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Delegate Diaries

Gary Risley, 38, Farmington, N.M.

Number 2: Report on Platform Week

"One should never watch sausage or legislation being made," goes the old saying. I must admit I had similar reservations about being involved in platform drafting. This past week I had the privilege of serving on the Platform Committee for the first time. Having heard how the Democrats are steamrolling their platform through, no dissent allowed, I was curious how the Republican process would go. Would it be a cram-down like the Democrats or a free-wheeling melee?

Fortunately, it was neither. Professional staff had prepared a working draft to serve as a starting point. There would be some resemblance left when we were done.

Sunday, Aug. 4:

On Sunday afternoon at 5:00 p.m. an orientation was held for the platform delegates. Henry Hyde, chairman of the committee, and others outlined what was expected of us. This was our only meeting closed to the press. We were informed that the "top-secret" draft of the platform would be available following the reception to be held for delegates that evening. We were asked to treat the document as confidential until the actual process of revision and drafting began. Very strict control of distribution of the document was kept.

I had met Dusty Bolton, the other committee member from New Mexico, and her husband, Bob, shortly after arriving at the Marriott. We had visited most of the evening, but now came the difficult part: making my getaway. You see, I had been invited to a secret meeting. (These Washington types love secrets and secret meetings!) The reception appeared to be attended in great part by staffers looking for free food and liquor, so I was ready to go pretty early. (While I have been accused of talking too much at public meetings, I really do not enjoy the cocktail party environment.) When I made my excuses to Dusty, stating that I had a previous dinner engagement planned, she just smiled, pulled me close and asked if it was the same dinner she was going to attend. It was, and off we went together.

The dinner was sponsored by one or more pro-life organizations for the purpose of addressing the issue of the pro-life plank and the so-called tolerance plank. Rep. Henry Hyde (Ill.) was in attendance. As an aside, I must say that over the week, starting with this meeting, I came to have the utmost respect and admiration for this man. He is personable, warm, has a quick wit, and a great sense of humor.

The topic at the dinner quickly turned to the tolerance plank. Rep. Hyde was surprised to hear that there was strong opposition to two portions of the paragraph: the laundry list of issues characterized as a source of Republican disagreement, and the language that "tolerance is a virtue." Out of respect for the privacy of those involved, I will simply state that Mr. Hyde clearly got the message that no one in that room liked those particular phrases. Several did not want a tolerance plank at all, but the large majority of us were willing to tolerate a modified tolerance plank. The clear, unequivocal word was: The laundry list and tolerance phrase must go! This position would make Monday very interesting.

Monday, Aug. 5:

Monday morning began with the official opening of the Platform Committee. Rep. Billy Tauzin (La.) was the keynote speaker. Tauzin is a recent convert from the Democrat party. He emphasized the intolerance and totally quashing of dissent that he suffered at the hands of the Democrats, while the Republicans were willing to discuss and consider other viewpoints in their caucus.

At 10 a.m., we went into our subcommittees. I served on the subcommittee called "Reforming Government and the Legal System." After a brief introduction of members, we began our work. The morning did not start off well in terms of speed of progress. After two hours of hard work we had not completed the preamble. I was appointed to a subcommittee to work out language over the lunch hour on a bold statement that called for the elimination of four government departments (Energy, Education, HUD, and Commerce) along with the privatization or elimination of several agencies. We completed our task and work progressed more quickly after the noon hour.

Sara Gear of Vermont, speaker of their legislature, I believe, and Brian Kennedy, state chairman of Iowa, did a good job in managing the meeting. I was also impressed with many of my fellow panel members. We were making major revisions to the draft document, and the insight and reasoning of my fellow delegates impressed me.

Dole operatives were in the room throughout our session to make sure we did not go too far afield. For the most part they stayed in the background. One accompanied four of us who retreated to the basement to rewrite the judicial reform section. He actually helped us work out some language at one point, but otherwise did not intrude. We finally completed our work at about 7:45 p.m.

While our subcommittee was putting the press to sleep, there was a bit of excitement going on down in the Individual Rights and Safe Communities Committee. Individual Rights had the abortion hot potato(e?) to handle. Sen. Dole wanted to retain the laundry list and tolerance phrase. The majority of the committee members did not. After a few hours of arm twisting, pleas and speeches, the Dole campaign recognized reality and let events take their course. The vote was unanimous to remove the offending language, which in my opinion made the document read better while accomplishing the same task. The vote on the pro-life plank was 20 to 4 for inclusion. So, as with most things, the anticipation of the event far exceeded the actual occurrence.

I found it interesting that the press wrote about this huge divisive fight that occurred that day. It tells me a lot about the accuracy of the media. Reports from my fellow delegates inform me that almost all of the media had left by the time of the critical vote. So they had their stories written in advance of the facts; interesting, is it not? I will simply note that I was there and did not see this bloodletting, the delegates on the committee did not see it, so I wonder what the press was watching? A bunch of loud-mouth extremists (from both sides) holding continuous impromptu press conferences in the lobby and who did not even have credentials to vote?

I will offer some criticism of the pro-life representatives. I believe their declarations as to "victory" and "we won" were counterproductive and did not reflect the feelings of many pro-life delegates. Many pro-choice delegates did not care for the laundry list or the "tolerance is a virtue" language and voted to remove it. What was reached was agreement, it was not a victory for one side or the other, and it should not be characterized in that manner.

Tuesday, Aug. 6:

Round 2 in the abortion battle according to media reports. Not so in reality. Media reports make it sound as if abortion was the dominant issue on the minds of the delegates to the committee. It was not. Eliminating the government deficit, tax cuts, government reform, and defense all were issues of greater concern.

