There’s a lot that the governors’ state of the state addresses have in common. They generally start with thanks to parents, spouses, children and fellow leaders; contain quotes from former governors and Presidents (Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan are the favorites); honor notable citizens, share anecdotes, bemoan hard choices and boast about economic development success.
We’ve been reading all of the governors’ speeches. Transcripts are generally made available through Office of the Governor websites. (Links to the speeches are available from a number of sources. We use the resource list compiled by the National Association of State Budget Officers.]
One governor’s state of the state address stood out to us this year and not because of what he said.
In Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s state of the state transcript, the facts used in the speech are linked to source material. We know that other governors may have footnoted versions of their speeches behind the scenes, but we have not seen one that is so easily available and so painstakingly referenced.
We think this is a grand idea. With verifiable and questionable statistics flowing so freely through the Internet, it is good to know where facts come from. You can still question the sources, but at the least, you know what the sources are.
We have long been a big fan of factcheck.org, which dissects political rhetoric on a daily basis, quashes wild Internet rumors, and helps citizens separate facts from alternative facts. So, we turned to Eugene Kiely, the organization’s director, to see what he thought of Gov. Walker’s copiously-linked speech transcript. “It’s a great idea,” he told us. “It makes it a lot easier for the public and for fact checkers to check sources and to see what they’re saying is accurate. So, kudos.”
Kiely also provided a caveat. You still have to look deeply at what’s being said and what’s being left out. In 2015, his organization, which normally does not fact check state of the state addresses, did examine those that were made by presidential candidates. Gov. Walker was in the presidential contender category and his 2015 state of the state was critiqued by factcheck.org, which questioned his statements that ACT scores were up and that they were the second best in the country.
Fact checking showed that ACT scores not up, but were actually quite stable. They were the virtually the same as when Gov. Walker first took office in 2011. They were second best, but Factcheck.org noted that the piece of information that was left out was that Wisconsin was second out of the 30 states that use ACTs, not 50.
This year, anyone listening to the Wisconsin speech would also have heard about the state’s record on the ACT. “We just started including everyone in the ACT tests and Wisconsin is one of the best states in the country in that category,” Walker said. This is a true statement.
But for those reading the transcript and following the links, the fact is also put in context, with information taken from an August 2016 ACT publication. “Among the 18 states that administered the ACT to all students in 2015, this Wisconsin graduating class cohort ranks 4th in average ACT Composite score.”