When D.C. convention delegate Stephen Danzansky walked into a session of the Republican National Convention's task force on government regulation Tuesday night, he carried with him a proposed plank reaffirming the party's commitment to full voting rights for the District of Columbia.
Danzansky watched wordlessly as the 15 delegates on the task force rejected proposals to give voting rights to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. He knew that earlier that same day, another task force had soundly defeated a proposed endorsement of the Equal Rights Amendment and had approved language condemning the practice of abortion.
The Washington lawyer lifted his finger to the political wind, saw that the breeze was definitely blowing from the right, and retreated without ever proposing the D.C. voting rights plank.
"I got the sense that it would have gone against us," Danzansky explained tonight, while relaxing in his hotel suite on the 33rd floor of the Detroit Plaza Hotel. "It is better to have the platform say nothing about voting rights," he said, than to risk an embarrassing defeat -- or worse yet -- a plank against voting rights.
This forced retreat on an issue so dear to the D.C. Repulican delegates in a sense reflects the frustration many party moderates feel at a convention dominated by conservative supporters of Ronald Reagan. The outnumbered moderates like Danzansky watched glumly as the convention's platform committee took a firm conservative line on ERA, abortion, defense spending and the death penalty.
"Suicidal, isn't it?" Danzansky said, referring to the most conservative platform to emerge from a GOPconvention since 1964. For the District, he noted, the retreat on the voting rights plank marked the first time in decades that the Republicans' platform had not included an endorsement of full voting representation for the nation's capital.
But Danzansky said he realized before he left Washington last week that the voting rights plank would face a cool reception in Detroit. The first sign of trouble, he said, came last April 18, when nominee-to-be Reagan announced at a campaign stop in Texas that he opposed full voting representation for the District. A proposed constitutional amendment that would give Washington voting representation in the House and Senate is pending among state legislatures.
"Let's face it," Danzansky said, "when the presidential candidate has taken a position, it's very difficult to get delegates, who are there to nominate him, to vote a different way."
Danzansky, one of 14 D.C. delegates who were sent to Detroit committed to George Bush, said he would now be content to use the convention as a place to lobby the delegations of states that have not yet passed the voting rights amendment. So far, only nine states have approved the measure. Thirty-eight are needed for ratification.
According to Danzansky, many of the dlegates who came to Detroit this week to draft the platform opposed the voting rights amendment for the same reason Reagan has opposed it -- arguing that a city of only 700,000 residents did not deserve two U.S. senators, as the amendment provides.
Others, he said, believed that since the amendment already had passed Congress, it is no longer an issue for the Republican Party to address in its national platform.
He noted that Republicans traditionally have balked at the idea of anyone -- even the party -- telling the states what to do. That is why, he reasoned, the delegates backed away from the GOP's longstanding support of the ERA -- it was a state issue to be decided in state legislatures.