebook page. "In the ‘30s, they weighed 13.2 pounds."

The claim was posted Nov. 24, 2014, three days before Thanksgiving.

It made our mouths water and, well, whet our appetite for some holiday fact-checking.

The Facebook post linked to an article posted the same day on Mother Jones’ website. The article, in turn, linked to a November 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economics & Statistics Administration.

That report contained the figures Mother Jones cited, saying turkeys have more than doubled in weight -- from an average of 13.2 pounds in 1929 to 29.8 pounds in 2012.

We found that, if anything, Mother Jones might be light on its claim.

Turn to Tom Kertscher's fact-check from PolitiFact Wisconsin.

November 26, 2014

Unusual election could lead to longer term

It has been an unusually long and complicated election cycle for state Rep. Jamie Grant. A primary election scheduled for August didn’t happen until November, and even then, the results were thrown out.

But the strange circumstances could benefit the Tampa Republican.

Some elections experts say Grant, whose election is now set for Feb. 10, could be eligible to serve 14 years in the Florida House, despite a state law limiting lawmakers to eight years per chamber. And an elongated tenure could position Grant to become House speaker in 2022.

Grant told the Herald/Times he was not sure how many years he would be able to serve — or if he would want to stay in the Florida House any longer than eight years.

"My focus is on getting re-elected," he said Wednesday. "Anything else is a distraction."

Continue reading "Unusual election could lead to longer term" »

Obama's Half True claim about apprehensions of illegal immigrants at the border

During his speech to the nation about his executive action on immigration, President Barack Obama talked up his efforts to secure the border. Obama argued that those efforts paid off as the numbers of illegal border crossings are the lowest they have been in decades.

"When I took office, I committed to fixing this broken immigration system. And I began by doing what I could to secure our borders. Today, we have more agents and technology deployed to secure our southern border than at any time in our history," Obama said Nov. 20.

Then Obama reeled off a few statistics, including this one: "Overall, the number of people trying to cross our border illegally is at its lowest level since the 1970s. Those are the facts."

We decided to check if those are indeed the facts regarding the number of illegal crossings.

Turn to PolitiFact for the full story.

Vinyard leaves DEP; Scott names interim successor

After a four-year tenure punctuated by considerable controversy, Herschel Vinyard announced his retirement Wednesday as secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.

Gov. Rick Scott issued a statement praising Vinyard's record and announced that his interim replacement will be Cliff Wilson, deputy secretary for regulatory programs at DEP.

"Secretary Vinyard was instrumental in helping us protect Florida's environment for future generations," Scott said. "Cliff Wilson has helped lead DEP's efforts to protect Florida's natural treasures. With his knowledge and experience, Wilson will ensure that the department continues to support Florida's environment."

Wilson received a civil engineering degree from Florida State University and serves as a mentor to engineering students there. He also has been DEP's deputy secretary of land and recreation and an assistant director in DEP's northwest district office. 

Wilson becomes the third interim secretary of a large state agency, joining Mike Carroll at the Department of Children and Families and Tim Cannon at the Department of Corrections.

Carroll has headed DCF since last spring and Cannon was named interim corrections secretary on Monday, hours after DOC Secretary Mike Crews announced his retirement.

"It's certainly not uncommon when a governor begins a new term that you see new leadership at the agencies," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island. Referring to Crews' departure, he said: "It certainly wasn't a surprise."

Rumors continue to swirl in Tallahassee that at least two other state agency heads may be moving on as well: Ananth Prasad at the Department of Transportation and Kenneth Lawson at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Vinyard earned $141,000 a year. The DEP secretary is one of several agency heads who reports to both the governor and the three elected Cabinet members. Wilson currently earns $125,000 a year.


Public administration society asks Miami-Dade mayor to reconsider staff penalties over ad error


When Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez found out this month that the county would have to reapprove its 2015 budget and property-tax rate due to an advertising error, he punished three high-ranking budget employees. They were suspended without pay, and the budget director was required to pay up to $12,000 out of pocket for a new ad.

Those penalties were excessive, the South Florida chapter of the American Society for Public Administration said in a statement Wednesday. The group took issue in particular with garnishing Budget Director Jennifer Moon's wages to cover the costs of printing a corrected notice in the Miami Herald. The incorrect ad that ran in September cost about $12,000; the new ad has been quoted at about $8,600, according to the county.

"A human error was made, and the personnel involved have accepted responsibility," said Glenn Joseph, the ASPA chapter's president. "To garnish the wages of an employee, without due process or a court order, greatly exceeds the bounds of fairness and equity in the workplace.

"We are respectfully requesting the Mayor of Miami-Dade County to rescind this unprecedented punitive action."

The group passed a resolution formally asking Gimenez to change his mind -- and asking county commissioners to "adopt legislation to protect" county employees from similar disciplinary actions in the future.

The president-elect of the South Florida chapter is Terry Murphy, a former commission aide who now works as a political consultant and represents several Miami-Dade labor unions, including ones that are at odds with Gimenez's administration over new contracts. All three employees punished by Gimenez are managers who are not union members.

In a memo informing commissioners about the advertising error last week, Gimenez said the mistake was not ill-intentioned but called it "unacceptable." Moon was also suspended without pay for a day, one of her deputies for three days and another one for five days.

Miami Beach, which made a similar error running afoul of Florida law, suspended its budget director for three days.

November 25, 2014

FSU shooting revives debate over guns on college campuses

Last Thursday’s shooting at Florida State University has spurred a renewed call for allowing guns on college campuses.

Among those leading the charge: Nathan Scott, one of three people shot and wounded last week when Myron May opened fire at the FSU library. Scott is part of a group called Students for Concealed Carry at Florida State, which on Tuesday asked state lawmakers to allow concealed-weapon permit holders to carry firearms on college grounds.

