Bush camp fights off anti-government platform planks

George W. Bush wanted a Republican party platform more positive than the document the party adopted four years ago. Last weekend, his campaign successfully reinserted his principles for education reform, which conservatives had dumped from the original platform draft during a Platform Subcommittee hearing on Friday. The committee also rejected efforts to abolish the Department of Education and phase out the federal role in education.

This enabled Bush to have his education night on Monday, without any dissonance from the platform. The campaign worked with committee co-chairman Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who submitted an amendment restoring a version of the Bush principles that called for raising academic standards, reforming Head Start, and "allowing federal dollars to follow" children from failing schools to schools of their choice.

"Gov. Bush has offered a vision, and agenda, that truly captures the spirit of the American people around that concept that no child should be left behind," Frist told the full platform committee.

Platform Committee member Cheryl Williams of Oklahoma complained that portions of the Frist amendment still gave "the appearance of federal control of all education." But when she and other conservatives sought to further compromise the Frist amendment, they were rebuffed. "These are leadership principles," said Frist. "I want to stick with the wording we have."

As soon as the subcommittee struck the language on Friday, Frist and the Bush forces went to work to restore the principles. "My goal as a co-chairman is to marry the will of 107 delegates with the vision of George W. Bush," said Frist in an interview. Sensing that the full Platform Committee wasn't as hard-line as the subcommittee on education and youth, on Friday evening Frist redrafted the principles and changed phrasing to make it more palatable to some conservatives. Yesterday morning, before the Platform Committee convened, Frist shopped around his new version to more than a dozen committee members.

"Our whip operation went to work on the education language to make sure that it reflected the governor's focus," said Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Now the Republican platform on education in 2000 is a marked departure from the 1996 platform, and properly so." The Bush forces and the platform drafters were largely pleased that this document has a more uplifting tone than the document adopted in San Diego. Planks from four years ago that called for abolishing four Cabinet departments and denying public assistance to the children of illegal immigrants never even made it into the platform draft.

Even the debate over the abortion issue was less contentious than in the past. Efforts by abortion-rights proponents to remove from the draft the restrictive language that was duplicated from the 1996 platform were unsuccessful.

Conservatives, who remain more suspicious of the federal government than Bush, won a few other small platform battles. Bush has called childhood illiteracy a "national emergency" and has proposed, among other things, to spend federal dollars to diagnose reading skills of disadvantaged children. The platform draft included language that said, "We will strive to meet the federal obligation and promote the early diagnosis of learning deficiencies." The final platform simply stated: "We will strive to promote the early diagnosis of learning deficiencies.

The full committee also endorsed abstinence programs over more traditional family-planning education. Bush thinks the two approaches should be given equal emphasis.

"There are always going to be issues on which the candidate and the platform have differences," said Bush spokesman Fleischer. There were efforts by the platform drafters, largely to no avail, to remove anti-gay language from the document. "I wanted this document to be as inclusive as it possibly could be, without the vitriolic rhetoric that has plagued us in the past," said committee Chairman Tommy Thompson, governor of Wisconsin.

In preparing the draft, Thompson had removed, from the section in the 1996 platform's section on anti-discrimination laws, language that stated, "We reject the distortion of those laws to cover sexual preference."

"I had the sentence out for one night," said Thompson. The subcommittee on family and community met on Friday and inserted "we do not believe sexual preference should be given special legal protection or standing in law" in the portion of the platform supporting the Defense of Marriage Act.

"Overall, the document is very good," said Thompson. But he added: "I thought the original platform was better. That's a personal preference."

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