Candice Miller’s attacks mostly hold water

How we make the call

Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:

No factual inaccuracies in the statement and no important information is missing
Mostly accurate
While the statement is largely accurate, it omits or exaggerates facts, or needs some clarification
Half accurate
Truths are interspersed with mistruths, or the speaker left out significant facts that render his/her remarks misleading in important respects
Mostly inaccurate
The major point or points made are untrue or misleading, even while some aspects of the claim may be accurate
The statement is false, or based on false underlying facts
WhoCandice Miller for Macomb
What"Fix these problems" ad
The callWarning

After a 14-year stint in Congress, Candice Miller (R-Harrison Township) surprised some by doing what some call walking away from a 2018 run for governor and is instead running for Macomb County public works commissioner.

Her campaign produced a 30-second ad, “Fix these problems” released in September, along with press releases that take a swipe at longtime incumbent Anthony Marrocco. The spot focuses on Macomb’s history of bacteria-related beach closings and other water-quality problems. With images of newspaper headlines flashing on the screen, a narrator in the video implicitly blames Marrocco, though he is never named:

Relevant text

“We read the headlines after every rain: Beaches closed, raw sewage in our waters, basements flooded. And nothing gets done.”

News releases on Miller’s website are more direct, blaming Marrocco for not solving the county’s water and sewage problems in his 24 years in office. One release sent just before Labor Day blames Marrocco for high bacteria levels that led to beach closures this summer. Many voters may not understand what a public works commission does to keep sewers and drainage systems in shape, but they can relate to icky, closed swimming areas at popular beaches. The document reads, in part:

“Harrison Township, MI — As we head into Labor Day weekend, the traditional end to the summer season for Michiganders, the beach at Lake St. Clair Metropark is again [closed] 'until further notice' due to high bacteria levels. St. Clair Shores Memorial Beach has been closed since August 16th due to high bacteria levels, as well.

“...Macomb residents should be outraged. These beach closures are due to problems that should have been addressed years ago. This was preventable. Yet, here we are, on the final holiday weekend of the summer. It’s bright and sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. And, the beaches are closed. This must be Anthony Marrocco’s way of telling Macomb County residents ‘Happy Labor Day.’ Macomb County residents deserve to have a government that address problems and find solutions. They deserve a change and I intend to be that agent of change.”

Statement under review

(Video) “We read the headlines after every rain: Beaches closed, raw sewage in our waters, basements flooded. And nothing gets done.”

The public works commissioner oversees sewer systems, drain construction and maintenance, soil erosion and pollution controls, and anti-flooding measures. As Bridge reported in May, hundreds of millions of gallons of partially treated sewage have entered Lake St. Clair annually through the system Marrocco oversees, and E.coli bacteria discharges are partly to blame for hundreds of days of beach closings in recent years.

Marrocco argues that Lake St. Clair is now as clean as it has ever been since he took office and that a more efficient sewer system has kept greater levels of pollution out of the lake and the Clinton River. But annual sewage overflows have remained fairly consistent over the years and the number of beach closings remains troublesome, with 57 days of swimming bans in 1995 and 89 days in 2015, Bridge reporting showed.

Do beach closings, sewage overflows and basement flooding happen after every rain? No, that’s an exaggeration. But the region’s water quality remains a persistent problem.

“As we head into Labor Day weekend, the traditional end to the summer season for Michiganders, the beach at Lake St. Clair Metropark is again [closed] 'until further notice' due to high bacteria levels. St. Clair Shores Memorial Beach has been closed since August 16th due to high bacteria levels, as well.”

Actually, the very day this press release was published the beach at Lake St. Clair Metropark re-opened after a four-day closure, a change Miller’s campaign has never noted on its website. In total, the beach at Metro was closed for eight days this summer due to high bacteria levels, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

St. Clair Shores Memorial Beach, was closed more than 60 days this year and remains closed.

“These beach closures are due to problems that should have been addressed years ago. This was preventable.”

Marrocco maintains that rainwater runoff flushes animal feces and bird droppings into the water, creating the E.coli problems at the beaches. He agrees that the infrastructure needs replacing, but he and his opponent disagree on who’s to blame.

