Sunday, May 23, 2010

Say What?

Candidates traditionally pull "facts" from their nether parts and usually get away with it. Oh, some elements of the mainstream media make a big to-do about fact checking, but that fact-checking too often involves nothing more than a little "gotcha" journalism. Occasionally, however, more responsible elements of the press do their jobs fairly and actually get the truth out there without any accompanying greasy smile. The Sacramento Bee has been doing just that in the California GOP gubernatorial primary race.

Now this race between Meg Whitman and Ted Pozner has turned toxic, so reportage has been filled with a lot of outrageousness. Still, the Bee has managed to do some very reliable reporting, but then McClatchy papers usually do. Today the Bee took a look at one of Meg Whitman's assertion and found it mostly wanting when it comes to any connection to consensual reality:

Stopping illegal immigration "is absolutely essential because the costs are enormous," Whitman said. "I don't know if you know this, but 30 percent of the state prisoners are probably illegal immigrants. We don't get reimbursed for those monies. And it's putting a burden on every element of the state budget." [Emphasis added]

No, that is not true, as the article points out:

Thirty percent is an inaccurate percentage. The California Department of Finance puts the percentage of undocumented inmates at about 11 percent of the total prison population, or about 19,000 out of 170,000. ...

Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said the 11 percent figure has been steady for several years. These are prisoners who are on hold for deportation proceedings once sentences are served. Some legal immigrants who have lost their legal status because of a felony conviction might also be included in the numbers.

In 1994, the federal government started the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, or SCAAP, to reimburse state and local municipalities for the costs of incarcerating illegal immigrants convicted of certain crimes. Claims for reimbursement are based on per-diem costs for inmates and prison guard salaries.

11% is not 30%. That's a huge discrepancy, even if one uses "rounding off" rules. Further, the state isn't left holding the bag entirely. However, the Bee didn't leave the field after finding a "gotcha" moment. Instead, it did point out something those of us in California and other states with huge immigrant populations know. The reimbursement offered by the federal government comes nowhere near what it costs to incarcerate those who've come to California from other countries and have committed crimes. In fact, the state of California has borne nearly 90% of the costs of holding undocumented criminals.

In other words, this was a fair appraisal of Meg Whitman's comments, and I find that noteworthy.

Beyond that, however, was the fact that Meg Whitman felt perfectly confident in lobbing these "facts" in Roseville, California. She expected, and received, a favorable reception for citing them. If it hadn't been for the Bee article her numbers would have stood unrebutted. Meg Whitman might have supplanted Sarah Palin as the tighty-righty's hero, replacing the Mama Grizzly with the Pander Bear. This time the free press worked.

I am grateful.

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