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Analysis: House candidates flip-flop and shift

Those who’ve attended recent candidate forums for the Powell area’s seats in the Wyoming House of Representatives may have some confusion on some of the candidates’ positions.

In reviewing some of the statements made by the candidates for House District 25 (representing the Powell area) and House District 50 (representing east Cody, Heart Mountain, Clark, Ralston and the Willwood), the Powell Tribune found three areas where the candidates either shifted their positions or expressed conflicting statements on topics, including gay marriage and Common Core State Standards.

Below is a breakdown of some of the confusion noted by the Tribune.

Blevins: For or against gay marriage?

Incumbent House District 25 Rep. Dave Blevins, R-Powell, said at a Aug. 6 forum in Powell that while he supports civil unions, “I am against” and “I don’t like” same-sex marriage.

However, those statements conflict with a February vote to legalize gay marriage and an April opinion piece he co-signed with six other Republican legislators.

Blevins voted for a bill that would have redefined Wyoming marriage as a civil contract between “two natural persons,” rather than the existing law defining marriage as being between “a male and a female person.”

Blevins said in a follow-up interview with the Tribune that he believed the bill would have allowed civil unions rather than gay marriages. However, a reading of the bill — titled “Marriage definition” — shows Blevins is mistaken.

Blevins said his position is that gay couples should have all the rights afforded to heterosexual couples, but he does not want them to be called marriages.

“My wish is not to disparage the word of marriage,” Blevins said.

In the April opinion piece, published in the Casper Star-Tribune, Blevins and the other lawmakers wrote that giving gay couples the right to marry is the right thing to do and is in-line with Republicans’ dedication to smaller government.

The piece says in part that, “Only marriage can guarantee that couples and families will have access to the services and benefits they need when they need them. There is no substitute.”

Blevins said in the interview that the piece was presented to him in a very rushed, spur-of-the-moment way. He said he’d disagreed with its use of the word marriage, “but I wanted to make sure, I guess, that those people are afforded those civil rights.”

Northrup: For or against Common Core?

During last week’s House District 50 forum, challenger Charles Cloud criticized Rep. David Northrup, R-Powell, for expressing conflicting positions on Common Core. In dispute is a survey Northrup submitted to the group Wyoming Citizens Opposing Common Core.

On the group’s form, Northrup checked boxes saying he is “not in favor” of Common Core State Standards and that he would consider sponsoring legislation “that would include a total removal of Common Core in Wyoming and mandating state-created standards of higher quality.”

However, during the past legislative session, Northrup voted against a bill that would have — among other things — totally removed Common Core Standards and barred their implementation. Northrup also said in a July interview with the Cody Enterprise that while he has problems with some parts of Common Core — including the data collection and science standards that many associate with the standards — he does support its math and English standards.

“If you understand it’s a tool and not driving curriculum — it’s a good thing,” Northrup told the Enterprise.

A national group that opposes Common Core, Truth in American Education, noted the conflicting statements and said in an online posting that Wyoming Republicans “should be angry that he (Northrup) is trying to play both sides of the issue.”

Pressed by Cloud on Aug. 6 to explain the discrepancy, Northrup said that, “I would sponsor legislation to remove Common Core as a standard because I believe that Wyoming can take the (Common Core) standards and make them their own.”

In a follow-up interview, Northrup summarized that, “I have problems with some of the parts of Common Core, but in general, Common Core should be a good thing when it’s put together and Wyoming has a chance to make it their own.”

He questioned how he could express that nuanced opinion on the survey.

Cloud noted during the forum that the questionnaire had space for comments beneath each inquiry and that Northrup had used that free space on another answer.

Cloud: A shift to the right?

At the Aug. 6 forum, Cloud encouraged voters to research his positions and answers to questionnaires around the state.

“Do they match what I say and what I’ve been saying over the last months? Or do I change my values based on what I think you want to hear?” Cloud said, describing himself as a man of character and conviction. “My values do not change, and they will not.”

A review of Cloud’s public statements indicates he’s been consistent during this campaign, but that he was not as conservative or unequivocal on social issues when he ran for the office in 2012.

For example, at a forum in Clark last month, Cloud said he opposes abortion in all instances, including if the pregnancy jeopardizes the health of the mother.

“God opens and closes the womb. So, that has to be my answer for all of time,” Cloud said. He restated that belief at the Powell forum.

Two years ago, however, he told the conservative group WyWatch that he believed abortions should be permitted when the health of the mother is at stake (that’s Northrup’s position).

“I’ve matured on the subject,” Cloud said of the shift in a follow-up interview. He said he’d tried to be “I guess more reasonable about it in the past, because it’s a delicate subject for people to discuss.”

He said Republicans put the qualifier about women’s health to make their position more palatable and “I’ve, over the years, started falling back on core principles. And what I said at the forum is what I believe.”

Cloud also said in Clark that, while civil unions sounded like a good idea, the fact that they create a separate “class” of couples has been used by courts to legalize equal gay marriages.

“My Wyoming values say that marriage is between a man and a woman. We shouldn’t go down the road of civil unions,” Cloud said. “We should hold that line fast, we should draw that line in the sand.”

Then he corrected himself: “Excuse me — on rock, not in the sand.”

In his 2012 WyWatch survey, Cloud had left the boxes blank about whether he supported or opposed civil unions and written that he supported “some type of contract.”

Cloud reiterated in the interview that he dropped his support for civil unions after seeing how they’ve played out in courts over the past couple years.

“I realized that it wasn’t just about trying to be fair and accommodating. It was about what people have always said — that it was a stepping stone” to gay marriage, Cloud said. “I was just able to see that.”

At the forum in Clark, Cloud also faulted Northrup — who has voted against gay marriage but also against legislation that would refuse to recognize other states’ gay marriages — for not making enough of a stand on the subject.

Cloud said voters need to send someone to Cheyenne who represents Wyoming’s conservative values, citing personal priorities of the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life and the Constitution.

“We need to stand up every chance we get and work to make sure that those rights stay with us, where they’re supposed to be,” Cloud said.

A review of Cloud’s statements show he had not made social issues a priority two years ago.

In stories about the 2012 race published in the Powell Tribune, Cody Enterprise and Casper Star-Tribune, not once is Cloud quoted as saying a word about gay marriage or abortion.

In an interview with the Enterprise, Cloud said he didn’t take issue with the “good job” of then-Rep. Pat Childers — an outspoken supporter of gay marriage.

A columnist for the news website WyoFile also quoted Cloud in August 2012 as saying that Childers’ support for gay marriage had not factored into his decision to run and that the issue was best left to Wyoming voters.

When asked about the change in focus on gay marriage, Cloud said he didn’t believe the topic had come up.

“In the last election, Pat (Childers), of course, had his beliefs, but it really never was brought up,” he said.

Cloud noted he had indicated his opposition to gay marriage in his 2012 WyWatch survey.

Northrup had made his opposition to gay marriage one of his campaign issues in 2012 — mentioning it at a candidate forum and in an interview with the Star-Tribune — and both he and Childers cited it as a reason for the longtime representative’s loss.

Cloud said he’s now emphasizing the topic because Northrup says he represents conservative Wyoming values and “if you’re going to talk the talk, you’ve got to walk the walk.”

Northrup told the Star-Tribune in 2012 that he opposed gay marriage but that Wyoming should recognize other states’ same-sex marriages.

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