Monday, September 23

Delegates include women, minorities in their ‘big tent’


Sunday, August 18, 1996

By John Digrado

Summer Bruin Senior Staff

SAN DIEGO — Before the Republican delegation met in San Diego
last week, the future of the party seemed uncertain at best. With
only days to go before the kickoff Bob Dole’s bid for the
presidency, the unity of the party seemed to hang in the balance as
anti-abortion and abortion rights factions split over the
controversial abortion issue days before the convention.

But as the delegates met in California’s second-largest city,
platform committee members managed to amend not only the platform,
but took steps toward solving differences within the party as well
as making room in their "big tent" to recognize the party’s
political diversity.

In his address to the delegation, retired Gen. Colin Powell
expressed that diversity by publicly acknowledging his support of
abortion rights and affirmative action policies.

However, Powell was quick to point out that the Republican party
is "a big enough party ­ and big enough people to disagree on
individual issues and still work together on our common goal:
restoring the American dream."

But the "big tent" theory of this convention did not only
include abortion ­ and affirmative action ­ supporting
Republicans. Youth, minorities and women were also showcased in
this convention in an effort to show the nation the many sides of
the Republican Party.

"Compared to 1988 and 1992, this is a much more positive
convention with the much more positive message that the Republican
Party is the party of inclusion," said New Jersey delegate Daniel
Becht. "This tent is big enough for everyone ­ we’ll agree to
disagree."

Becht said that the convention marked the first time that
"prominent (Republican) politicians got up and said that they’re
pro-choice" ­ representing a major break from the party’s
traditionally staunch anti-abortion stance.

But the tolerance of differences within the party on the
abortion issue was not the only change the Republicans took on at
the convention. Women and minorities took the podium more than half
the time, speaking out on major issues instead of limited to
introductions and opponent-bashing.

However, this stood in stark contrast to the mainly white male
delegation on the convention floor. The Democratic National
Convention uses a quota system to ensure that at least 50 percent
of the delegation is comprised of women and that a state’s four
main ethnicities are proportionally represented in its
delegation

By contrast, the GOP, which does not enforce a quota system, had
a 1,990-delegate pool that was only 3 percent African American and
39 percent female, according to the Los Angeles Times.

But despite these figures, delegates felt that their delegation
and group of speakers showed the very diversity the party was
trying to showcase at the convention.

"First of all, look at our delegation," said former New Jersey
Gov. Thomas Kean. "Colin Powell, (African-American community
leader) J.C. Watts, and (New York Congresswoman) Susan Molinari all
have something in common ­ the leadership of this convention
is taken by women and minorities," he said.

But some Democrats felt that the convention’s emphasis on
diversity was for show, and that in practice the Republicans
haven’t changed all that much.

"The attitude of inclusion is something (the Republicans) need
now," said Mike Schneider, president of Bruin Democrats. They need
to make us look like the divisive party. But if you look at the
facts," that may not be the case, he said.

"(Republicans have) also said that they are the party of the
poor and the middle class," Schneider said. "But their budgets have
shown otherwise. Their balanced budget in seven years would have
decimated programs for the needy, students and the disadvantaged
kids in this country," he added.

But many of the delegates felt that the convention generated a
much-needed sense of unity within the party that wasn’t nearly so
strong before meeting in San Diego.

"We had a unity from the very start of the convention," said
California delegate Jim Nielsen. "Other conventions evolved toward
unity. This one started with it."

Rallying behind presidential candidate Dole and former Housing
and Urban Development Secretary and vice presidential candidate
Jack Kemp, Nielsen said that the delegation’s "absolute lack of
confidence in Bill Clinton" made this unity possible.

While the Republican ticket energized the convention, it raised
almost as many questions as it answered. Kemp, a past supporter of
affirmative action and abortion rights, publicly changed his
position within a matter of days to keep in line with Dole’s more
conservative views.

But Kemp’s seemingly abrupt changes in position didn’t keep many
of the youth from enthusiastically supporting the ticket. And with
several hundred voters between the ages of 18 and 24 descending
upon the convention, their presence marked one of the most notable
changes in the GOP: the embrace and encouragement of the youth
vote.

"Bob Dole has more appeal as a grandfather figure rather than
someone with charisma," said Dee Dee Denkie, chairwoman of the
Young Republicans. Denkie said that Dole’s authority figure was
more of a boon to the youth vote than a bust, and that the party
has been reaching out to youth more and more in the last six
months.

"The party is finally taking notice of their youth," said George
Grays, special assistant in external affairs for Young Republicans.
"They’re seeing that it’s a good group.

"It’s like a fraternity ­ if you don’t take care of your
younger members," they may stray from the party in later years, he
said.

But the youth vote may take its most tangible form in November,
when most of the youth in attendance hope to put their candidate in
the White House. The young vote was heard during the 1994
Republican congressional victories, giving Republicans control of
both the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years.

"I wouldn’t have been elected if I didn’t have young people
helping me," said Washington Congressman George Nethercutt. "They
helped me win the election.

"We are the party of the future, and it’s the youth’s self
interest that’s going to drive all this," he said.

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