It is acknowledged both within and without the Democratic Party that policy and program alternatives must be created. There are also "nuts and bolts" problems of organization to be solved. One of these is the process of selecting delegates to the party's national convention.
Gov. Jim Hunt's Commission on Presidential Nominations, now studying this process, has taken the first significant step toward correcting an unanticipated, but unfortunate consequence of the last decade's reform movements. In the party's desire to make convention delegates representative of its entire spectrum of membership, one important group was excluded--elected officials.
This was unfortunate because elected officials have an extremely important contribution to make. They are attuned to mainstream concerns. They know the political waters. For the health and vigor of the Democratic Party, elected officials need to be involved.
In December, the Hunt Commission proposed that more than 500 public and party officials, including two-thirds of the House and Senate Democrats, participate in the 1984 Democratic convention as uncommitted delegates. With this act, the commission set a course that will stengthen not only our party but also our nation's political system.
In its meeting today, the Hunt Commission should reaffirm this position. Then the Democratic National Committee should take the next step in March by writing the Hunt Commission's recommendations into the party rules.
For too long the Democratic Party has had two factions--the quadrennial national party, and a congressional party that was essentially separate and distinct. The consequences of this separation have been devastating. Although Democratic members of Congress are expected to work with the nominee (and, it is hoped, the president) in implementing the party program, they have been excluded from the process by which this program is forged. The resulting separation has made it difficult to turn party platform into public policy. It has led to distance and hostility between the newly elected president and members of Congress from his own party.
It was in the context of this unworkable system that the House Democratic Caucus, which I chair, petitioned the Hunt Commission to allow the caucus to elect two-thirds of its membership as uncommitted delegates to the 1984 national convention. Since the requirements for equal representation are for the convention as a whole, rather than for each separate category of delegates, we believe that members of Congress can be brought into the process without abandoning the party's commitment to equal division and demographic and political balance.
The Hunt Commission's approval of this recommendation will not ensure victory for the Democratic presidential candidate in 1984. Alone, this action can't even guarantee the active involvement of elected officials in party affairs. But together with other steps-- such as the creation of a party strategy council comprised of public officials-- the Democratic National Committee, under Charles Manatt, is demonstrating its desire to offer to Democratic members of Congress a role in determining the direction of our party.
For years, many of us in Congress have sought a role in determining the direction of our party. Now we must abandon our complaints about party procedure and take on the responsibility of full participation in shaping the outcome of party functions.