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A Party that Stands for Something – The DPVA Resolutions/Platform Process

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The current DPVA resolutions process explained and justified.

At this year’s state convention, the Virginia Democratic Party (DPVA) adopted a broad-ranging platform setting forth the party’s views on a variety of issues – from support for early childhood education to restoring voting rights to former offenders.   The Republican Party, near as I can tell, adopted a single resolution, supporting guns in state parks.  (See References tab for these documents, and past DPVA platforms.)  Although the DPVA has debated the value of resolutions over the years, the current process provides a balance that allows Democratic policy views to be heard, yet keeps our focus on electing Democrats to implement those policies.

It was not always so.  For many years, DPVA quarterly State Central Committee meetings featured heated discussions, not only about what positions the party should take on issues, but whether the party should take any positions at all.  Frequently more conservative members, like the late Angus MacCauley, argued that the Party should not adopt any resolutions, but rather leave such decisions to its candidates.  More progressive members, like George Rawlings, argued that the Party should stand for something and let voters know where it stood. 

This battle came to a culmination at the 1996 State Democratic Convention.  The Party had set up a Resolutions Committee, chaired by then General Assembly Delegate Viola Baskerville, which prepared a report for the Convention. When convention delegates arrived at the convention that Friday night in June, however, they found that the powers that be had determined that the convention would not consider any substantive resolutions.  This decision was upheld, over objection (including over mine), by the Convention Rules Committee and the Convention adopted those Rules.

Nevertheless, when it came time for resolutions, the only two that were permitted, one counting the convention as a Central Committee meeting and one honoring Ron Brown (US Secretary of Commerce, who had recently and tragically died in a plane crash), were defeated.  The Convention meant no disrespect to Secretary Brown, but wanted to send a message to the party leadership that this process was unacceptable and the Party should let the voters know where it stood.

The leadership heard the message and my illustrious predecessor, Ray Colley (who held the Second Vice Chair position for an incredible and productive 22 years) drafted a Party Plan amendment which is now section 14.7.  See References tab.  Our current State Central Committee process allows resolutions to come to the floor through the Resolutions Committee or the State Central Steering Committee. 

Under the usual process, resolutions are submitted 30 days in advance, the Resolutions Committee meets (usually by telephone) and discusses, and State Party sends the resolutions to all Central Committee members at least 10 days prior to the Central Committee meeting.  This process works because a committee considers the resolutions before they get to the Central Committee and Central Committee members can review the resolutions in advance of the meeting.

The State Convention involves a different Resolutions Committee.  That Committee, usually chaired by a member of the General Assembly, receives resolutions, holds hearings, and issues a report which, under Convention Rules, is offered for an up or down vote by the State Convention.  Again, the process strikes a balance between allowing participation, and not allowing resolutions to derail other important convention business.  This year the process could have run a bit smoother and next time the Party should have on-site hearings and at least one in-person meeting.

As Chair of the State Central Committees’ Resolutions Committee, I have tried to keep the right balance by encouraging resolutions that let voters know where the Party stands on relevant issues, but not waste time and divert resources by debating issues for the sake of debate.  The Party should adopt a coherent State Party Platform in Presidential and Gubernatorial election years.  See References for the DPVA 2008, 2005, 2004, 2001 and 2000 Platforms.  For State Central Committee meetings, the Party should focus on issues where the opinion of the Democratic Party of Virginia matters.  In recent years we have passed resolutions on such issues including support for party registration, party designation on the ballot, easing absentee ballot requirements to allow more people to vote, restoring voting rights to people convicted of felonies (as is the case in 48 other states), full implementation of the Help America Vote Act as it applies to people with disabilities, and federal recognition of Virginia’s native-American tribes, Governor Warner’s transportation initiative, and opposition to the recent so-called “marriage amendment.”   This approach achieves the right balance.

1 thought on “A Party that Stands for Something – The DPVA Resolutions/Platform Process”

  1. Post-script –
    In talking with the Co-Chair of the Fairfax County Democratic Commitee National Affairs Committee, I am reminded that resolutions also provide an education function of informing party activists about important issues, and sometimes the details thereof. I still think that the quarterly state central committee meeting resolutions process may not lend itself to detailed discussions, e.g., of complex foreign policy issues. But perhaps there is a place for a Central Commitee “Issues Forum” or similar group that can discuss and educate Democrats about issues. At least initially, this can be an unofficial group. But there is no reason interested people can’t start putting it together.

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