GOP platform process could limit divisive battles

Thursday, June 8th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON - Republican officials plan to compress the schedule for drafting the party platform at this summer's National Convention, a move that could limit battles over abortion and other divisive issues.

And the only two public platform hearings being planned will focus on issues such as education, health care and Social Security and avoid more contentious subjects such as abortion, campaign finance and tax cuts.

Though no final decision has been made, "it will definitely be a compressed schedule," said spokeswoman Ginny Wolfe of the Republican National Committee.

Instead of beginning platform deliberations in Philadelphia the Monday before the convention, she said planners are considering distributing the platform draft Thursday and acting on it Friday and Saturday.

Ann Stone, national chairwoman of Republicans for Choice, which backs abortion rights, said one goal is "to minimize controversy'' by focusing on issues Gov. George W. Bush is stressing in his presidential bid.

But Ms. Wolfe said the principal reason for the compressed schedule is "to accommodate members of Congress who are delegates." Congress is scheduled to be in session until the Friday before the convention, unlike four years ago when it began its summer recess a week earlier.

Bush campaign spokesman Ray Sullivan declined to answer questions about the campaign's role in compressing the schedule. "The platform committee is handling all such questions.'' In 1996, and at prior conventions, the platform proceedings began a full week before the convention, meaning that battles over divisive issues such as abortion tended to dominate news coverage for most of the week.

Under the proposed 2000 schedule, the Platform Committee would complete its work as attention turns to the arrival of most delegates, weekend parties and possibly the decision by Mr. Bush on a running mate.

In 1996, it took three full days for the committee to draft the platform. Under the prospective schedule, the panel would be expected to complete the task in two days.

Ms. Wolfe said there would be "a very targeted focus'' for the hearings scheduled June 19 in Dayton, Ohio, and June 23 in Billings, Mont.

Most testimony will concern health care, education, issues affecting senior citizens (including Social Security) and national defense and will come from "invited witnesses who have hands-on experience."

Asked why other issues were excluded, she said, "We tried to target those issues that affect every American every day."

Ms. Wolfe said the panel planned an unprecedented effort to seek public input on the platform, using the Internet. An online hearing is likely, she said.

Ms. Stone said that she and other abortion-rights supporters were told Monday by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, the committee chair, that the 2000 platform would be based on the 1996 version but would include issues Mr. Bush has stressed.

"The only constraint they were given on the platform was that the abortion language [which opposes abortion rights in all instances] couldn't be touched,'' she said.

Ms. Stone said her group told Mr. Thompson it hopes to remove or modify the current abortion language. It takes 27 Platform Committee members or support of six delegations to bring a minority report to the floor. She said 14 states are possible backers.