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DeLauro Sees Slimmer, Sharper Platform

With just two weeks to go before Democrats first present their 2004 platform, the lead drafter, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), is expecting that the document will be more than just pages of dense, little-read policy proposals.

DeLauro, who chairs the party’s 16-person Platform Drafting Committee, said she hopes that under her watch, lengthy, detailed Democratic platforms will be a thing of the past. At the upcoming convention in Boston, the party platform will be “thematic not programmatic,” focusing on the failures of the Bush administration, the major principles that define Democrats and the vision of their presumptive White House nominee, Sen. John Kerry (Mass.), the Connecticut lawmaker said.

DeLauro said the 2004 party platform will cover the major “pillars” of Kerry’s campaign, many of which are longstanding Democratic issues, including health care costs, the war in Iraq, energy independence, jobs and the economy.

“It will show what we’re about and what our values are,” DeLauro said in an interview. “It will show what’s at stake in this election, and what this administration has done.”

Platform drafters have hosted 26 hours of hearings throughout the country to collect testimony and ideas from experts, groups and individuals. The three sessions were held in Portland, Ore., Baton Rouge, La., and Santa Fe, N.M.

The drafting panel will next meet July 9-10 in Miami to present its work to the 186-member Democratic Platform Committee. Once the document is fully vetted there, it will then be brought to delegates at the July 26-29 national convention in Boston.

DeLauro, who is serving as a platform drafter for the first time, said her goal is to present a more concise plan that does a better job explaining why Americans should vote Democrat in November. She added that she wants “a lean document” but wouldn’t put a target on its length.

“People say they hope it won’t be about policy,” she said. “It will be about Democratic values, and their vision.”

Rep. Hilda Solis (Calif.), another platform committee member, added that it will “not be the wordy document it was four years ago. It will be substantive and direct.”

The Member drafters said that unlike in the past, crafters of the platform held numerous sessions across the country to gauge concerns, ideas and changes that people would like to see. The panel received more than 3,000 pieces of written testimony and heard from 87 individuals in person, DeLauro said.

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), another member of the drafting panel, said participants at the Boston convention will receive a clearer document this year, likely focusing on half a dozen major Democratic points. He said it will be a guiding platform that helps the party define itself and its message heading into November.

“Every indication is that this is not going to be a phone book that people can’t even lift, let alone read,” he said.

Some veterans of the platform-writing process caution that no one should hold their breath expecting a panacea this year. Stephen Hess, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, said platform drafters set out to craft a shorter, more readable party blueprint every four years. Achieving that goal, however, has historically been difficult — and likely will be for the Democrats this year too, Hess said.

“I wish her well,” said Hess, who was the editor-in-chief of the 1976 Republican platform. “I think it’s exactly what every party should do, but when you get down to it, there’s hardly a group who doesn’t want something in it. [The feeling is,] ‘Why not give it to them,’ because what does it cost you?”

Traditionally, party platforms have been viewed as symbolic documents that are of little practical use. DeLauro said while she is not a “Pollyanna” in believing that people “are going to read every single word,” she rejects the idea that the document is insignificant.

“It’s important to show the failings of this administration and lay out the direction that John Kerry wants to take the country. In that context it can be very useful.”

Hess agreed, saying the documents are critical to showing the “distinct differences between the two parties.” “Any consumer who wants to check it out will have a pretty good idea of how the Democratic Party differs from the Republican Party,” he said.

DeLauro acknowledged that Democrats are in a different position in 2004 than during the past two conventions, when Democrat Bill Clinton was the incumbent.

“I will measure the success if people take a look at the document and say, ‘Yes, John Kerry will chart a new direction for this country and yes, Democrats will lead the way for how to create a strong America here and abroad,’” DeLauro said.

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