Doug Burgum Can't Seem To Shoot Straight On Controversial Issues

Downtown developer Doug Burgum discusses his plans for downtown Fargo's Black Building with tenants at the Fargo Theatre Friday Sept. 18, 2015. Photo credit Tu-Uyen Tran / The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Yesterday I wrote about the campaign trail version of gubernatorial candidate Doug Burgum being a much different person from Doug Burgum the business leader North Dakotans have come to know over the years.

When he chose to run for the Republican nomination for governor Burgum seems to have undergone an evolution in his policy positions. Specifically on social policy. “In years past Burgum has been an outspoken proponent of social liberalism but now can’t seem to remember his past positions as he dances around questions about abortion and gay marriage on the campaign trail,” I wrote.

In response to that post a reader sent me a link to this short interview with Burgum in the High Plains Reader (which I used to write a weekly column for). In it Burgum declares full-on support for SB2279, a bill that was before the legislature last year outlawing businesses choosing not to serve someone because of their sexual orientation.

In the interview, from March of 2015, Burgum was not ambiguous about his support for the bill:

High Plains Reader: How important is it the North Dakota House pass SB2279, which would grant discrimination protection to citizens based on sexual orientation and gender identity?

Doug Burgum: The passing of this bill is an important message to all of our citizens, that we as a state will protect the rights of ALL citizens. And it would bring the laws of the state in line with the best practices of some of our largest employers like Microsoft, which has had internal policies against discrimination for decades.

I wish I had been aware of this interview earlier, because back in January when I asked Burgum about SB2279 he was non-committal about his support and claimed he couldn’t remember it very well. I wrote about it in my newspaper column:

Burgum has been on the record for some time in support of gay rights, but when I asked him about SB 2279 – legislation defeated by state lawmakers last session that would have added homosexuals to the state’s list of protected classes – he was noncommittal. He remembered not liking parts of it, though he didn’t specify.

Burgum was strongly in favor of SB2279 in March, but by January after announcing his campaign he suddenly couldn’t remember all the details of the bill and wouldn’t commit to saying he supported it?

Good grief.

Also interesting is that SB2279 didn’t have any exemptions in it for religious freedoms, yet when I asked Burgum about his position on the transgender bathroom issue last week he touted religious freedom as an important consideration. Here is, word-for-word, the statement I got from his campaign. Emphasis added:

As I have not studied the North Carolina law, I won’t comment on their legislation specifically. I do believe we need to support religious liberty and foster a culture of respect and tolerance. I believe that the best government happens closest to the people. As governor, I will fight to empower local jurisdictions to make these decisions locally.

As I wrote yesterday, this is the problem with the Burgum campaign. Candidate Burgum doesn’t sound at all like pre-campaign Burgum.

This isn’t about whether you liked SB2279 or opposed SB2279 or, really, what you believe when it comes to social policy issues at all. This is about a candidate who has spent well over $1 million on promoting his campaign messaging but can’t seem to tell us what he really thinks.

If we elected Burgum, who would we get as governor? The campaign trail version, or the pre-campaign version?

None of us know, and that’s a problem.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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