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It was all very civil. Candidates even kept to time limits. Still, all sides had a lot to say, and many claims were worth checking.
From the socially distanced safety of the Missourian newsroom, PolitiFact Missouri took on almost a dozen statements from the four candidates: incumbent Republican Gov. Mike Parson, Democrat Nicole Galloway, Libertarian Rik Combs and Green Party representative Jerome Bauer.
Here’s what we found:
Galloway: "When Gov. Parson was asked if he took responsibility for his government's response to this virus, he said no and compared it to car crashes."
From the outset, Galloway attacked Parson’s record in fighting COVID-19 pandemic. Given the chance to respond, the governor said: "I've never said that, that I wasn't responsible."
On June 23, though, Gov. Parson was asked whether he feels personal responsibility for COVID-19 related deaths. He said he didn’t.
"I don’t even know where you come up with that question of personal responsibility as governor of the state of Missouri when you’re talking about a virus," Parson said.
"That’s no different than the flu virus, or do I feel guilty because we have car accidents and people die every day? No, I don’t feel guilty about that."
Parson: "We are 12th in the United States of America getting people back to work. At the peak of this, at 365,000 people that lost their jobs, over 200,000 of those people have went back to work."
Depends on the time.
Missouri was ranked 12th in quickest recovery in employment for the week of Sept. 28 compared to the same period last year, according to the personal finance website WalletHub.
Overall, though, Missouri ranked 17th from March to September year to year, according to the site.
According to monthly job reports provided by the Missouri Department of Economic Development, employment dropped by 20,900 jobs in March and 305,100 in April.
From May until the latest monthly job report in August, Missouri has had a net increase of about 155,500 jobs since March.
Galloway: "We had the highest reported number of (COVID-19-related) deaths today."
She couldn't know that.
The data hasn’t been released yet. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services tracks COVID-19-related deaths reported each day, but the number for today isn’t available yet.
Currently, April 24 holds this record with 30 deaths.
The Galloway campaign us pointed to an AP report today that adjusted death figures, but those deaths took place in September, August and July. They were merely added to the record.
Bauer: "I almost lost my Medicaid; I received one of those adverse action notices two years ago alongside 100,000 Missouri children who got kicked off Medicaid."
The number rings true.
Adverse action notices are letters sent out to people on Medicaid informing them on changes in benefits, coverage and suspensions or terminations. The notices include the reason for the change of coverage and the effective date of action.
We couldn’t find primary data from the Missouri Department of Social Services that went back far enough, but news reports said 30,000 adults and 100,000 children were "kicked off Medicaid" between January 2018 and December 2019, according to AP, Columbia Missourian and St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
These figures contradict Parson’s claim during the debate that he did not kick a single child off of Medicaid.
Parson denied culpability in a campaign statement issued after the debate, deferring the blame to federal and state laws requiring annual eligibility checks.
Galloway: "[Mask mandates are] a science-backed, data-proven way to contain the spread of the virus, and a majority of Missourians agree with that."
When asked for a source of this claim, campaign spokesperson Kevin Donohoe cited a survey conducted by Remington Research Group.
The survey in question asked 1,112 people: Which statement best fits your feeling about requiring face masks?
- The spread of COVID-19 is a public health threat, and face masks should be required in public: 65%
- The spread of COVID-19 is a public health threat, but face masks should not be required in public: 25%
- The spread of COVID-19 is not a public health threat: 4%
- Not sure: 6%
The survey was conducted from Aug. 12 to Aug. 13, targeted at voters likely to participate in the 2020 general election.
White House adviser Deborah Birx suggested Missourians wear masks even though a statewide mask mandate is not in place. Galloway’s campaign made a press release stating that Mike Parson ignored the White House Coronavirus Task Force by refusing to implement a mask mandate.
Contrary to Mike Parson’s previous statements on mask mandates, many "red zones" for COVID-19 transmission do not have mask mandates in place.
Parson: "First of all, my campaign has never run a negative ad about the state auditor. My campaign has not."
Parson’s campaign has not run attack ads against Galloway. His Youtube channel has linked to three ads since September 2019 alongside other promotional videos for the governor. None of the ads had Galloway as the subject.
We couldn’t find any other ads created or published by Parson’s campaign.
