IOWA LEGISLATURE

Were Gov. Reynolds' claims in Condition of the State true? Our Fact Checker team grades her

Gov. Kim Reynolds leaves the dais Tuesday night after delivering her Condition of the State address before a joint sessi
Gov. Kim Reynolds leaves the dais Tuesday night after delivering her Condition of the State address before a joint session of the Iowa Legislature at the state Capitol. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

In her Condition of the State speech Tuesday, Gov. Kim Reynolds hit on Iowa’s accomplishments and challenges in 2020 and highlighted her goals for 2021.

The Fact Checker team examined Reynolds’ claims about COVID-19 vaccinations, derecho damage, the economy, broadband and side effects of police reform in other states.

COVID-19

The nation has been focused on vaccinating Americans against the novel coronavirus since December and some states, including Iowa, are pinpointing efforts to inoculate front-line health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Claim: “Iowa is one of the states leading the nation in administering the vaccine.”

In providing sourcing on this claim, a spokesman for the Governor’s Office said roughly 50 percent of the state’s allocation of vaccines have been administered, making Iowa the “9th highest in the country.”

However, a review of data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Wednesday afternoon shows Iowa falls in 17th place for total doses administered per 100,000 — and that’s not counting territories such as American Samoa and the Northern Mariana Islands.

While Iowa is toward the top of the list for vaccine administration, the phrase “leading the nation” is a bit much.

Grade: B

Claim: “To date, nearly 100,000 Iowans, including our health care workers, have received their first dose, and several thousand have now received their second.”

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CDC states that more than 112,000 vaccine doses had been administered in Iowa as of Wednesday afternoon.

Data on the state’s coronavirus website shows more than 91,000 Iowans had gotten a COVID-19 vaccine dose as of Monday. By Wednesday, that count reached nearly 104,000. Of those, more than 9,000 had received their second dose, completing the COVID-19 vaccine series. This claim is accurate.

Grade: A

Derecho

The Aug. 10 windstorm that cut a swath through the center of Iowa will continue to affect the state for years, but Reynolds listed some of the specific tolls.

Claim: The storm impacted “over a third of our counties.”

Reynolds declared disaster for 20 Iowa counties Aug. 11, 10 more counties Sept. 1 and seven more Sept. 11. With 37 disaster declarations, that is over one-third of Iowa’s 99 counties.

Grade: A

Claim: “584,000 households left without power”

MidAmerican Energy, based in Des Moines, had just under 230,000 customers without power, Spokesman Geoff Greenwood said Wednesday. Alliant Energy reported 256,400 outages to the Iowa Utilities Board. On top of those 486,400 households, there also would be Iowans who get their power from electric cooperatives, so it seems likely Iowa’s outage was at least 500,000.

Grade: A

Claim: “Millions of acres of crops were flattened.”

The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship used satellite imagery and storm reports in August to show about 3.5 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans were in the storm’s path.

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Of Farm Business Network members in Iowa surveyed after the storm, 15 percent, or farmers representing 2.3 million acres, reported “laid down corn” as a result, Successful Farming reported.

Grade: A

Economy and broadband

Claim: “As I stand here tonight, our unemployment rate has returned to 3.6 percent, one of the lowest in the country, and our GDP grew over 36 percent in the third quarter of 2020, outpacing the nation.”

Iowa’s unemployment rate is indeed 3.6 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nebraska, South Dakota and Vermont are the only states to have lower rates. U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data shows a 36.4 percent jump in Iowa’s GDP, or gross domestic product, between the second and third quarters of 2020. That’s above the national rate of 33.4 percent.

Grade: A

Claim: “About a third of our counties are still broadband deserts, where high-speed internet is rarely offered. And for many Iowans, it’s just not affordable.”

A spokesman for the Governor’s Office pointed to a 2020 map from the Office of the Chief Information Officer showing where broadband internet “was not materially or meaningfully available.”

While parts of many counties were shaded blue to indicate a lack of access, about a dozen counties were mostly shaded. The 12 out of 99 — about one in eight — do not reflect Reynolds’ larger one-third claim.

The state map does not show the proportion of the population without broadband access. At least 70 percent of residents in 90 of Iowa’s 99 counties have broadband access, according to BroadbandNow.com, whose research has been cited by Washington Post, Yahoo and other major media outlets.

But BroadbandNow.com’s research also shows only 18.5 percent of Iowans have access plans costing less than $60 a month.

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The number of counties where “high-speed internet is rarely offered” appears to be overstated in the speech. But data confirms the lack of affordability.

Grade: C

Claim: “Iowa also has the second-lowest broadband speeds in the country.”

A spokesman for the Governor’s Office cited research from BroadbandNow.com, which conducted speed tests in all 50 states. Only Alaska had a lower broadband speed.

Grade: A

Justice reform

Claim: Cities like Minneapolis, Portland and New York have “embraced the attacks on law enforcement, and now their violent crime rates are rising for the first time in a generation.”

Violent crime rates did spike in these cities in 2020. But this trend isn’t exclusive to the dozen or so cities that Forbes says have taken up racial justice protesters’ calls to defund the police or to divert funding to social service agencies after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

According to the Washington Post, citing the FBI, there was a 20.9 percent increase in killings nationwide in the first nine months of 2020.

Cedar Rapids, whose city leaders have not moved to defund or divest from the police, reported a rise in violent crime in 2020.

The Post reported most crime and police experts attribute the increase in part to the pandemic, which has caused officers to be out sick and prompted reduced contact with the public.

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Officials in two of the three local news articles the Governor’s Office provided as its sourcing, from Minneapolis and Portland, pointed to the pandemic’s economic toll and unemployment as contributing factors.

Cedar Rapids Police Chief Wayne Jerman recently told The Gazette he agrees: “You know, the uncertainty and fear caused by the pandemic were added stresses and then on top of that, you have to consider job losses, food shortages and the loss of a sense of normalcy or security.”

Grade: B. This claim is accurate but needs context.

Criteria

The Fact Checker team checks statements made by an Iowa political candidate/officeholder or a national candidate/officeholder about Iowa, or in ads that appear in our market.

Claims must be independently verifiable.

We give statements grades from A to F based on accuracy and context.

If you spot a claim you think needs checking, email us at factchecker@thegazette.com.

This Fact Checker was researched and written by Erin Jordan, Marissa Payne, Michaela Ramm and John Steppe of The Gazette.

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We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

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