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The Kansas Democratic Party Platform: An Exercise in Democracy

By Diane Wahto
Analysis | September 1, 2014

Reading a political party platform is probably considered by most people to be at the ho-hum level of watching paint dry. However, it is in the platform that people can discover what a political party values and what it stands for. .

I don't know how Republicans develop their platform. I do know, since I'm a Democrat and active in the Kansas Democratic Party, that the Kansas Democrats develop their platform with the input from a platform committee. This committee is made up of people holding elected office, Democratic Party officers, caucus chairs, county chairs, and district chairs. Democrats throughout the state have a say by letting members of the platform committee know about issues that need to be addressed. However, most people are involved in their day-to-day lives and seldom think about communicating to committee members before the committee meets the day before Demofest, one of two KDP state meetings held during the year.

The Kansas Democratic Party held its state meeting on Aug. 23,, 2014, in Wichita, Kansas. The platform committee met on Friday, August 22, to finalize the platform in order to give printed copies to Demofest attendees. Usually this process is fairly cut and dried. This year, thanks to KDP Chair Joan Wagnon, the process involved input from the grass roots, people who are not on the platform committee, people like me, for example. She labeled this group the platform working committee.

Wagnon assembled a group of people from around the state who had expressed an interest in the platform or who had expertise in working with the platform to meet in Topeka, Kansas, on Aug. 9. Among the group were State Senator Marci Francisco and Democratic National Committeewoman Teresa Krusor. The others on the platform working committee, while active in the state party, were not eligible to be on the platform committee. However, we had all expressed an interest in issues that affect Kansas citizens.

Two years ago, several women met in Wichita to discuss reproductive rights and other issues that related to the needs of Kansas women. Kerry Gooch, KDP political director, met with us to take notes and deliver our message to KDP officers. Gooch was a good sport as he sat through a couple of hours of women ranting and railing about a platform that left so much to be desired in the realm of women's rights.

Having heard nothing more about the issue after that meeting, I wrote a letter to Wagnon. Yes, we were discouraged and some people gave up. I had no plans to give up. Even before I was appointed to the platform working committee, I asked a few people to help write a reproductive rights plank. Included were Larry Daniels and Ethel Peterson from Dodge City. Larry, as well as being my brother, is also the past chair of the First District Democrats. Ethel is a former state representative. Tom Witt and Anne Pritchett, co-chairs of the Progress Caucus, were also involved. Either of them could take the plank to the platform committee for approval.

Wagnon asked district chairs to set up meetings with Democrats to get input for the platform. The Fourth District met and came up with several planks to take to the working committee. We also got input from people who couldn't make it to the meeting.

The only issue that didn't make it to the draft platform was the one on abolishing the death penalty. Some people on the working committee thought it would be too divisive. The reproductive rights plank, the separation of church and state plank, and other planks made it with little debate.

At the end of the working committee meeting, Wagnon invited us to attend the platform committee meeting. Even though I had no vote at that meeting, I could make comments and ask other people to present planks. The meeting was interesting, especially the friendly debates over details of each plank. I asked Fourth District Chair Kenneth Walsh to present the death penalty plank to the platform committee. He did and it passed.

What impressed me the most about this time-consuming process was Joan Wagnon's desire to involve as many Democrats as possible in the development of the platform. It was a grass roots, democratic process from start to finish. Even though the process took time and energy, I found it exhilarating.

Out of curiosity, I looked at the Kansas Republican Party platform. Reading through it, I found that the Kansas Republican Party supports individual rights. However, the document also calls for the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the banning of gay marriage. So much for individual rights, that is, unless you want to openly carry your gun with you everywhere you go.

The Kansas Democratic Party platform avoids the issue of gun control as there are many points of view among Party members on this issue.

Other planks in the KDP platform support agriculture, unions, including public employee unions, gay marriage, and safe neighborhoods, among other issues important to Kansans. These are the issues that the KDP deems worthy of supporting.

Does a political party platform matter? I say yes, especially when the platform comes from the party's grass roots members.


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