WINTERGREEN, Va., July 13 -- Virginia Republican candidate for governor Wyatt B. Durrette, confronting one of his most sensitive problems, today acknowledged he has reversed his views on several major issues.
But Durrette, in an appearance with his Democratic opponent, Gerald L. Baliles, said his changes were for the better and accused Baliles of altering his views on other, equally important issues.
"The issue again is consistency and candor," Durrette told a gathering of Virginia newspaper executives.
Baliles, who has made Durrette's changed positions a centerpiece of his campaign, kept it up today.
The Democrat ridiculed "the new Wyatt" and "the old Wyatt," citing Durrette's changes over whether public employes should be allowed collective bargaining rights and over the Equal Rights Amendment.
Durrette, a Richmond attorney who has twice lost bids for state attorney general, had championed those causes when he was a legislator from Fairfax County in the 1970s, but he later opposed them." . . . Part of being a leader is acknowledging that change of position," Durrette told the Virginia Press Association meeting here.
Durrette charged that Baliles was guilty of inconsistency on the ERA, capital punishment and abortion, citing in some cases Baliles' answers to a Young Americans for Freedom questionnaire in 1975, when both candidates were members of the state legislature.
Baliles dismissed Durrette's charges of inconsistency, noting that Durrette has "repudiated much of what he did" as a legislator.
Baliles, who resigned recently as attorney general to run for governor, represented the Richmond suburbs in the Virginia legislature.
On the the states ERA, which failed to gain the necessary approval from the states, Durrette acknowledged that he once favored the measure but now would oppose it.
Citing the YAF questionnaire, Durrette said Baliles once opposed the ERA, although he said he has always supported it.
The survey showed that Baliles said then that the ERA was not needed in Virginia because the state has an equal-protection clause in its constitution and because of other federal laws. He took no clear position on the ERA itself, although his comments suggested skepticism.
In that survey, Baliles is quoted as saying that he opposes "abortion on demand." But Durrette said that Balilies is now "prochoice," a position inconsistent with his earlier statement.
Durrette said that his opponent has pictured himself as a supporter of capital punishment but opposed legislation that would add murder in the commission of an attempted robbery or attempted rape to the list of crimes punishable by death in Virginia.
The clearest policy difference between the two candidates today came in the field of education.
Durrette refused to endorse a proposed $500 million increase in school spending during the next two years that is included in a budget being drafted by Democratic Gov. Charles S. Robb, who cannot succeed himself.
"I cannot, and will not, lock myself in" on the issue, Durrette said.
Baliles said he is committed to the funding, which has had growing support in the General Assembly, where legislators are being strongly lobbied by local governments, which support the funding.
Durrette turned aside most questions about what level of school funding he would support, saying after the meeting that "I'm going to keep all my options open until I become governor."
Asked whether "all you stand for is evaluating" everything, Durrette said he expected to propose increases in state spending, but he would not support any specific amounts for education, family assistance or other issues.
Durrette sought to attack Baliles on the cost of proposals in the Democrat's "blueprint for Virginia," a plan Durrette said would cost more than $2 billion. " . . . He must be contemplating a major tax increase or major cuts in other state programs --," Durrette said.