On the other hand, Uniting Missouri, an openly pro-Parson PAC, has run at least eight political ads on both its Facebook page and its Youtube channel criticizing Galloway and her record on various issues.
Some of these ads have claimed that Galloway’s campaign "is being bankrolled by the liberal mob" who want to "defund the police," and attacked Galloway’s record on lobbyists and tax breaks.
Galloway: "It's so unfortunate that the governor had to cut $100 million from our higher education budgets this year after it was restored by the legislature, and $250 million was cut from our K-12 education budgets this year."
It’s not that much.
There were significant cuts made to education this year, but they’re not near as high as Galloway claims.
She did not specify exactly what time frame she meant when she said this year, but for the fiscal year 2021, the state government reported $123 million cut from K-12 education and $28 million cut from higher education.
There were also cuts from the fiscal year 2020 budget, but that was over a year ago because the state’s fiscal year began in July 2019. That year $157 million was cut from K-12 education and $123 million was cut from higher education. That suffices for higher education, but she’s still short on K-12 education.
Parson: "900,000 kids in the state of Missouri, when everyone was saying ‘shut it down, shut it down,’ 465,000 of those kids are on free and reduced lunches."
The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education reported that more than 940,000 students received school lunches in the 2019-2020 school year.
Nearly 395,000 of those students received those lunches at reduced prices. A further 60,000 received those lunches at no cost.
More students received school lunches than in the previous school year with an increase of nearly 13,000. Nearly 2,000 more students qualified for free lunches over the same year-to-year time frame.
Galloway: "Hospitalizations are up today."
In the bigger picture: yes.
COVID-19-related hospitalizations in Missouri are steadily increasing, according to data released by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services.
Thursday saw 1,303 hospitalizations. This was down from 1,352 on Wednesday, but Wednesday saw the highest number of hospitalizations in this pandemic so far.
The rolling seven-day average hospitalizations per day for the week ending Thursday was 1,224. On Sept. 1, it was 947. On Aug. 1, it was 851.
Recently Springfield has seen an alarming amount of hospitalizations. A spokesperson for CoxHealth, one of the region’s largest hospitals, was treating a record number of COVID-19 patients Thursday, the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch reports.
Rik Combs: "Antifa and BLM as organizations are Marxist in nature."
This is not the first time this claim has been made. Influential figures such as Rudy Giuliani, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and the conservative group PragerU have repeatedly said that BLM, and Antifa more recently, are Marxist.
Neither Black Lives Matter nor Antifa publicly label themselves as Marxist organizations.
Politifact’s Tom Kertscher earlier dove into the question relating to Black Lives Matter. BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors identified herself and fellow co-founder Alicia Garza as "trained Marxists" in a 2015 interview with Jared Ball. But Kertscher also noted that BLM has grown into a national "anti-racism movement" with widespread support, and that few of its members today would identify themselves as Marxist.
Antifa, short for "Anti-Fascist", has been defined by different groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and by FBI Director Christopher Wray as a left wing ideology and as a community-based movement, not necessarily as a established group that calls themselves Antifa and not necessarily Marxist.
Antifa has distinguished itself as an active opponent of far-right political movements, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Galloway: "There is only one person on this state who has actually defunded the police and that is Gov. Parson when he cut $1.8 million from our state's police force earlier this summer."
Galloway is referring to cuts Parson made in June in response to the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
Defunding the police, an idea that has gained traction in recent months following the death of several Black Americans during altercations with police, involves cutting funding to police departments and reinvesting that funding into social services. Parson has strongly resisted this idea and has been quick to criticize Democrats who support the idea.
Parson’s June budget cuts included $1.8 million cut to police departments and programs in Missouri including:
- The state capitol police ($29,161)
- Missouri State Highway Patrol Fringe Benefits, ($825,236)
- Missouri State Highway Patrol Enforcement, ($739,759)
- Missouri State Patrol Water Patrol Division, ($5,000),
- Missouri State Highway Patrol Vehicle Purchase ($200,000)
- Missouri State Highway Patrol Academy ($43,109)
That number is only a very small part of the total cuts, though.
In total, he cut over $448 million from the fiscal year 2021 budget. Cuts to police departments were dwarfed by the $123 million cut from K-12 education and $28 million cut from higher education.
Simone Esters and Veronica Mohesky contributed to this report.
See linked resources.