Michael Radtke, a spokesman for Marrocco’s campaign, said costly infrastructure fixes would be a possibility if Miller, in her role in Congress, had secured funding for them.

“We need $3 billion to really fix the system completely and that money is not forthcoming from (water) ratepayers or Washington, D.C.,” Radtke said.

Critics blame sewer overflows for the closed beaches and point to reports by the Macomb County Health Department showing that both sewage and animal waste contribute to E.Coli in the water. Critics also contend that Marrocco has not pushed to replace old infrastructure, especially sewers in heavily populated areas, some of which cannot handle the double whammy of sewage and rainwater during storms.

The callWarning

In a couple of respects, Miller’s campaign accusations are erroneous. One of the two beaches mentioned in the Labor Day Weekend press release reopened that same day. It’s also worth noting that beach closings were down this past summer. And Miller’s charge that “nothing gets done” to protect Macomb’s water supply ignores improvement projects for which Marrocco can rightfully claim leadership. That overreach earns a warning.

But Marrocco has been in office for more than two decades, and there is ample evidence from local and state health records and Bridge’s previous reporting to show that fouled water, sewage overflows and bacteria-related beach closings have been a problem for years in Macomb County. While Miller's own environmental record appears less than stellar, her campaign is relying upon a wealth of evidence to support its attacks on water quality efforts in Macomb County.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Tue, 10/11/2016 - 1:14pm
Candy's just another political hack, moving from one public job to another. She's best at marketing herself, not doing the job she gets elected to do. I guess we should be thankful she's not trying to be governor (though compared to Schuette, that's hard).
Tue, 10/11/2016 - 10:29pm
"Miller, running for Macomb County drain commissioner, may be an imperfect candidate to lecture on the environment. " this reads like a 'Truth Squad' discrediting her as a candidate while admitting they couldn't find appreciable errors in her campaigning. I notice in the Marrocco assessment made by the 'Truth Squad,' they dismissed the errors/misleading ad statements they found as 'nit-picky' and they never mention whether he personally was or wasn't an 'imperfect candidate'. Since I don't live in MAcomb County so can't vote, since I have no Party affiliation [though I will be voting for the Democrat Drain Commission candidate in my County, it really has no impact on this election for me. What it does is raise a question about how unbiased the 'Truth Squad' is. If the 'Truth Squad' is about verifying campaign claims then dismissing their finding based on who the candidate is then I begin to wonder what is the real purpose of this 'Truth Squad.' Why should a 'Truth Squad' invest all their efforts to verify campaign statements if they dismiss what they have found? Why would a 'Truth Squad' be concerned about who the candidate is if they are only interested in providing voters with an unbiased source for truth in campaigning? It is a slippery slope to step on to when shading the verified accuracy or inaccuracy based on who the candidate is or what Party they represent. Who really needs such a 'Truth Squad'? I wonder if the 'Truth Squad' has found a 'perfect candidates'. I wonder if Ms. Miller is the only candidate the 'Truth Squad' has called an 'imperfect candidate'.
Kevin Grand
Wed, 10/12/2016 - 8:46am
What I found interesting is that the "Truth Squad" took issue with the number of days Metro Beach was actually closed, but in the very next paragraph mentioned the fact that there have been problems with the water quality going back for years. Actually it's been going on for decades now (it is practically in my back yard, so I do have some first-hand experience with this). If the "Truth Squad" wants to argue the significance of that point, it's supposed to get in the 70's this weekend. Drive over to Metro Beach, put on your swim trunks/swim suits and go for a nice long swim at Metro Beach. Be sure to dive underwater plenty of times so that you can get the full effect of just how clean Lake St. Clair really is. And while you're at it, be sure to have an ample supply of Kaopectate on hand afterwards. The "Truth Squad" will be needing it.
Wed, 10/12/2016 - 8:30pm
How come in all the talk about water, drainage, sewage and flooding no one points out that this is not just a Macomb problem, what about all that water coming from Oakland county? It all comes down the inter-county drain.
Paul Beach
Tue, 10/25/2016 - 3:45pm
Too bad no one ever reads the Mi drain code . P. A. Act 4o of 1956. Its about drainage. Surface water quality is the responsibility of the Mi DEQ.