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Monday, June 23, 2008

Californians Crucial in Denver Platform and Bylaws Changes

Californians figured prominently in the efforts of Denver's 2008 Libertarian National Convention to repair the holes left in the Platform by previous convention in Portland, which had cut the Platform from 62 planks to 15. It was widely considered incomplete due to its lack of planks on property rights, taxation, monetary policy, the environment, health care, welfare, education, labor, national defense, foreign policy, free trade, and electoral reform.
The 2008 Platform Committee offered the Denver delegates two sharply contrasting approaches to repairing the Platform.  Both relied heavily on recycled platform language, both proposed novel plank organizations, and both were drafted by teams led by Californians.  The similarities ended there.
Rob Power of San Francisco led a minority of 7 out of 20 PlatCom members who proposed a 10,000-word hybrid of the 2004 and 2006 platforms, adding hundreds of words of novel language. The minority retained the issue/principle/solution/transition format that had been adopted in 2004, saying that it allowed radically visionary statements to coexist with transitional proposals.  Moderate critics of the draft complained that it restored many of the most radical positions deleted in Portland, such as personal secession, immediate non-enforcement of all tax laws, privatizing all streets, and using only torts to regulate pollution.
Brian Holtz of Santa Clara County chaired the subcommittee that drafted what became the committee's report.  It recommended a 2,500-word platform that recycled the best statements of Libertarian principle that it could find in platforms going all the way back to the original 1972 version.  Its proponents said they intentionally limited their draft to all and only the principles that unite the vast majority of Libertarians, as this would maximize the chances of successful Platform repair.  The resulting draft attempted to describe for each issue what the Bylaws mean by "a libertarian direction in public policy". The stated goal was to build a "Pure Principles" platform that states for each policy area the timeless libertarian principles that are consistent with both incremental reform and radical ultimate goals.  The draft's critics complained that it failed to restore some of the 2004 platform's most distinctive positions, especially the opposition to all government restrictions on abortion. 
The Denver delegates chose the PlatCom majority's directional principles approach, and worked during the May 24 all-day Platform debate approving most plank proposals while significantly improving others.  Former LPCA Chair Aaron Starr contributed the most significant improvement when the delegates balked at a PlatCom plank that straddled the abortion issue.  The delegates adopted Starr's plank consisting of one slightly-modified sentence from the 2004 platform: "Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration."
Power and other leaders of the Outright Libertarians contributed language both in PlatCom and on the floor to improve the Personal Relationships plank, calling out the topics of marriage, child custody, adoption, immigration, and military service.  The delegates also dropped a recycled reference to "strict liability" and a novel sentence about how energy resources increase. 
With the above four changes, the delegates approved the PlatCom's proposal for a platform of 27 planks organized into three sections: Personal Liberty, Economic Liberty, and Securing Liberty. (The old Platform had four sections, including one that classified things like agriculture, education, and population as "Domestic Ills".)  Only three of the 27 planks include major amounts of novel language.
The Environment plank now goes beyond a torts-based perspective to assert that Libertarians care deeply about damage to natural resources and ecosystems. The plank asserts broadly that "free markets and property rights" are the foundation of Libertarian environmental policy, and thus creates a big tent for Libertarians (like Mary Ruwart in the Denver presidential debate) who entertain the possibility of augmenting torts with pollution taxes or fees.  Similarly, the Education plank now can accommodate Libertarians who advocate vouchers as a transitional measure, as it says "parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education".
As a replacement for the controversial old Secession plank, the Self-Determination plank was not recycled from any past LP platform, and it came up for consideration with only five minutes left in the Saturday session.  However, the delegates easily recognized the source of its language, which said:  "Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of individual liberty, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to agree to such new governance as to them shall seem most likely to protect their liberty."  Nick Sarwark rose to say this plank is so good it's the only one the Platform needs.  As the time allotted for Platform repair ran out, this language adapted from Jefferson was approved by perhaps the loudest and clearest margin of any plank all day.
For a copy the 2008 platform with annotations showing the sources of the language in it, see
The day before the Platform debate, the delegates rejected a joint proposal of the Platform and Bylaws committees to remove the "cult of the omnipotent state" language from the Statement of Principles.  The delegates also rejected joint proposals for a style committee and for giving future committees a head start on their work.  However, the delegates accepted a joint proposal to give PlatCom recommendations an up-or-down vote before amendments, and this rule was crucial in expediting the Platform repair work the next day.
The delegates approved 10 of the 13 proposals they had time to consider from the Bylaws Committee (chaired by the LPCA's M Carling), including a lower threshold for appeals to the Judicial Committee, a higher threshold for LNC policy resolutions, and automatic suspension of LNC members who miss two consecutive meetings.  Before time ran out, the delegates rejected a proposal to protect the Party from possible takeover attempts by lengthening and staggering Judicial Committee terms.  Later in the convention, recent LPCA ExCom member Chuck Moulton successfully proposed a Bylaws change to allow convention committees to seat alternates for not only vacancies but also for absences.

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