Truth Test: Looking At Claims In Political Attack Ads

The campaign for the Republican nomination for State House District 7 has gone very negative.

Longview businessman Mark Williams came out swinging with ads attacking incumbent Tommy Merritt's voting record during his decade in office.

Now, Merritt has shot back with a defamation lawsuit against Williams. With so much mud flying, we look at several of the claims of Williams to see if they pass the truth test.

The ads from Williams have saturated the airwaves, asserting Tommy Merritt hasn't lived up to the job.

One ad says: "You can accomplish a lot in 10 years, unless you're Tommy Merritt."

Looking at each legislative session, we find Tommy Merritt has been the primary author of some 69 bills before the House.

But Williams claims... "He's passed only eight bills in ten years."

We actually found nine of Tommy Merritt's bills passed the House and Senate, but one ended up veoted by the Governor. So the truth is that nine bills were passed, but only eight passed and became law.

Our research also found Merritt is listed as a co-author (a secondary author) of 59 other bills.  And 19 of those became the law of the state.

In announcing his lawsuit against Mark Williams, Tommy Merritt says he's actually authored more than 200 bills.  But many of those measures are resolutions like declaring Kilgore Day at the Capitol, or recognizing the anniversary of Tyler State Park.

Another claim by Williams: "[Merritt] tried to raise the gas tax by ten cents a gallon."

In 2005, Merritt did vote for an amendment that would have allowed counties to tax gasoline up to ten cents a gallon.

But here's something the Williams ad doesn't say: citizens of each county would have had to approve that in a special election. Essentially, Merritt and the majority of other House members voting were deciding to give citizens the choice of whether to tax their own gasoline.

Another claim: "Tommy Merritt proposed a law allowing drivers caught speeding in school zones to avoid getting tickets by using prepaid texas lottery coupons when pulled over."

In 1997, Merritt actually did propose the sale of coupons through lottery retailers -- coupons to present to a law officer. If the driver was going less than ten miles an hour faster than the speed limit, law enforcement would have been commanded to "immediately release the person" without a citation.

Representative Tommy Merritt told KLTV his intent was for the bill to apply to unincorporated areas -- areas outside of cities and towns.

But we spoke to an East Texas city attorney and a local government professor who say state law typically trumps local ordinance, so without specific language in the bill, speeders on any roadway could likely have presented their coupon and avoided a ticket.

As the battle rages on both sides, voters will only see it for one more week. Election day in this primary is next Tuesday.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.