Platform, Principle or Party

There has been a great deal of discussion lately of whether it is appropriate to take a stand for principles or party. I believe that this discussion is healthy. If my readers will indulge me, I will share a story that illustrates where I stand in this debate.

In his recent Open Letter to Senator Grassley, Representative Kent Sorenson made reference to principles as defined in our party’s platform. Since my return to Iowa nearly twenty years ago, few people have been as involved in the formulation of our state platform as I. After the very first caucus I attended after moving to Cedar Rapids, I was elected to my county, district and state platform committees. In 2008 I served on the National Platform Committee at the Republican National Convention. Over the years, I have chaired my county, district and state platform committees numerous times. I have been involved with the platform precisely because I believe that our principles matter. However, as I often took on the job of committee chairman, I have always felt that my public role at convention was not primarily ideological – rather I felt duty bound to try and run the platform debate fairly. As platform chair, I have often given procedural advice to individuals whose positions I do not support . Anyone who has seen me run a platform debate knows that I try very hard not to editorialize, interpret or otherwise speak ex-cathedra.

Anyone who served with me on the platform committee knew that I was a conservative. A social conservative, a fiscal conservative and a constitutionalist. However because of my self-imposed neutrality in our conventions most in our district did not really know that I was a conservative. That changed one year at the district convention.

The year was 2000. Linn County was part of the old 1st
Congressional District and the District Convention was held in Cedar Rapids. I was the chair of the District Platform Committee. Our proposed platform, in the section on Republican Party and Commendations contained the following plank:

We support a ban on party funds, including soft money, at all levels for candidates who support abortion.
Needless to say, this plank was controversial. An amendment to strike the plank was proposed and received by our committee with the appropriate signatures. I don’t really remember the debate. I am sure that there were the normal 2-3 speakers in favor of dropping the plank and 2-3 opposed. But the vote, I remember like it was yesterday.

When each side had presented their arguments, I asked for the yeas and nays. Of course, the vote was loud and much too close to call. Immediately there were calls for a division from both sides. I asked the county chairs to tally their votes and bring them to the convention secretaries. There was a growing buzz in the hall. I could tell that it would be close so I made sure to ask the secretaries, and other convention staffers who were delegates if they wished to cast a vote and we recorded them. When the secretaries had tabulated the vote, they passed me a sheet of paper. The motion to remove the plank had prevailed by one vote I don’t remember the exact number but let’s say it was 300 yea to 299 nay.

Well, I had been looking for a way to make a statement for my principles within what I considered my ethical duty as chair. I announced the vote as follows:

The vote is three hundred in favor to two hundred ninety-nine opposed. The chair casts a NO vote creating a tie. Therefore, failing to achieve a majority, the amendment fails — the plank shall be retained.

I had taken a stand on my principles and cast the deciding vote. At that point the place erupted. It was about as close to a riot as we Republicans get. (Except of course for Greg Baker in the Iowa House Chambers 😉 There were points of order raised all across the auditorium. Many people said that the chair can only vote to break a tie. However Roberts Rules of Order allows a chair to either make or break a tie. Even though both I and the parliamentarian read chapter and verse from Roberts Rules the
commotion went on for what seemed like an eternity.

Afterward an angry candidate (I do not recall who he was) who was not pro-life came up and started arguing with me. He asked how I could support such a plank in our platform that would exclude him. I told him then what I still believe today:

The platform represents the core beliefs of the grassroots activists of our party. And the grassroots activists in this party are pro-life. The platform is however just a statement of principles. I support the plank because I want to make a clear and strong statement that we as a party are a pro-life party. Is there room for Republicans like you? If you win your primaries yes — but I want those candidates who are out of sync with our platform to know it. I want them to feel that they are sort of on the fringes of our party.

Now if I were on the State Central Committee would I vote not to support pro-abortion candidates? No.If they win their primaries, they have passed the litmus test. Whether I like it or
not I would, if in leadership, support those candidates.

I believe that our party leaders need to support all of our candidates. However, there is a vetting process, there is a litmus test — the primaries. If we at the grassroots cannot nominate candidates whose beliefs are in line with our own — shame on us.