Audio Proof That Doug Burgum Isn't Telling The Truth About Pro-Life Bills

Fargo businessman Doug Burgum during a debate with Wayne Stenehjem at Avalon Events Center in Fargo on Wednesday, June 1, 2016. Rick Abbott / The Forum

I realize that, for a lot of voters, the abortion issue isn’t very important. Some people simply don’t see it as a priority.

That’s fine. But I think we can all agree that candidates being honest about their positions on issues, especially candidates with zero track record in public office, is important. Perhaps the most important thing a candidate can do.

Unfortunately, gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum just can’t seem to be honest about his position on abortion.

This last week, during a debate on Scott Hennen’s statewide syndicated radio show (audio at the link), Burgum and his opponent Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem got into a bit of a pie throwing contest over a call Burgum placed to Governor Jack Dalrymple’s Chief of Staff Ron Rauschenberger in 2013. Stenehjem, and Rauschenberger, both say that Burgum called to urge the veto of a group of pro-life bills that were coming out of the Legislature at the time.

Burgum initially claimed that he didn’t make the call, then admitted that he did make the call but said he was only calling on behalf of his ex-wife and wasn’t personally urging a veto. Burgum is currently claiming that he would have signed those bills into law.

In an attempt to clear the matter up, Hennen posted this quote from Burgum (which was apparently sent by text message) on Facebook where the candidate claims he told me in January that he would have signed the pro-life bills:

hennencomment

Burgum made the same claim, that he would have signed those pro-life bills, during the original interview as Mike Nowatzki notes in his article about it.

His reference to this January interview wasn’t in keeping with my memory of that conversation. In fact, I didn’t even remember that Burgum and I had talked about those bills back in January. His mention of the interview reminded me.

That interview, conducted on January 20, was the basis for a newspaper column I wrote and which was published on January 24. “Had Burgum been governor, he would have vetoed all but one of the pro-life laws passed by the state Legislature in recent years,” I wrote at the time. “He supports the legislation that bans abortions for things like gender selection.”

Burgum says he told me that he would have signed the pro-life bills into law, but what I wrote was the exact opposite. And before anyone accuses me of misrepresenting what Burgum said, allow me to direct your attention to audio I kept from our discussion.

I’ve posted the relevant excerpt below. I asked Burgum if he would have signed the so-called “heart beat bill” banning abortions after a fetal heart beat is detected if he’d been governor when the Legislature passed it.

Burgum’s response was one word: “No.”

I asked him if there were any pro-life bills from the last several years which he would have signed if he’d been governor. He said he would have signed HB1305 which banned abortion for the purpose of things like gender selection (probably the least controversial of the pro-life bills considered during that legislative session).

Here’s a rough transcript of the pertinent section:

ROB PORT: So I realize you’re not building a campaign around social issues and that’s fine. When you become governor, however, the Legislature may – and I don’t know that they will, but they have in years past – send you legislation pertaining to abortion. Do you think it’s fair that voters would be curious if you would sign it or veto it if we’re talking about specific legislation?

DOUG BURGUM: No, I think it’s fair that voters are curious.

RP: Would you have signed, say, the “heart beat bill” that as you say is being…I guess we’re going to find out what the Supreme Court is going to do with it soon, if you had been Governor would you have signed that?

DB: No.

RP: Has there been any pro-life legislation over the past several years that you can think of that you would have signed?

DB: Yes.

RP: Ok, which one?

DB: Uh, HB1305.

RP: Which one was that again?

DB: That’s the one that prohibits abortions for gender selection or a set of medical…pre-identified medical issues within, uh, the fetus.

Burgum then goes into a lengthy explanation for why he wouldn’t have signed the bills, including stating at about the 16:45 mark that America prior to 1973 (the year of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision) was a “dangerous place” for women’s health. It’s not exactly the sort of reasoning you’d expect from someone who, according to some of his highest profile supporters, is pro-life.

In other words, Burgum’s position on these bills in January is pretty much the exact opposite of what he’s claiming his position on these bills is just days before a primary vote he’s spent millions of dollars to win.

Today Burgum he says that he didn’t, in 2013, urge Governor Jack Dalrymple to veto pro-life bills during a call to Rauschenberger. Today Burgum says he would have signed those bills into law.

Just a few months ago, in January, Burgum told me he would have signed just one of those bills into law.

Again, maybe you don’t care about those pro-life bills. Maybe the abortion issue isn’t a priority for you. Maybe you’re pro-choice and would be glad if a Governor Burgum would veto legislation like that.

None of that matters. The point here is that Burgum isn’t telling the truth about his positions, and that should trouble all of us. If he’s had a change of heart, he should tell us that. But he shouldn’t pretend as if this as been his position all along.

“These guys are losing and they’re desperate and they’re trying to make something out of nothing,” Burgum told reporter Mike Nowatzki of the Stenehjem campaign after this issue came to light. “And you talk about the good ol’ boys network, this is exactly how it works.”

No, Mr. Burgum, this is how accountability works. You don’t get to blame your critics because they exposed you saying contradictory things.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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