The regional cleavage within the Democratic Party continued yesterday as Democratic National Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. announced the first appointments to his Democratic National Policy Council (DNPC), while a group of southern and western Democrats pressed forward with plans to create a party council of their own.
The southern and western officials, led by Virginia Gov. Charles S. Robb, Arizona Gov. Bruce Babbitt, Sen. Sam Nunn (Ga.) and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.), plan to unveil their Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) at a news conference this week.
The DLC's creators hope to provide fresh ideas for the party as it seeks to reshape its image. But the group's other purpose, according to its leaders, is to offer a safe haven for disaffected officials who say that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) is a liability in their regions.
The two organizations were the subject of intensive, behind-the-scenes discussions during the winter meeting of the National Governors' Association, which ended yesterday. Kirk saw the Robb-Babbitt group as a potential threat to his efforts to rebuild the party. And while the two sides reached the outward appearance of harmony, skepticism persists on both sides.
Kirk, who won an endorsement for his group at a Saturday meeting of Democratic governors, said yesterday he was pleased with the way events had unfolded.
"For virtually all the governors to move on a resolution to endorse the DNPC, I couldn't ask for more," he said.
Kirk added that he is "not insensitive" to the concerns of the southern and western officials and hopes that "our objectives are common objectives."
Said Robb, "I have great respect for Paul Kirk . . . . We want some independence, but we definitely want this to be a joint venture" with the party.
Florida Gov. Robert Graham, a supporter of the Robb group, expressed reservations about Kirk's organization. "I don't think it can be seen as independent or credible," he said. "We're not trying to abandon the party; we're trying to be an effective force for reform . . . . One of our purposes is to give hope to people who felt they had been permanently cast aside."
Kirk's organization will be headed by former Utah governor Scott M. Matheson. Five governors agreed yesterday to sit on the commission: Babbitt, chairman of the Democratic Governors' Association; Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts; Richard W. Riley of South Carolina; Martha Layne Collins of Kentucky, and John Carlin of Kansas, chairman of the National Governors' Association.
Matheson, in a memo to Kirk earlier, outlined a council of 50 members, including at least 30 elected officials. The purpose is to shape party principles in preparation for the 1986 and 1988 elections.
Meanwhile, the DLC envisions an initial roster of about 20 members, divided among governors, senators and House members. Nearly all the prospective organizers come from the South and West, with the exception of Michigan Gov. James J. Blanchard and Sen. John Glenn (Ohio).
"I want to offer an olive branch to southerners and westerners who feel estranged from what's been happening," Blanchard said.
The leaders of the DLC played down the challenge to Kirk and the DNC, noting that Babbitt had agreed to participate in both organizations.
"We are committed to make sure this is a positive effort for the party," Robb said.
The group plans to develop policy proposals, showcase younger leaders and involve itself in the presidential nominating process. Alvin From, former executive director of the House Democratic Caucus, is expected to be staff director.