This coming Saturday, June 16, the Iowa Democratic Party (IDP) State Convention will ratify the 2018 platform. The draft platform represents balanced progressive Democratic positions on hundreds of issues hammered out by hundreds of activists over several weeks. It’s critical that the convention retain that balance and prevent the insertion of any extremist poison pills. We expect that by embracing our platform it will enhance rather than harm our Democratic candidates or elected officials.
Recall the shock and negative fallout resulting from the poison pill resolution inserted into the 2016 IDP platform: We support, “Legalizing all drugs.”
The immediate public perception was that the IDP wanted to recklessly legalize heroin, methamphetamine and other illegal opioids at every corner drug store. As the nation is experiencing a rising drug death toll from opioids (both legal and illegal), the Democratic Party can’t be viewed as contributing to this epidemic. That resolution was mistakenly interpreted to suggest Democrats were encouraging greater drug use. The media quickly reacted with some very critical reporting.
Following the 2016 IDP Convention, Jason Noble, then-chief political reporter for the Des Moines Register, wrote an article entitled, “Iowa Democrats’ ‘legalize all drugs’ plank raises eyebrows.”
“You read that right: The Iowa Democratic Party’s official manifesto of beliefs and priorities says it supports legalizing all drugs, period, end of statement,” Noble wrote.
“Even if you think there’s a serious policy debate that involves legalizing all drugs, it’s still a disastrously simplistic political statement. It will strike many voters as outrageous, and it’s difficult for candidates to explain. I’m neither a Republican nor a Democrat, but I do think party platforms should express statements and values that most of the rank-and-file members would consider reasonable. Otherwise, why bother with a platform at all,” declared Obradovich.
Iowa Starting Line also did a thorough review of the debate and pushback following the 2016 vote entitled, “Legalizing all Drugs makes the Iowa Dems Platform too easy to ignore.”
“On the internal political side, it doesn’t help the more progressive members of the party that want the platform to be more impactful. Like a ‘poison pill’ amendment in a larger bill in Congress, this plank simply makes it way too easy for Democratic candidates and elected officials to ignore the whole thing. And voting to legalize all drugs, including heroin and cocaine, just sounds plain goofy to those who don’t know the rationale behind it, and even to some who do,” wrote Pat Rynard of Iowa Starting Line.
It’s nearly unimaginable that any Democratic candidate would campaign on a message to legalize all drugs. In fact, the drug resolution was cited by Republicans in 2016 and used to vilify our candidates and showed up in several negative mailers. Republicans used this resolution to accuse Democrats of advocating expanded drug use. We put our candidates at risk by providing Republicans with extremist policy positions.
House Minority Leader Mark Smith, D-Marshalltown warned of the potential risk to our candidates by embracing such a position.
“I’ve spent a good deal of my life as a substance abuse counselor, and I’m not going to support legalization of methamphetamine and illegal opioids,” Smith said. “I just can’t go that direction.”
Some of you are probably asking why Democratic Convention delegates would insist on ramming through this seemingly toxic “legalizing all drugs” resolution in 2016.
In respect to the advocates of this resolution, there was no indication they had any malicious intentions. They argued that Democrats need to focus on treatment rather than punishment. In addition, they cited other European countries that have expanded legalization. However, making an argument in favor of legalization requires a much greater explanation than three words in a platform. This resolution lacks the necessary context to convey any semblance of credibility.
(Full disclosure, I was a member of the 2016 platform committee and I’m currently a member of the 2018 platform committee. I voted in opposition to the “legalizing all drugs” resolution in 2016.)
Democratic platform members spent weeks in meetings at the county, district and state level hammering out this year’s platform. The 2018 draft platform is the product of a truly grassroots effort that began at the precinct level following the caucus.
The current 2018 draft platform has this minority report on drug legalization. We support, “legalizing/taxing/regulating all recreational-drugs.” A minority report is inserted when a resolution fails but has at least 10 percent that supported it. It will be the responsibility of the delegates this Saturday to accept or delete that language.
Other hotly debated issues will probably include Super Delegates, the Second Amendment, single payer health care and the minimum wage. Here’s hoping for balance.
by Rick Smith