Their request may resonate in Tallahassee, especially with the powerful National Rifle Association echoing the call.

The NRA's Tallahassee lobbyist Marion Hammer said Tuesday that she hopes to have a "thoughtful, deliberative" conversation on the subject when the Legislature reconvenes.

"We're not going to rush into it emotionally, like a lot of people do after a tragedy," Hammer said. “But the reality is, there is a ban of guns on campus, and that did not stop an attacker. The law never stops the bad guy. It only stops the good guys from being able to protect themselves and others."

Read more here.

Miami commission candidate may have to resign to run


The only candidate so far to launch a bid for Miami’s District 2 commission seat in 2015 has been told she must resign her post on an important city board due to her candidacy.

According to a legal opinion issued Friday, Grace Solares’ decision to run for office means she must step down from the city’s newly formed charter review committee, which is tasked with recommending changes to the city’s constitutional document. The opinion from Assistant City Attorney Kerri McNulty doesn’t specifically mention Solares, but states that members of city boards must resign their positions once they’ve filed to run and appointed a campaign treasurer or begun to raise campaign funds.

Solares said she finds it hard to believe the opinion, issued four days after she filed to run, is a coincidence.

“I file on Monday and by Friday I had a legal opinion attempting to remove me?” said Solares, who noted that candidates sitting on previous city boards were allowed to run for office without resigning.

But that’s exactly why the opinion was sought, said City Clerk Todd Hannon, to whom the legal opinion was addressed. Hannon said the issue has been a confusing one ever since the commission voted in 2007 to insert language in a candidates’ affidavit creating new stipulations on when they must resign from city boards. He said he felt it was time for clarification.

“No one requested me to do this. It was of my own volition,” said Hannon. “It’s just good to get this all clarified now.”

Solares’ attorney and employer, Linda Carroll, rebutted the opinion Tuesday, stating that an attorney general’s opinion from 1982 refutes the city's legal opinion. If Solares doesn’t step down, it would be up to Miami commissioners to remove her, should they desire to do so, according to McNulty.

Commissioner Francis Suarez, who sits as chairman of the charter review committee, said he wants to wait and see if the attorneys can agree on what should happen before bringing the issue to the commission.

Solares was appointed to the committe by Mayor Tomas Regalado. The charter changes she is seeking include stricter term limits and provisions for a more powerful mayoral veto. 

Scott reshuffles press shop, hires new Cabinet aide

Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday announced Monica Russell as his new director of Cabinet affairs and made more changes to his communications shop in advance of his second term in January.

Russell, 31, is a University of Florida graduate who was communications director at the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) before leaving to work as surrogates director for the Scott re-election campaign. John Tupps, 30, will be deputy communications director. A University of Tennessee communications grad, Tupps joined the Scott administration in 2011 and had been serving as press secretary.

That post will be held by Jeri Bustamante, 29, who was campaign press secretary for Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. She's a former associate producer for WSVN, the Fox TV station in Miami. The press secretary is the person who most frequently travels with Scott to events around Florida and the U.S. 

Scott earlier announced that Jackie Schutz, 28, his campaign press secretary, will be director of communications.

Other staff changes in the governor's office include the promotion of Frank Collins, 29, from communications director to deputy chief of staff; Dr. Kim McDougal from policy director to deputy chief of staff and legislative affairs director; Brad Piepenbrink, 28, from campaign political director to deputy chief of staff and external affairs director; Karl Rasmussen, 33, from chief Cabinet aide to deputy chief of staff; and Jeff Woodburn, 33, from deputy secretary at DBPR to policy director. 

All staff changes take effect Dec. 1.

The 2014 governor's race votes and ad spending by Florida media market


The race for Florida governor was officially certified last week, so now we have final numbers. By our estimate, more than $103 million was spent on TV ads since March. 

All told, 6,026,802 Floridians cast ballots. Of them, about 53 percent voted early in person or by absentee ballot (1,878,537 absentees + 1,309,198 early votes = 3,187,735).

More people voted in the governor's race than any other contest: 5,951,561. Scott received 2,865,343 votes to Crist's 2,801,198. That's 48.14 percent to 47.07, a margin of 1.08 percent, or 64,145.

Scott's raw-vote margin was 4.2 percent bigger than in 2010, when his margin was 61,550 over Democrat Alex Sink. On a percentage basis, though, Scott did worse than in 2010, when his win-margin was 1.2 percentage points (the overall number of people voting in the governor's race grew 11 percent since 2010).

Here's how the 2014 votes broke down by media market, along with the ad spending:

Florida votes & ad spending




Lawyer Benjamin Crump's Half True claim about Ferguson, police shootings and race

Even before the grand jury in Ferguson, Mo., announced its decision in the police shooting death of teenager Michael Brown, the lead lawyer for the Brown family challenged the grand jury process.

Attorney Benjamin Crump said the ground rules were skewed in favor of police officer Darren Wilson. All one needed for proof, Crump said, was to look at the statistics.

"The process is completely unfair," Crump said on ABC’s This Week on Nov. 23, 2014. "Ninety-nine percent of the time police officers aren't charged when they kill young people of color."

We called Crump’s office to learn what statistics he relied on to back up his claim about 99 percent of police killings of minority youth. We did not hear back.

We contacted a number of criminologists and other experts in fatalities at the hands of law enforcement officials. All of them told PunditFact that the data don’t exist to prove Crump right or wrong. At the same time, they said his number probably has a measure of accuracy, even if it doesn’t show what he thinks it does in terms of racial bias.

Criminologist Candace McCoy at City University of New York said a simple fact dominates any assessment of Crump’s statement.

"It is very rare for an officer to get indicted at all, no matter what the race of a victim," McCoy said.

Turn to Jon Greenberg's fact-check from PunditFact to read more.