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On the Trail, an occasional column by St. Louis Public Radio political reporter Jason Rosenbaum, takes an analytical look at politics and policy across Missouri.

On the Trail: Democratic National Convention chief talks about putting together a party platform

Cornel West, center, is part of a 15-person platform drafting committee that met last week in St. Louis.
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
Cornel West, center, is part of a 15-person platform drafting committee that met last week in St. Louis.

When Democrats gather in Philadelphia next month, the focus will probably be on whom delegates select to be the party’s presidential nominee. But that’s not the only piece of official business.

Democrats will also ratify a platform, which is effectively a statement of principles for the party. While the document isn’t binding, it could provide a glimpse of what’s to come if Hillary Clinton becomes the next president. And it could provide a voice for the millions of people who supported Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

Democratic National Convention CEO Leah Daughtry
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Democratic National Convention CEO Leah Daughtry

The platform process made a stop in Downtown St. Louis last week. That’s where a 15-member drafting committee received public input and voted to ratify a draft of the document. As others reported, it was a process that produced a lot of give-and-take between supporters of Sanders and Clinton.

The draft platform will go to a larger committee meeting next month in Orlando and, after that, to full ratification at the DNC Convention in Philadelphia.

Before the St. Louis meeting started, Leah Daughtry, the CEO of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, talked about why the platform matters for her party. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.

Rosenbaum: Tell me about what role the Democratic platform is going to play in the entire Democratic National Convention.

Daughtry: The Democratic platform is our party’s policy statement and statement of values and vision for how we intend to move forward as we govern if we win the White House. These will be the issues that we run on, that our nominee is proposing for the country. It’s her vision of leadership — and our vision of leadership [of] how we’ll run the country if American people trust us with their votes.

You’ve been traveling around the country getting public input from a lot of Democrats. What have you been hearing? What issues are people really passionate about?

We’ve opened up this process in an unprecedented way this time. So we’ve been receiving comments via e-mail, via Skype, via video. And we’ve gotten over 1,300 comments from across the country. So you can imagine in that volume there’s been a wide diversity of issues: From health care to prescription drug costs to the environment to gun violence. You name it, we’ve gotten a comment on it.

How much of a role are supporters of Sen. Sanders playing on the platform committee? He has a lot of delegates even if he’s not going to win the nomination. And influencing the platform has been a big focus of his campaign lately.

Sen. Sanders has energized a wide swath of the electorate. And so we’re grateful. And it’s really the foresight of our chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who changed the way the appointments to this committee are done. So Sen. Sanders has five members on this committee of 15. And Secretary Clinton has six members. And the DNC has the remaining four. And so, we’ve been able to have a very robust discussion that includes all of the issues that both campaigns have been taking up during the course of this primary season.

We’re in the St. Louis area. Changing law enforcement policies has been a big flashpoint here.I’m curious when you’re talking about the public feedback, how often that issue has been brought up. And how much of a role is it going to play in the platform?

You will see in the platform specific language concerning health and safety, but also gun violence and the appropriate use of power among our police forces. You’ll see that language in the platform. We had some great testimony on that last week when we were in Phoenix. And we had great speakers talking about those kinds of issues. We are always concerned that our citizens feel safe in their homes and in their person. That’s part of the article of faith of being an American. So that language will be addressed in the platform as well.

I would probably ask this question to your Republican counterpart: A platform seems great on paper. But you actually need a Congress to follow through on it. Democrats are out of power in Congress. How important is it going to be that not only Hillary Clinton wins, but also there’s also energy behind congressional races?

It is critically important as you’ve said. And we’ve seen what happens under President Obama’s administration when you don’t have a Congress that supports the president’s initiatives. So we hope that folks will go to the polls and not just vote the top of the ticket, but consider all of the down ballot races. We’ve seen just in the last couple of weeks the debate on gun violence and gun control and what happens when you have a Congress that is in the hands of the other party — and won’t even allow a vote on the issue. They won’t even allow debate on the issue. And that’s not what the American Constitution has guaranteed us. We have representatives in Congress so they can vote on the issues. And so that’s why we need people to put time and energy in just the presidency, but all the down-ballot races. Because that’s really how you affect change.

On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.