Montanans to help shape national Democrat Party platform, set rules for primary


By Martin Kidston

A group of state Democrats, including two from Missoula, will depart for various corners of the country this summer to help shape national Democratic Party policy and hash out the rules guiding the party’s next primary in 2020.

It’s not likely to be an easy task given the policy differences separating Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, nor with Sanders’ recent criticisms regarding the role super delegates have played in choosing Clinton as the party’s presumptive nominee for president.

Also on Friday, Montana Democratic Party Chairman Jim Larson, vice chair Jacquie Helt and U.S. Sen. John Tester, three of the party’s six super delegates, announced their intention to support Hillary Clinton at the Philadelphia convention.

“Hillary is the most qualified person on the ballot to unite our nation at a time when dangerous rhetoric threatens to divide us,” Tester said in a statement. “I look forward to working with her to create jobs, strengthen the middle class, keep our country safe, and invest in education and infrastructure so we can move our nation forward.”

Carol Williams this week said Ben Darrow, a Missoula attorney, was appointed to serve on the party’s national Rules Committee while state Sen. Diane Sands, D-Missoula, will serve on the Platform Committee. Sandra Mellott of Butte was appointed to replace Amanda Curtiss on the Credentials Committee.

Curtiss was unable to attend.

“This is a very close race and I think both sides are going to do everything they can to have the most advantage,” said Mellott, a 28-year-old copy editor at the Montana Standard in Butte. “I expect the Clinton Campaign to challenge the credentials of the Sanders’ delegates. The Sanders Campaign can do the same.”

Mellott attended the Montana Democratic Party state convention earlier this month in Helena. She ran to serve as a Sanders delegate at the Democratic National Convention but wasn’t elected.

Mellott described herself as a strong Sanders supporter and attributed his progressive platform for bringing her back to politics. She has worked on the Sanders’ campaign for more than a year and heads the “Butte for Bernie” group.

“To be objective, I’ll focus on representing the people, not representing me,” she said. “As far as evaluating credential challenges, it should be a simple matter of whether the delegate follows the rules. I know as a Bernie delegate to the state convention, all our Bernie delegates are passionate and unwavering.”

Diane Sands, who served in 2008 as a Clinton delegate to the Democratic National Convention, will head to Orlando this July to help adopt a national platform for the Democratic Party.

“It’s both a statement of vision and values, but also a platform of issues we intend to move forward,” Sands said. “There will be specific things in addressing equality for LGBTQ, moving toward equal pay for equal work, and paid family and medical leave.”

Sands, who supports the American Care Act, also expects the party to craft a healthcare platform. As a representative from a Western state, she also plans to honor the nation’s obligation to Native Americans.

Veteran issues, mental health and firearms will appear in the party platform as well, Sands said.

“Some of the issues will be regional,” said Sands. “There’s not much in there on public lands, but as a Westerner, addressing access to public lands and mandating funding – and guaranteeing we won’t sell our public lands – those are huge issues in the West and I want to see those addressed.”

Sands believes some policy issues may be controversial.

“While we have a common overall view, there are some differences in how we move forward – issues on increased wages being one,” she said. “Do we say specifically $15 an hour or just call it a living wage? A lot of Sanders’ supporters want that language to go further than Congress and the presidency will be able to go.”

Williams said the Rules Committee will also be something to watch. Ben Dorrow was appointed to represent the state on the committee. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

“The Rules Committee will make the rules before the next primary, and there are a lot of issues they’ll be looking at,” said Williams. “Sen. Sanders has been unhappy with the issue of super delegates. We’ve had those for a long time and personally, I can’t see the point in giving it up, but it’s going to be a good discussion.”

While Sanders has been somewhat critical of the current rules guiding the party, Williams said they were set four years ago. The new committee will set the rules for the 2020 primary, which could see some changes.

“There was concern over some leadership within the Democratic Party about being for Clinton instead of for Sanders,” said Williams. “But those kind of things happened at the last Democratic convention. All that was decided well before Clinton was ever in the race. I think it’s important to both Sanders and Secretary Clinton to have that input.”