We started off the morning with an excellent speech by Bob Dole, delivered via satellite. Work through the morning went routinely, but even the routine can be time consuming. "Building A Better America" -- the Dole Economic Plan -- was considered first. This was followed after lunch by the section on making "America Safe and Strong Again."

We did manage to wake up the media as they sat around waiting for the anticipated volatile debate by the full committee over abortion. The draft submitted by the subcommittee on defense called for supporting women who desired to advance in the military, but also called for the restoration of the prohibition of women serving in combat or near-combat situations. A delegate from Wyoming moved to strike the language regarding the prohibition. Thus started the best debate of the three days we met. For me, it may have been the most difficult decision of all the votes.

The arguments presented pitted the rights of women to advance in the military, which many felt could only be advanced by participating in combat, against those who had served in the combat infantry and those who felt that women should not involuntarily be assigned to combat. I was truly torn on the decision and was praying, literally, for an answer. I believe that women should be able to volunteer for some combat situations, but I am not willing to accept the involuntary and unlimited assignment of women to combat. This could occur if a military draft was reinstated.

The answer came in language provided by the Dole campaign. The language restated current U.S. policy in that women may not be assigned to ground combat units and may not be INVOLUNTARILY assigned to combat or near-combat situations. After 30 minutes of debate, the vote to strike the original language was 61 to 30-something. The chairman started to move on, and I had to fight to get his attention. I then proposed the language described above, and started another 30-minute debate. The vote in favor of adding the language was 52 to 41, the closest vote to my knowledge on any issue. By the way, my wildly pro-choice neighbors from Hawaii worked with me in supporting the addition of that language, and Congressman J.C. Watts of Oklahoma gave a stirring speech in my favor.

This debate ended about 5 p.m. We then proceeded to the "Individual Rights" section. There was a motion to restore the laundry list and the "tolerance" language. The debate lasted 30 minutes or so. For once, I kept quiet. The measure was defeated on a voice vote.

Other runs were made to eliminate the pro-life plank. All were defeated. At one point the proponent of a pro-choice amendment requested a roll-call vote. Twenty-two votes were required to support the call of a roll call vote. The request failed.

The only proposed amendment that angered me was the one submitted on behalf of Pete Wilson, governor of California. It was not the language itself, but the perceived attitude of Governor Wilson. I do not know what personal political agenda he was promoting that day, but it sure was not that of the Republican Party. He showed up at the committee location and held a press conference declaring that if the committee did not do his will he would lead a floor fight on the abortion issue. It did not win him points with the Platform Committee.

Is he so arrogant as to believe that a group that would not back down to a full-court press by Dole's staff would tuck its tail and run from him? All he did was damage the party, and I am glad he has been removed as a keynote speaker. Anyone engaging in such a self-serving campaign that could hurt his party's election bid does not deserve the privilege of speaking to the convention and the nation.

At the conclusion of the Individual Rights and Safer Communities section we called it a day around 8:00 p.m.

Wednesday, Aug. 7:

Dusty Bolton, my companion from New Mexico, was the heroine of the Platform Committee, in my opinion. She may have given the speech of the week. As we gathered on Wednesday morning, still tired from two long days of work, Dusty was very angry. USA Today, in reporting on the Monday arm-twisting session, stated that Dusty had been near tears. They also labeled her a Buchanan delegate. That had her infuriated.

Chairman Hyde gave her a few minutes of personal privilege. I was surprised that this 65-year-old grandmother had this type of fire in her. She started off carefully explaining that she was a Dole delegate, spelled it emphatically, and declared she had supported him for years. She reviewed how she lost a husband in Korea, her current husband had lost a brother on the Bataan death march, and she grew up in a military family. She declared her appreciation for what Dole sacrificed in World War II. She concluded with a blast at the press, which cannot get the simplest things right. What erupted was probably the longest standing ovation of the week. It was sincere, enthusiastic, complete with cheering, and brought the entire committee together and focused it back on the main objective: Elect Bob Dole President.

Speaker Newt Gingrich's speech that followed was good, but I would not have wanted to follow Dusty's speech. We then went to work on completing the platform. The press was not interested in such mundane things as our plan to rescue the American family, improve education, or improve the health care system. Most had left for the day by noon.

We had completed the work on the text by around 4:30 p.m. Chairman Hyde, impressed by Dusty's excellent performance that morning, gave her the privilege of reading the summary statement of the party's principles into the record. The principles were accepted by acclamation.

Chairman Hyde then began to read the preamble to the platform. It is traditionally the privilege of the chairman of the committee to write the preamble. I was tired, my back was hurting from sitting an average of 12 hours per day for three days, and I was ready to go home. But, when Chairman Hyde began reading, I began listening and following along on my text. The preamble is an extraordinary piece of political rhetoric, as well as being an outstanding piece of literature. The preamble captures the essence of our party and its beliefs, states them succinctly, persuasively, yet briefly. I was actually moved by it. The standing ovation that followed its reading was well deserved, and, of course, it was accepted without objection.

Finally, at 5:30 p.m., our work done, the committee was adjourned. A committee not made up of high-ranking officials, of self-proclaimed spokesmen, but of ordinary people from a wide variety of occupations, geographic areas, religions, and values had gathered together to produce the document that proclaimed the position of their party. It was a job that everyone took seriously and that I believe produced an excellent document. We all met as strangers and we departed friends, united by a common result, achieved through hours of cooperative effort. I, for one, am proud to say that I was a participant in drafting the Platform of the Republican Party.

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