The 2014 State Platform and the Gas Tax — WTF?

The proposed GOP State Platform calls for an increase in the gas tax

The proposed GOP State Platform calls for an increase in the gas tax

Two posts in a row on the platform, that must be some kind of record. Over the years, I have been as involved as anyone in crafting the platform of the Republican Party of Iowa. At my very first caucus, I was elected to my county platform committee and went on to serve on both district and state platform committees as well. In 2008, I was honored to represent Iowa on the national platform committee. I have chaired numerous county, district and state platform committees and over the years I have spent countless nights into the wee hours of the morning in committee meetings agonizing over the platform.

This year I decided to focus my energies on rules, with the possibility that our senate nominee will be chosen at convention, it is absolutely essential that our rules be in order (pun intended)! I was elected chairman of both the district and state rules committees. Even so, my heart is still with the platform. I feel bad because I turn my back (on the platform) for one caucus to convention cycle and my district platform no longer supports traditional marriage while the state platform calls for a tax increase.

Why such a fuss over the platform? What is the platform anyway? As a platform insider I would like to share my thoughts on what the platform is and what it means.

Some in our party view the platform as an inviolable sacred document that defines the bedrock principles for which are party stands. Those who hold this view believe that the platform is the ultimate expression of the will of the grassroots and Republican (or so-called Republican) officeholders had better follow it to the letter or face the consequences.

Others suggest that the platform is assembled by the most extreme elements of the party. They say the platform is written only by those who are willing to stay until the very end of our conventions and sit through hours of debate or those willing to serve on platform committees sometimes meeting for more that 12 hours at a stretch. The platform then does not represent the party at large, rather it represents the fringe and can be safely ignored by GOP office-holders. In fact the platform may not do any good at all, the only time you hear of it is the day after it is approved when Jan Mickelson, Kathie Obradovitch or Craig Robinson find something to criticize in it.

The truth as usual is somewhere in between. If I did not believe the platform was important, I would not pour my heart and soul into it year after year. On the other hand I know that some people think I am part of that fringe group of party extremest mentioned above.

Of course since I was re-elected to the SCC this year — most of the Liberty Folk and the Family Leader believe that I am a ‘RINO, elitist, statist, establishment, un-principled lapdog of the governor and congressman King. Don’t worry, I am not losing any sleep over it 🙂

I think I can sum up what I think about the platform by recounting an incident that happened in 2000. I was chair of the 1st District Platform Committee and our district convention was in Cedar Rapids. The proposed platform contained the following plank:

We support a ban on party funds, including soft money, at all levels for candidates who support abortion.

No question the plank was controversial. An amendment was filed to remove the plank and when it came to a vote, it was too close to count. Rather than try, as chair I asked for a standing division even before a delegate could. When the sergeants-at-arms did their count, I had them count all of the conventions officers on the podium who were delegates as well, clearly every vote was going to make a difference. When the votes were tallied the amendment to remove the plank had received a majority by a single vote (something like 275-274)! I announced the vote like this:

On the amendment to remove the plank, the vote count is 275 in favor 274 opposed — the chair casts a no vote creating a tie. Therefore, failing to achieve a majority, the amendment fails — the plank remains in the platform!

It was definitely the closest I have seen to a riot at one of our conventions. I think the parliamentarian and I had to explain at least four times from the podium that the chair can indeed (if he is a delegate) vote to make or break a tie.

Afterwards a house candidate sought me out, he was very angry and asked me to explain myself. He said that he was pro-choice and this plank made him feel not welcome in the party. I told him this:

I support this plank being in our platform. The platform is a statement of principles. And I do want to make it clear to you and candidates like you that your position on this issue is out of sync with the mainstream of the party. I do intend to make you uncomfortable advocating for pro-choice policies. Now if I were on the State Central Committee, it would be a different story. I believe that the SCC should support all Republican candidates on the ballot in November.

So, what do I believe about the platform? I believe it is a statement of principles for the party. Yes, I understand that is is put together primarily by die-hards like me. Must every candidate follow to the letter everything declared in it? No. In fact as we see, the platform sometimes does a 180 from year to year. But the platform does represent the point of view of a portion of the party (how large a portion is up for debate), these people are committed to ideology and when a candidate motivates them they are a force to be reckoned with.

So, while I like the idea of a shorter more concise platform, but I do not think we must have a platform our candidates can run on. I think we must have candidates who can run on our platform.

As to the gas tax, apparently the State Platform Committee added this plank unilaterally. Craig Robinson reports that the plank supporting an increase was added, even though all four district platforms explicitly opposed a gas tax. Ultimately, it will be up to the State Convention to remedy this. My guess is that I will be up to my ears in rules all day but I am certain that others will take up the fight.

Finally, for those who are wondering about the title of this article, I am an Android programmer. In android the most serious error message is a WTF error it stands for What a Terrible Failure 🙂