Dems right, Hoeven wrong
But I'm disappointed with two of his statements -- the first to a radio talk show host June 19, the second in response to recent questions about those statements.
No, I wouldn't call the statements "lies." But Hoeven does seem to be skiriting, dodging or even stretching the truth with them. That's not like him, and that's why the statements are disappointing.
State Democratic Party leaders rightly called attention to the radio interview. Here's the Associated Press' description of the June 19 exchange:
(begin quote) "During the interview on Fargo's KFGO Radio, Hoeven was asked if he agreed with the statement that he had 'not had discussions with ... any members of the state board about Dr. Potts.' Hoeven replied: 'That's it. You know, that's a personnel decision. That's something, the (Board of Higher Education) needs to make those decisions.'
"Later, in a reference to Potts, Hoeven was asked: "You have not been involved in this issue. Is that correct?" Hoeven replied: 'That's what I'm saying. I have always approached it from the standpoint that that is the board's responsibility.'" (end quote)
More recently, of course, we've learned from the attorney general that Hoeven had, in fact, had discussions with members of the board about Potts, the chancellor of the North Dakota higher education system. My guess is that what he was trying to do in the interview was craft a "non-denial denial" -- that is, make it sound like he was answering "no" to the question when he wasn't really saying anything at all. But he's not very good at doing such things, especially on the fly, so he made his "denial" too strong for it to be easily denied later.
Especially in his second answer. Because when a questioner makes a statement and then asks, "Is that correct?", the answer "That's what I'm saying" is close enough to pick the lint off the sweater of "Yes".
Hoeven should have said something like, "Well, I do talk on occasion with board members, and it's safe to say Potts has come up in those conversations now and then." But he didn't. Next time, he should trust his instinct to talk straight rather than to spin.
Make that, the time after next, because the governor ducked and weaved once again in response to questions about the interview. "Hoeven said Friday he had been speaking by cell phone during the June 19 interview and may not have heard some questions clearly," The AP reported. But Hoeven's June 19 answers were on-point and didn't show any misunderstanding of the questions at all. If, in answering the statement, "You have not been involved in this issue," he had said, "Tissue? Who said anything about tissue?" he could fairly claim to have misheard. But instead he answered, "That's what I'm saying. I have always approached it from the standpoint that that is the board's responsibility." And that suggests he'd heard and understood the question perfectly.
Were these fatal errors? No. Everybody makes mistakes, and I expect North Dakotans will forgive Hoeven this lapse. But it was a lapse, the governor should recognize. And he should nip the Artful Dodger-speak in the bud before it becomes a habit.