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PolitiFact Florida: Your election questions answered

We sorted out the truth in TV ads and robocalls
In this combination of Oct. 21 photos Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, left, and Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speak during a CNN debate in Tampa. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, Files)
In this combination of Oct. 21 photos Florida Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, left, and Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis speak during a CNN debate in Tampa. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara, Files)
Published Nov. 5, 2018

PolitiFact Florida asked readers what claims they would like to see fact-checked in the final days of the 2018 campaign.

Many of the questions related to topics in the Florida races for governor and Senate, including issues in Andrew Gillum's turf of Tallahassee and Gov. Rick Scott's record at Columbia/HCA.

We sorted out the truth in TV ads and robocalls.

Did Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., vote to lower Medicare benefits?

Basically, no. An ad said that Nelson had voted for "cuts to Medicare providers" and voted to "weaken Social Security protections" as a senator in the 2000s. But that claim is misleading.

Nelson's votes neither weakened Social Security nor eroded the position of Medicare providers, experts said. One 2013 vote actually prevented a larger cut to Medicare providers, and the Social Security votes in the 2000s can just as easily be portrayed as a "stalking horse" for personal accounts.

The ad also ignored other actions Nelson has taken to protect Medicare and Social Security. We rated this statement Mostly False. (Read the full fact-check.)

Did Gov. Rick Scott, who’s challenging Nelson in that Senate race, once repeatedly plead the Fifth?

He did. It happened in a deposition in a civil business lawsuit, and not the better-known case of the federal government's criminal fraud investigation into his company, Columbia/HCA, that ultimately resulted in $1.7 billion in civil and criminal fines and civil damages and penalties. However, Scott also used the Fifth Amendment in that federal investigation.

The Fifth Amendment reads in part that no one "shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself."

When Scott gave a deposition in the civil suit in 2000, he invoked the Fifth Amendment 75 times.

"Under normal circumstances, Mr. Scott would be pleased to answer that question and other questions that you pose today," Scott's lawyer, Steven Steinbach, said in the deposition. "Unfortunately because of the pendency of a number of criminal investigations relating to Columbia around the country, he's going to follow my advice, out of prudence, to assert his constitutional privilege against giving testimony against himself."

Scott then went on to read the same answer, even when asked if Scott is a current or former employee of Columbia/HCA: "Upon advice of counsel, I respectfully decline to answer the questions by asserting my rights and privileges under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution."

Is Tallahassee mayor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum being investigated by the FBI?

It's hard to give a definitive answer. An FBI investigation of alleged corruption in Tallahassee has been ongoing at least since 2015, though it has not resulted in any charges and any timeline for potential charges has not been publicly announced.

The only evidence publicly known is that Gillum has cooperated with the investigation, including meeting with the FBI. Gillum has said that the FBI told him he was not the focus of the investigation. (Read more about aspects of the case here and here.)

Does Tallahassee have Florida’s highest crime?

It depends how you measure it.

Gillum's Republican opponent, Ron DeSantis, said Gillum has presided over "the highest crime in Florida four years running."

That's basically right, if you refer to the crime rate in Leon County, which on a numerical basis consists largely of Tallahassee. Data shows that Leon County has had the highest crime rate in Florida in recent years. We rated this statement Mostly True.

But Gillum's backers can point to a different way of framing the numbers that's also Mostly True — that Tallahassee "is experiencing a five-year low in our crime rate." The crime rate in Tallahassee was 5,764.5 per 100,000 people in 2017. The last time it was lower was in 2013.

A voicemail I got from the Republican Party of Florida said that my vote was critical to avoid Florida imposing a personal state income tax. Is an income tax being talked about?

That voicemail is misleading. There is no proposal among Democrats to add a state income tax, which would be highly unpopular in Florida.

The voicemail was from party chairman Blaise Ingoglia, encouraging voters to return their absentee ballots.

Gillum, the Democratic nominee for governor, has repeatedly said that he wouldn't propose a state income tax. Instead, he has said he wants to increase the corporate tax rate to generate an extra $1 billion for education.

It's worth adding that a state income tax would face stiff opposition in the Republican-dominated Legislature and would require 60-percent passage by voters to change the Constitution.

Is President Donald Trump right that the caravan has bad thugs and gang members?

That's what the Trump administration says, but we aren't able to verify it with reported examples.

The Department of Homeland Security, in a Nov. 1 "myth vs. fact" statement, said, "Over 270 individuals along the caravan route have criminal histories, including known gang membership."

PolitiFact asked the department how it determined that number and their criminal background. An official said only that it was "law-enforcement sensitive."

After Trump said he was sending troops to the border, reporters on Oct. 30 asked Gen. Terrence John O'Shaughnessy, Commander of U.S. Northern Command, if there were any terrorists in the caravan.

"I'm not going to answer those specific question with respect to the intel of that," O'Shaughnessy said. "I will say that we are working closely with (Customs and Border Protection) to understand the nature and the makeup of this caravan."

O'Shaughnessy said this caravan was different from others because "we've seen violence coming out of the caravan."

Can the president change birthright citizenship? Isn’t that in the Constitution?

Trump could not change the Constitution through an executive order — that would require a constitutional amendment. But if he issued an executive order on birthright citizenship, it would almost certainly force the courts to rule on the question.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside." That language is echoed in a 1952 statute, and in 1898, the Supreme Court ruled that those born on U.S. soil, with a few clear exceptions, qualified for citizenship under the 14th Amendment.

However, the 1898 Supreme Court decision didn't address the scenario in which an undocumented immigrant gave birth on U.S. soil. Critics of birthright citizenship could try to pursue a court case based on that legal fuzziness, and an executive order would be one way to precipitate a legal battle.

So Trump couldn't change birthright citizenship on his own through an executive order. It would be up to the courts to decide the ultimate outcome.

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