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CAMPAIGN '96

Delegate Diversity Comes Under Fire

Politics: Critics charge that the Democrats' strict rules raise questions about Clinton's efforts to make affirmative action programs less rigid.

August 17, 1996|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — When President Clinton addresses the Democratic National Convention in Chicago this month, he probably will not fail to remind listeners of his efforts to file the harsh edges off federal affirmative action programs.

But some GOP adversaries, and a few Democrats as well, are questioning his party's devotion to this gospel of a less rigid approach to affirmative action--and they cite as proof the composition of the very audience that Clinton will address.

The critics say the Democrats' system for choosing delegates is one of the country's most inflexible procedures for achieving diversity. It strictly requires 50% female membership and seeks proportional representation for four racial and ethnic groups in a manner that almost always achieves its goals.

"It's embarrassing when you have this commitment to reform affirmative action, yet the worst excesses exist in your own party," said Philip S. Friedman, who dealt with the system as deputy general counsel to the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992. Said Mary Crawford, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee: "The Democrats' system is a quota system."

Of course, the Republican arrangement hasn't escaped criticism from the other end. The GOP, which makes no formal effort to credential minorities or women, ended up with a 1,990-delegate pool that was 3% black and 39% female.

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The Democratic National Committee's system calls for each state to develop plans to see to it that delegate populations closely mirror the four racial and ethnic groups' shares of Democratic voters in the state. A pool of at-large delegates, representing 25% of the total, is used to beef up the numbers in each category where they fall short of a group's share.

Democratic officials insisted that this is not a quota system, that it simply is a set of "goals and timetables." They noted that party rules explicitly provide that quotas are not to be used "directly or indirectly" to reach the party's diversity targets. Officials also argued that the plans do not constitute quotas because there's no punishment for states that don't reach their goals.

To the critics, however, this is the old-fashioned approach to affirmative action that guarantees outcomes, not opportunity. The proof, they said, is in the party's remarkable success in meeting its diversity targets.

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This year, for example, the delegate pool will mirror closely the Democratic electorate with an ethnic composition that is 66.8% "Caucasian," 18.9% African American, 9% Latino, 3% Asian-Pacific and 1.4% Native American. The party's efforts are "generally incredibly successful," said Andy Solomon, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee.

Some critics contend that the Democrats' system violates federal civil rights laws because both political parties spend millions of dollars in public money for their conventions.

In an internal review of the issue, DNC lawyers acknowledged that "concerns have been raised" that some state parties "in practice utilize these provisions to impose, in effect, mandatory quotas in the process of selecting at-large delegates."

But the lawyers concluded that the Democrats' system would pass constitutional muster because, among other things, it sets goals rather than quotas and is not a heavy burden on non-minorities who lost out for delegate spots. But the written review does not address the gender requirement.

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