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'One is a federal bill, one is a state bill'

Rep. Cory Gardner speaks at the House Triangle during the Coal Caucus' news conference, Sept. 26, 2013.
Rep. Cory Gardner speaks at the House Triangle during the Coal Caucus' news conference, Sept. 26, 2013.
For a guy who's been talking about "personhood" for six years, it's interesting to see how much Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) is struggling to explain himself.
When social conservatives put the issue, which would ban all abortions and many common forms of birth control, onto the Colorado ballot in 2008, Gardner helped champion the measure. Voters rejected it easily. Two years later, the right tried again, Gardner rallied behind the measure once more, and Coloradans again said no.
Gardner went to Congress and again championed personhood, signing on as a co-sponsor on the "Life Begins at Conception Act," which his fellow co-sponsors agree is a personhood bill.
But once the conservative congressman launched a Senate campaign, he announced a change of heart: he no longer supports personhood at the state level. What about the federal legislation? Gardner said he would remain a supporter.
The contradiction, of course, has caused a mess -- a politician can't say he's dropped his support for an extremist policy, while continuing to support the extremist policy. It led to an amazing interview earlier this week in which the Republican congressman argued, over and over again, "There is no federal personhood bill," even though we know this plainly isn't true.
Yesterday, the Durango Herald tried to get Gardner to say explain himself.

"They are two different pieces of legislation. Different from a procedural standpoint; from a legislative standpoint. So, they are not the same, and they are completely different," Gardner told the Herald on Tuesday. When pressed to highlight the policy differences, Gardner answered, "One is a federal bill, one is a state bill, one's an amendment to the state constitution with a number of other implications. They are different, they are not the same."

Oh my.
Look, Gardner has had months to think about this. It's not like some rascally reporters came out of nowhere and pressed the Republican congressman on an obscure issue. Personhood has been one of Gardner's top legislative priorities for much of his career; his critics have helped make it a central issue in his 2014 Senate race; and he tried to flip-flop on this nearly five months ago.
And after all this time, "one is a federal bill, one is a state bill" isn't much of a response.
The Life Begins at Conception Act (H.R.1091) isn't very long, and one assumes Gardner read it before formally endorsing it. The legislation, according to its text, intends to extend "equal protection for the right to life" to "each born and preborn human person." The proposal defines "human person" as "every member "of the species homo sapiens at all stages of life, including the moment of fertilization, cloning, or other moment at which an individual member of the human species comes into being."
How is this different from the Colorado proposal Gardner championed but now says he doesn't support? It's not different at all. Yes, there are procedural differences in how the measures were considered, and "one is a federal bill" while the other "is a state bill," but proposals that do the same thing are, for intents and purposes, the same.
In fact, it's a rare area of bipartisan agreement: everyone from pro-choice activists to congressional Republicans to Personhood USA agrees that the Life Begins at Conception Act is a federal personhood bill.
The only person who's pretending otherwise is Cory Gardner.
Why is this important? For one thing, it seems unlikely that Colorado voters would be comfortable electing a U.S. senator who supports federal legislation to ban access to popular forms of birth control.
For another, we appear to be learning something important about Cory Gardner's honesty and his willingness to be straight with voters.