Democrats take big step to left in their platform
Seattle Times staff reporters
SPOKANE - State Democrats, unbridled by their leaders' traditional desire to keep them in the mainstream, took a significant step to the left in their party platform yesterday. They produced a document that liberals cheered but that some candidates were disowning even before the convention adjourned.
The platform was adopted with little debate - there was as much discussion about the less-than-appetizing lunch of peanut butter and jelly.
More than 1,000 delegates also got to hear from Democratic congressional and Senate candidates, Gov. Gary Locke and, on Friday night, Vice President Al Gore. They also got a pump-them-up speech from King County Executive Ron Sims, who wove tales of his family with calls for Democratic ideals.
The platform calls for abolishing the death penalty, preventing discrimination based on a person's "gender identity" or size and decriminalizing marijuana. A resolution adopted on a close vote goes further, calling for complete legalization of marijuana so it could be sold through cafes, bars and state liquor stores, with the tax money being "spent in the fulfillment of health and human needs."
In addition, the platform includes sweeping gun-control proposals. While supporting the right to bear arms, it calls for gun registration and licensing, mandatory safety training for gun owners, trigger-lock requirements, background checks and waiting periods on all gun sales.
Another resolution asks that perpetrators and victims of domestic violence be prohibited from owning a gun for six months after filing for divorce or separation.
One move that was defeated was a resolution that called for a state income tax.
`The things they care about'
In years past, party officials worked to stop delegates from putting anything in the platform that could embarrass Democrats in an election year. But this time Party Chairman Paul Berendt took a different tack.
"If you really want to get people fired up, it's better to give them freedom to put in the things they care about," Berendt said.
The platform will be published on the party's Web site (www.wa-democrats.org) and delivered to all Democratic candidates. The resolutions may not be seen again.
Richardson was heckled
The advertised star of the show fell flat. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson, on a road test of sorts for a possible vice-presidential spot with Al Gore, gave a short speech that failed to ignite the crowd of about 1,000 Democrats in the Spokane Convention Center.
It sounded like a Gore stump speech and was interrupted a few times by shouts from people unhappy with Richardson's position on what to do with the Hanford nuclear reservation.
"Spokane welcomes Bill Richardson and his 60,000 trucks of waste," read one sign held by protesters.
In an interview, Richardson defended the Clinton administration's Hanford policies, which have been criticized even by Locke, a close Clinton supporter. Hanford has already been designated as one of two national nuclear-waste sites.
Richardson said he wanted to duck questions about the possibility of being Gore's running mate, but added that he thought Locke would be a good candidate.
State's Eastsiders left out
The new party platform is a significant shift to the left from the one approved in 1998.
Jim Davis, a Coulee City wheat farmer who is running for the 4th Congressional District seat in Eastern Washington, said the new platform does not reflect Democrats in his area where "even the Democrats are conservative."
He said he was particularly bothered by the gun-control and marijuana-legalization planks.
"People in my district just feel like they are being put upon by people who do not understand the issues," Davis said. "I can't run on that platform and I won't. My obligation is to my district."
Sims downplayed the importance of the platform.
"It has never been a Bible or holy grail," he said. "Nobody is asked to sign on the dotted line - that you have to believe in all these things to be a Democrat."
During the platform committee's final meeting on Friday, Jim Price, a Tri-Cities delegate, pushed an amendment to remove specific references to Hanford. He said the party should stress cleaning up all contaminated sites and complained the platform amounted to "Hanford bashing."
The committee rejected Price's motions but approved an amendment that adds three military bases - Bangor Naval Base, Fairchild Air Force Base and Fort Lewis - to the list of sites that should also be cleaned up.
Locke, who is seeking re-election as governor, used the convention to unveil a new campaign biography film. The six-minute, $60,000 piece was paid for by the state Democratic party, according to Locke spokesman Ed Penhale.
In a speech, Locke also appeared to take his hardest shots at Republican challenger John Carlson, a radio talk-show host and newspaper columnist.
"You can't build a record on talk," Locke said. "Because talk is cheap, especially when it is only negative provocation that builds nothing, and is only meant to divide us."
Cheers for Senn, Cantwell
U.S. Senate candidate Deborah Senn appeared to have the backing of a majority of the delegates. Support for her was expected, given that the state insurance commissioner has been campaigning for a year longer than Maria Cantwell and has secured endorsements from most major Democratic groups and legislators.
But Cantwell, a former congresswoman and high-tech executive, made a strong showing, too. Applause for her equaled cheers for Senn at a $60-a-plate dinner Friday night, and many Democrats at the banquet thought her speech, which touted her blue-collar up-bringing and slammed incumbent Sen. Slade Gorton's record, was better than Senn's.
Later Friday night, Cantwell offered supporters a hospitality room she dubbed "Slade's Wall of Shame" and featured games such as Spin the Wheel of Special Interests and Pin the Buck on Slade.
Senn's speech yesterday was especially fiery, and she got big cheers when she brought onstage two people whom she had helped battle insurance companies to get coverage for their illnesses.
Times political reporter David Postman contributed to this report.
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