The audio below is from the Scott Hennen Show this morning where gubernatorial candidates Wayne Stenehjem and Doug Burgum had a debate.
The abortion issue came up during the debate, and Stenehjem accused Burgum of calling Governor Jack Dalrymlpe’s Chief of Staff in 2013 and urging a veto of a group of controversial pro-life bills that were coming out of the Legislature.
As Mike Nowatzki reports, Burgum has denied urging a veto:
When Burgum said he also was pro-life and would have signed the same bills, Stenehjem suggested Burgum had flip-flopped on his stance.
“Did you call the governor’s office asking him to veto those bills two sessions ago?” Stenehjem asked, referring to a raft of abortion-restricting bills Dalrymple signed in 2013.
“No, I did not,” Burgum said.
“All right. That’s not what I understand to be the case,” Stenehjem said. He then pressed Burgum about whether he had talked to Dalrymple’s chief of staff, Ron Rauschenberger, about it. Burgum acknowledged he had talked to Rauschenberger but said, “I did not urge him to veto a bill.”
Again, the audio is below.
Ron Rauschenberger is Dalrymple’s Chief of Staff. Nowatzki couldn’t reach him earlier today, as he was out of his office, but I was able to reach him on his cell phone this evening and he confirmed that Burgum did make the call and did urge a veto.
“Yeah, that was in 2013,” he told me. “There were several bills coming, and he encouraged us to veto the abortion bills.”
“He said ‘one of the best explanations of why you should veto it is read the letter to the editor in the Fargo Forum from my ex-wife, it explains it extremely well, it’s one of the best letters to the editor I’ve seen,'” Rauschenberger added, saying it was a short conversation.
Rauschenberger, who described himself as a Stenehjem supporter but a long time friend of Burgum’s, forwarded me a link to the letter in question and, indeed, it urges a veto of the pro-life legislation.
“When these bills arrive before Gov. Jack Dalrymple, I hope common sense prevails and he vetoes them,” Karen Stoker wrote in the letter which described the legislation as an “attacks on women’s health.”
“If he doesn’t, not only will the health of women and teens be at risk, the health of the state and our ability to grow North Dakota will be as well,” Stoker added.
Those statements stand in sharp contrast with Burgum’s stance on the abortion issue today. Back in May, Burgum filled out a questionnaire for the socially conservative North Dakota Family Alliance in which he said he supported the 2013 pro-life bills and opposed abortion except in instances of incest, rape, or when the life of the mother is jeopardized.
So Burgum in 2013 was telling Dalrymple to veto the bills, but in 2016 is not only claiming he never called the governor’s office but also says he supports that legislation and is generally pro-life.
Burgum’s problem here isn’t his stance on the abortion issue, though. His problem is that he can’t seem shoot straight about it.
UPDATE: Burgum now says he was only making the call on behalf of Stoker:
In a follow-up interview, Burgum said Stoker had asked him if he knew anyone in the governor’s office, and he called Rauschenberger on her behalf but didn’t advocate for the positions in her letter.
I’m sorry, but I’m having a hard time believing anything Burgum has to say at this point.