Anybody who’s lived through an election year knows that candidates often stretch the truth. In 2010, The Anniston Star and several other newspapers launched BamaFactCheck.com, a project to look into some of the wilder claims to come out of Alabama’s contentious statewide elections. With campaign ads arriving daily, full of juicy personal attacks and shameless braggadocio, it wasn’t hard to find claims to check.
In 2011, things were more sedate. The new Republican majority got to work governing the state -– and legislative freshmen got a taste of just how complex it all is. Tornadoes ripped across Alabama, tearing houses apart but bringing communities together. A tight budget required politicos to agree, at least, on the raw numbers.
But even in the off-season, officials and activists find time to fib, to stretch the facts, or just to shoot off at the mouth without doing their research.
To celebrate the year’s end, BamaFactCheck.com offers this look back at the biggest fibs of 2011… and one odd claim that turned out to be true.
The EPA wants to increase your power bill by 30 percent.
In January, newly elected Public Service Commissioner Twinkle Cavanaugh wrote an opinion piece, published in The Anniston Star and other newspapers around the state, on the cost of environmental regulation to the average consumer of electricity.
Cavanaugh said she was “angered to find that consumers are being forced to pay billions of additional dollars for electricity simply because of laws and regulations passed by Congress or imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency.” And she said upcoming EPA regulations would boost consumers’ power bills by 30 percent to 40 percent.
Figures from Alabama Power indicate that all environmental regulations since 1970 have added about 8 percent to the average power bill – a cost of $13 per month to the average customer. That adds up to about $346 million per year in annual costs to household customers.
As for Cavanaugh’s claim that new EPA regulations would add 30 percent to 40 percent to customers’ power bills, the EPA estimated the cost would be about 1.5 percent. Alabama Power estimated that it expected its total cost for environmental compliance to go up by only $7 million -- about 2 percent of total environmental spending -- in 2011.
Graphic sex ed in pre-K.
In September, the Alabama GOP’s website featured an opinion piece on education by Elois Zeanah, president of the Alabama Federation of Republican Women. Zeanah’s op-ed claimed that the U.S. Department of Education “encourages graphic sex-ed for pre-K.”
Bama Fact Check found no evidence to support that claim. Zeanah couldn’t provide any. Asked for documentation to support her claims, she provided an article about Kevin Jennings, President Obama’s safe-schools czar, which included no mention of pre-K.
“I just heard about some things they’re doing in New York,” Zeanah said. “I don’t have all the details, but they were doing things involving dolls that were truly graphic.”
If Alabama preschoolers are doing naughty things with Ken and Barbie, they probably won’t be doing them in a state-funded school. Alabama doesn’t provide full funding for pre-K, and state law doesn’t require kids to start school until age 7.
Inmates replacing immigrants in Morgan County.
When strict immigration laws caused an agricultural labor shortage in Alabama and Georgia in 2011, talk turned to the possibility of using inmates as workers in the fields.
But Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, jumped the gun a bit. In an Oct. 2 opinion piece in The Anniston Star, Marsh quoted a fellow legislator as saying 200 work-release inmates had been put to work in Morgan County since Alabama’s immigration law was signed. State officials said there were actually 44 fewer inmates at work in September than when the bill was signed in June.
The ‘medicine show tonic’ of global warming.
In her January opinion piece on environmental regulation, PSC Commissioner Twinkle Cavanaugh dismissed the concept of global warming as a “medicine show tonic.” Cavanaugh, a Republican, was just one of a chorus of conservative voices saying global warming is bogus science that needs to be debunked.
Among actual scientists, views are a lot more nuanced.
“Actually, the official scientific opinion on climate change is that there isn’t an official scientific opinion,” Jason Senkbeil, director of the Environmental Science Program at the University of Alabama, told Bama Fact Check in January.
Senkbeil said he doesn’t like the term “global warming” because ongoing climate changes are more complex than that. But he said the prevailing theory among scientists is that climate change is occurring and is connected to human actions.
Senkbeil said the best measure of scientific opinion on the climate is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of thousands of scientists who review and assess the available research on the topic. The IPCC says, in its most recent round of reports, that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” and that human influences have “likely” increased temperature extremes.
Alabama has second-fastest growth in illegal immigrants.
No issue in Alabama has been as hotly contested in 2011 as immigration policy. And because illegal immigrants run the risk of being deported, they’re not likely to line up for an official head count, which makes trustworthy numbers on illegal immigration hard to come by.
That hasn’t stopped Alabama politicians, on both sides of the debate, from making bold statements about immigrants’ numbers.
In June, Rep. Micky Hammon, R-Decatur, told Montgomery television station WAKA that Alabama has “the second-fastest-growing population of illegal immigrants in the United States.”
Asked for statistics to support his claim, Hammon sent a link to a news report on a Pew Research Center study that showed Alabama has the second-highest growth in Hispanic residents.
Of course, not all Hispanics are immigrants And not all immigrants are here illegally.
But in the highly emotional debate on immigration, sometimes that distinction gets overlooked.
If Hammon’s name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s one of the sponsors of the Alabama immigration bill.
It’s also known as the Beason-Hammon Act.
STRANGE BUT TRUE
The rising cost of used cars.
Everybody knows that cars depreciate. As soon as you drive it off the lot, a new car is worth less. Or so conventional wisdom holds.
So Bill Bass, a state revenue official, raised a lot of eyebrows in March when he said revenue collections are up due to an increase in the value of used cars.
As incredible as it sounds, that statement is likely true. Used cars can increase in value. All it takes is an economic crash and a federal government intervention.
According to editors at Penton’s Red Book, a car-pricing guide, people largely stopped buying both new and used cars after the 2008 market crash. Then came the federal Cash for Clunkers program, which paid people to have their old gas-guzzlers demolished and buy a new car. That decreased the overall stock of used cars.
Those changes didn’t really start to affect the market until 2010, when people started buying used cars again. Local car dealers say many people put off even needed car purchases at the height of the recession, then re-entered the car market with too little money for a new vehicle.
So it was true, but the rise in used car prices was also a fluke. Don’t look for it to happen again for a while.