We're right in the middle of convention season in Utah - county party conventions last month, Republican state convention tomorrow and the Democratic convention in a week.
With renewed interest in internal party workings brought on by a new, liberal party organization law, conventions in years ahead may become more meaningful - maybe even interesting.But don't look to party platforms being more interesting. If the past several years are a trend, they're just getting more boring, less meaningful.
Of course, party platforms have never been engrossing. By and large, on a purely political level they've been used for ill, not good; used to embarrass opposing candidates instead of trumpeting your own.
About a decade ago, Utah Republicans were embarrassed by their platform. A portion dealt with human rights, and while GOP leaders said their wording was poor and people purposely misinterpreted the language, one section seemed to say that homosexuals had fewer individual rights because of their sexual orientation. You can bet two years later when the platform was rewritten that section was gone.
Democrats have been politically embarrassed by their platforms' stands on abortion for years. Starting with a strong pro-choice stand in the early 1980s, the platform has been "sanitized" often. An admittedly "weak" pro-choice section in 1990 gave way to no comment on abortion rights at all in the 1992 platform.
To get away from candidates on both sides being embarrassed by their party platforms, platforms are getting less specific.
While still in draft form, the 1994 state Democratic platform is all of one page. It's mainly general, broad principles that most Americans - even conservative Republicans - could agree with.
Republicans won't be formally adopting a 1994 platform at all in their state convention. They're just sticking with their 1992 version. Instead, on Saturday GOP delegates will vote on a new party constitution - not the same thing as a platform. In June 1995 these same GOP delegates will meet again to vote on new party officers and then consider any platform changes, said Mark Emerson, state GOP executive director.
"The reality is, in 20 years I've never seen a candidate really run on a party platform," says Todd Taylor, executive director of the state Democratic Party.
This year's Salt Lake County Republican platform - a document that in the past has held most of the right-wing ideas of the party - is mild. While in years gone by county GOP delegates would argue for hours over controversial planks in the document, at this year's convention the platform wasn't debated at all. No amendments were submitted before the convention and the platform was adopted on a quick voice vote.
Compare that with 1986, when in the state Democratic convention delegates argued the platform into the night. So many amendments were made to the platform - amendments that party leaders knew would harm their candidates' election chances - that then-state party chairman Randy Horiuchi refused to even have the amended platform printed. "If you'd sat through the whole platform debate, you might know what was done, otherwise (the amended platform) was just gone," recalls Taylor.
To help, not hurt, candidates' chances via the platform, Davis County Democrats tried something really radical. They allowed their legislative and county candidates to write the platform themselves. Each nominee actually had veto power over any part of the platform - don't want to run with that platform section around your neck, throw it out.
To keep special interest delegate groups from amending their one-page platform next week, Democrats will allow "sense of convention" resolutions to be adopted from the floor. "People who have strong feelings about some issue will get to talk and get a vote," says Taylor. Those resolutions won't be included in the platform, and may well disappear into the night as Horiuchi allowed the 1986 platform to do.
If it is all so meaningless, why do it?
"We have people come into our state offices almost daily asking for our platform," says Taylor. "They're doing some political soul-searching, and we need to be able to show them what values we hold."