Written by Hank Koebler (Columbia Missourian)
A video ad by Republican gubernatorial candidate Dave Spence called “Choice” makes a variety of claims about Missouri’s economy. How do those claims hold up line-by-line?
The ad starts with a question: “Seen Jay Nixon’s negative ads? Fact-checkers call them ‘Misleading.’”
The assertion is based on a fact check of a single Nixon ad, called “Bailout,” that was done in September by Craig Cheatham, a journalist with St. Louis television station KMOV. Cheatham found some claims in the Nixon ad, which accuses Spence of personally benefitting from federal bailout money given to Reliance Bank, misleading and false.
Cheatham called Spence’s characterization of Spence as a banker “false” because Spence only briefly served on Reliance Bank’s board of directors and did so after the bank had already voted to accept the federal bailout funds.
Additionally, “Bailout” said Reliance still hasn’t paid back the bailout money. Cheatham found that this is true, but he called it “misleading” because it didn’t provide the context that many banks haven’t been able to pay back bailout funds.
Spence’s ad proceeds with the candidate showing up on camera. “I’m Dave Spence,” he says. “Jay Nixon’s not just lying about me, he’s lying about his record. Under Nixon, Missouri is falling behind our neighbors.”
At this point in the ad, the screen briefly shows a graph comparing increases and decreases in labor force sizes in Missouri and surrounding states since Nixon took office in 2009.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics defines the labor force as the sum of employed and unemployed people. Spence has contended in debates that unemployment has dropped in Missouri only because many people have quit looking for jobs and are no longer considered part of the labor force.
An unemployed person is defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as anyone “aged 16 years and older who had no employment during the reference week, were available for work, except for temporary illness, and had made specific efforts to find employment sometime during the four week period ending with the reference week.”
Under that definition, anyone who fails for more than four weeks to look for a job would not be considered unemployed and therefore would not be part of the labor force.
The bureau’s data support the accuracy of Spence’s graph. In January 2009, when Nixon took office, the labor force consisted of 3.09 million people. In August 2012, the most recent month for which data was available, the labor force in Missouri consisted of 2.99 million, a decline of nearly 107,000 people, or 3.46 percent. The rest of the states mentioned in the ad had the following increases or decreases in their labor forces from January 2009 to August 2012, according to the bureau:
- Iowa: 3.04 percent decrease
- Kansas: 1.24 percent decrease
- Illinois: 0.479 percent decrease
- Tennessee: 1.63 percent increase
- Nebraska: 2.58 percent increase
- Oklahoma: 2.59 percent increase
- Arkansas: 7.71 percent increase
- Kentucky: 7.89 percent increase
Spence’s claim that “Missouri is falling behind our neighbors” is partially true in terms of employment as well. Since Nixon took office, employment has increased or decreased as follows in Missouri and the surrounding states shown in Spence’s labor-force graph:
- Oklahoma: 2.74 percent increase
- Nebraska: 2.60 percent increase
- Tennessee: 2.26 percent increase
- Kentucky: 1.32 percent increase
- Arkansas: 0.284 percent increase
- Kansas: 1.22 percent decrease
- Illinois: 1.59 percent decrease
- Missouri: 1.90 percent decrease
- Iowa: 2.36 percent decrease
Since Nixon took office, Missouri’s employment numbers have dropped more than any of the states Spence defined as “our neighbors,” except Iowa. Saying Nixon is “lying about his record” is a stretch, though.
Nixon hasn’t claimed in any of his ads that the labor force or overall employment has increased since he took office. His ads have instead focused on recent employment growth, and the numbers Nixon has used have been accurate. According to August data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Missouri created the third-most jobs in the country that month and led the nation in the percentage increase in jobs.
Spence goes on in his ad to say “I’m a manufacturer, and I have a bold plan to create jobs in Missouri.”
The candidate’s claim of being a manufacturer is accurate, and certainly more accurate than Nixon’s characterization of Spence as a banker. Spence ran a manufacturing company called Alpha Plastics from 1985 to 2010.
As far as a bold plan goes, the economic policy Spence promotes on his webiste includes the following ideas:
- Enacting tort reform with the intent of preventing frivolous lawsuits against businesses.
- Capping tax credits.
- Reducing the cost of workers’ compensation insurance for businesses.
- Increasing funding for job training programs.
- Making Missouri a right-to-work state.
In the closing portion of his ad, Spence casts Nixon as “a career politician” and identifies himself as “a manufacturer, a conservative, and certainly not a career politician.”
It’s true that Nixon has been in politics for many years. He was first elected state Senator in 1986. He served in that role for six years, as attorney general for 16 years and as governor for the past four years. He also made an unsuccessful bid for U.S. Senate in 1988. Spence, on the other hand, has never held elected office.