Embattled Casper Rep. Gerald Gay, who clouded his re-election chances after making controversial comments about working women, tried to clarify his stance Wednesday by accusing the media of twisting his words.
“I would never disparage any working woman,” Gay said during a brisk news conference at a Casper hotel. “Agenda-based articles written recently have portrayed me differently.”
The Republican lawmaker offered no apology to working women in Wyoming and across the country, who expressed outrage online when he told Better Wyoming – and later the Star-Tribune – that women have a dependability problem by taking too much maternity and sick leave to attend to their children, therefore contributing to their lower wages.
He did, however, apologize at the news conference for “any misunderstanding of my words.”
The House District 36 representative said he will sponsor a bill in the Wyoming Legislature that would make it easier for women to sue employers if they learn there is gender-based wage discrimination. He said he wants to form a citizens committee to examine the wage gap, the term used to describe the disparity between men’s and women’s wages, which in Wyoming is one of the worst in the country.
He also said there is a newly formed group called Women for Gerald Gay.
Ten supporters looked on as Gay spoke. Most were men, including Todd Murphy, a candidate for Casper City Council; Greg Flesvig, who has twice tried to unseat Rep. Steve Harshman in the Legislature; and Kevin Lewis, who worked for former Superintendent of Public Instruction Cindy Hill.
Two women supported Gay at the Wednesday event, including former legislative candidate Kara Linn, a Republican.
“I have never known Gerald Gay to be a sexist or misogynist person,” she said. “He is someone who has always treated me with respect, and I’m a really strong woman, and I’m pretty sensitive about issues like do you treat women equally.”
Reporters from two media organizations attended the news conference, where Gay’s comments lasted less than three minutes. He left the event without taking questions from reporters, while friends continued reading statements of support.
But the Star-Tribune and another reporter followed him to his Lexus sport-utility vehicle, and tried to ask him follow-up questions for the 2 1/2 minutes it took him to leave the hotel and drive away. He answered some of them.
The Better Wyoming interview transcript shows 11 sentences in which Gay discussed women workers and the pay gap. The Star-Tribune asked Gay how he could say his words were twisted when his argument was composed and defended at such length. He didn’t answer the question.
He claimed the Better Wyoming journalist who interviewed him, veteran reporter Kerry Drake, lied and said he was interviewing for the Star-Tribune.
Drake denied in an email Wednesday afternoon that he told Gay he was writing a piece for the Star-Tribune, since he hasn’t worked at the newspaper since 2013.
“I told him I worked for WyoFile as a columnist, and to the best of my recollection, I also mentioned my freelance work with Better Wyoming,” Drake said.
Drake said he doesn’t have the exact date of the interview but that it was the weekend before Feb. 8, when the 2016 legislative session began. Drake said the interview lasted about 20 minutes because he recalled Gay saying he had to leave for Cheyenne that afternoon and didn’t have much time to talk.
“I categorically deny twisting his words,” Drake said. “I did tape the interview, and within a day or so played back the recorder on my phone and transcribed it verbatim. I interviewed six or seven legislators about the same time, asking them the same questions.”
At the time, Drake said he also interviewed Senate President Phil Nicholas, R-Laramie, and Reps. Don Burkhart, R-Rawlins, and Bunky Loucks, R-Casper. His recorder was almost at capacity, and at one point in the session, Drake deleted some recordings, including the Gay interview. He still has the interviews of other lawmakers, however, he said.
“So it’s my word against Gerald’s, and all I can say is that I used exactly what he said,” Drake said. “There were no words changed, nor could it be out of context because he framed his own answer to the question. I used his entire answer for each question with no editing.”
Drake also noted that Gay didn’t begin to say the media was misrepresenting his position until recently. A day after the Better Wyoming transcript was published online, Gay talked to the Star-Tribune and elaborated: “Women in the workforce traditionally take a disproportionate amount of their sick days off for other reasons than sick days. They take Junior to the hospital or go see Johnny’s soccer game.”
Democratic and GOP reaction
Debbie Bovee, the Democrat who is challenging Gay for the HD 36 seat, said she doesn’t believe her opponent when he says the media changed his words. She thinks the negative publicity, combined with his party disavowing his remarks, have caused a change in tune, she said.
“I think he is trying to get out of it,” she said. “I’m glad he’s trying to acknowledge there’s an issue (with the gender pay gap.) It seems like it took him a lot to get him there.”
Last week, leaders of the Natrona County GOP met and released a statement saying they could not support Gay’s beliefs. Party Chairwoman Bonnie Foster said she couldn’t comment on Gay’s news conference Wednesday, since the leaders, known as the executive committee, make statements as a group.
In addition to the Natrona County GOP, Republican leaders in the Legislature have criticized Gay’s words.
When a reporter asked Gay if he called his news conference due to the fear of losing the election, he responded, “No.”
No mea culpa
Cheyenne Republican Jimmy Orr, who was a White House spokesman under President George W. Bush, said the event can’t be called a news conference because Gay didn’t stick around to take reporters’ questions. It was just the reading of a statement, he said.
Missing from Gay’s event was a complete mea culpa, said Orr, who also worked in communications for former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer and former U.S. Sen. Malcom Wallop. He also has been a journalist and was a managing editor at the Los Angeles Times.
“The best way a person can handle a controversy, especially when there is a transcript of what that person said, is to come 100 percent clean,” Orr said. “You can’t run from a transcript. That transcript is exactly what you said. Therefore, if you want to try to turn it around, you have to address it full-on. You have to say exactly, ‘These are my words, this is what I said.’ If you no longer agree with what you said on the record in a transcript, you need to say that, and you need to explain why. And then, to earn the trust back of the people, you answer every question from the press until they’re done asking questions.”
Gay’s news conference won’t make the scandal go away, Orr said.
“You watch social media, it’s not going to stop,” he said. “People will forgive, they will, but you better say you’re sorry.”
Star-Tribune reporter Elise Schmelzer contributed to this report.