GOP delegates debate prairie chickens and porn in Cleveland platform talks

Liz Goodwin
·Senior National Affairs Reporter
Scott Kiss installs the Iowa state delegation sign on the floor of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., August 26, 2012. This year's convention starts on August 28. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)
Scott Kiss installs the Iowa state delegation sign on the floor of the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. This year’s convention starts on July 18 in Cleveland. (Photo: Mike Segar/Reuters)

CLEVELAND — Dozens of Republican delegates tasked with creating the party’s platform spent hours Monday debating hyper-specific issues — from junk food to prairie chickens — even as some in their ranks called for the creation of a brief and broad document that didn’t sweat the small stuff.

At the beginning of the morning session in a convention center downtown, delegate Boyd Matheson of Utah encouraged his colleagues to be inspired by the Republican Party platform of 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was the nominee. The document was just 1,200 words long.

“If the millennials can do it in [140] characters, certainly we can do better than 33,000 words,” said Matheson, former chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee of Utah, referencing the 140-character limit on Twitter. Matheson said the platform should be a brief outline of the party’s “powerful principles” and “transformational thoughts.”

But as the delegates broke down into smaller subcommittees to tweak the 50-plus-page platform draft, few seemed inspired by the memory of Lincoln’s brevity. Though the document contains sweeping language on foreign policy, energy and job creation, much of the debate Monday focused on specific policy suggestions.

Delegates on the platform subcommittee on healthcare, education and crime unsuccessfully attempted to cut down a granular section of the platform that castigates the Obama administration for telling schools to allow transgender students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that conform with their gender identity. The platform now says this is a misuse of Title IX, and backs states that are suing over the policy.

Delegate Annie Dickerson argued that wading into such a specific issue “takes us to a place where our convention is about bathrooms.” But her colleague, Melody Potter of West Virginia, disagreed. “I believe it’s time for Republicans to take a stand on it,” she said. “It’s a safety issue.”

Another delegate added a section to the platform calling pornography a “public-health crisis” that ruins lives.

When the delegates reconvened as a full group to vote on the amendments Monday afternoon, a discussion about endangered animals ended up absorbing them for more than 10 minutes. Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, proposed an amendment to oppose the federal government’s inclusion of the prairie chicken and sage grouse on its endangered animals list.

“We’re not the party of the anti-prairie chickens,” said one delegate, who opposed the amendment for getting too “in the weeds” on a local issue. Other delegates objected to including recommendations in the platform that they believed would be better suited for bills in local legislatures.

But Juanita Cox, a delegate from Nevada, supported the amendment, saying the regulation posed a significant burden on states, and was thus a Tenth Amendment issue. “It is our duty to protect these states even if you do not have a chicken or a wolf,” she said.

The amendment passed.

Delegates also argued about whether to support a ban on food stamp recipients buying junk food. The discussion turned to a question of how one would define junk food, with one delegate asking whether ginger ale would count, and another discussing chocolate-covered Oreos. That amendment ultimately failed.

During a debate over campus sexual assault, Florida delegate Cindy Graves interrupted to object to the turn the platform discussion had taken, saying she was not a legislator but a delegate. “I thought what we were doing was putting together an advertisement for what we believe in,” she said. “I wanted to go on record saying I’m just a delegate here.”

Kobach defended the platform’s more detailed sections.

“Fluffy principles are fine, but you also need specifics,” Kobach told Yahoo News. He said that though many people call the platform a symbolic document, it serves as a baseline list of principles and policies that are defined as conservative. “It helps the voters discern who the real Republican is,” he said.

Correction: An earlier version of this article misattributed Boyd Matheson’s statement to Sen. Mike Lee.