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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Mailings stretch truth in Marr, Baumgartner race

It’s with little doubt the nastiest battle this year for a local office.

In a second in a series, we examine some of the claims made on behalf of incumbent Democratic state Sen. Chris Marr and his Republican opponent, Michael Baumgartner, in the race to represent the 6th Legislative District.

Claim: “Mike Baumgartner wants us to think he is a veteran … So why would Mike Baumgartner mislead Spokane about his military background?”

Source: Mailer from the Washington State Democratic Central Committee.

Truthfulness: Based on most – though not all – of Baumgartner’s campaign material, the claim leans toward being false.

Analysis: The accusation that Baumgartner has tried to mislead people into believing that he is a military veteran was made on a mail piece sent this week.

But Baumgartner has been careful in debates, public appearances and most of his campaign material to qualify that his service in Iraq and Afghanistan came in the form of work on behalf of the U.S. State Department.

“My business background has been in economic development. About three years ago I took those skills to help as a civilian with the State Department in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Baumgartner said at a debate that aired earlier this month on KSPS. The statement is similar to others he’s made at other debates.

Baumgartner worked as an economics officer for the State Department in Iraq for about a year starting in spring 2007 and also for Civilian Police International, a State Department contractor, in Afghanistan on a counternarcotics program for about eight months starting in December 2008.

On at least two of his campaign mailers that give his biography, Baumgartner is clear that he worked as a “civilian economics officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad” and “on contract to the State Department in Afghanistan.”

However, there is a notable exception: One piece of Baumgartner literature is vague and could lead some to believe he served in the military. All that brochure says about his overseas experience is: “Service in Iraq and Afghanistan.” The statement may be misleading. But it isn’t false.

It is worth noting that a couple of state business groups have written false or misleading information related to Baumgartner’s service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Baumgartner said once he’s learned of errors listed by other sources, he’s asked for corrections.

The Democratic flier highlights a quote from state Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane, that was taken out of context; Shea responded to the ad harshly this week.

“Any time you go into a combat zone like that and put yourself in harm’s way, I think it’s significant,” said Shea, who served in the Army in Iraq. “It’s not something that anyone should belittle for political gain.”

Claim: Marr “voted with Seattle liberals 97 percent of the time.”

Source: Mailer from Baumgartner campaign.

Truthfulness: Could be true depending on how you crunch the numbers, select a time frame and define “Seattle liberal,” but do you really want to go there? Basically, it’s a statistic that means much less than you might think.

Analysis: Baumgartner, who also has accused Marr of voting with “Seattle liberals 99 percent of the time,” said the statistic was determined by comparing Marr’s voting record with a legislator from Seattle.

If we take Marr’s voting record for all the Senate’s recorded 569 votes in 2010 and compare it to the record of state Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, you’ll find Marr and Kline voted the same way about 94 percent of the time.

Using that model and examining the voting record of Republican state Sen. Bob Morton, Baumgartner also could make the following allegation: “Marr voted with Kettle Falls conservatives 87 percent of the time.”

Shocked? Don’t be. Most legislative votes are routine and noncontroversial. You just wouldn’t know it in an election year.

Claim: Baumgartner “supports 69 percent increase in tuition for struggling students.”

Source: Mailer from Marr campaign.

Truthfulness: Blatantly false.

Analysis: The Marr campaign says this is true based on a form Baumgartner filled out for the Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy in which Baumgartner said universities should have more control over the setting of tuition.

From that, the Marr campaign makes numerous assumptions to equate that position with a 69 percent tuition increase over the next four years. Basically, Marr assumes that colleges would choose to raise tuition by 14 percent each year for the next four years if given the chance.

Interestingly enough, Marr also expressed support for giving universities more control over tuition in the same survey. And perhaps more interestingly, Marr voted in 2009 to eliminate a 7 percent cap on tuition increases for four-year institutions for the 2009-’10 and 2010-’11 school years. Removal of the cap allowed tuition to rise 14 percent each of those years.

Claim: Marr “eliminated the state’s statutory debt limit.”

Source: Mailer from Baumgartner campaign.

Truthfulness: Based on truth, but there’s more to the story.

Analysis: First, as one senator, Marr can’t eliminate anything on his own, as the statement implies. More importantly, the statement misses key information. Marr did vote in 2009 to eliminate the state’s “statutory debt limit.” What the statement doesn’t say is that doing away with the statutory limit on the amount of debt the state is allowed to have left the constitutional debt limit in place. According to a nonpartisan legislative analysis of the change, the constitutional limit actually allows for less debt than the statutory limit did.