The Democratic Party’s statewide candidates have struck a centrist tone in recent months, but the party approved a platform that is arguably more progressive, with strong statements of support for medical marijuana, same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose.
On Friday, the party’s platform committee met and approved a platform, presenting it the rest of the party Saturday at the party’s summer Demofest convention.
“It is the collection of thinking by Democrats across this state, some as young as 17…to people who have been longtime Democrats,” said Joan Wagnon, the party’s state chair, as she presented it to a crowd to a ballroom of Democrats at the Drury Hotel Plaza Broadview in Wichita. “Every caucus was represented. It says who we are and what we believe. And I think you’ll be proud of it.”
A section titled Keeping Kansans Healthy calls for Medicaid expansion, affordable health care for children and support for community mental health services. It also includes statements on the issues of medical marijuana and abortion.
“Kansas Democrats support the availability of marijuana for medical use and protection of patients from criminal arrest and prosecution,” the platform states.
Esau Freeman, a Wichita painter and activist who led efforts to include marijuana decriminalization on the Wichita ballot, praised the policy’s inclusion.
“I think it’s great. I think it’s a progressive step and it shows the people of Kansas who the real leaders are. We care about the people of Kansas and their needs,” said Freeman, who attended Demofest.
Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, sat on the committee but opposed some of the provisions, including the endorsement of medical marijuana.
“There’s no doubt that the platform of the party addresses issues that have not been addressed in the past,” Carmichael said. He said there had been pressure within the party to take a stance on this and other issues.
“Now I personally don’t agree with every plank in the platform, nor would I expect that every Democrat or every Democratic candidate would support every plank. But it does collectively state what Kansas Democrats stand for,” Carmichael said.
The health section of the platform also states support for “evidence-based and age-appropriate sex education” and asserts “that women have a right to control their reproductive choices including a woman’s right to make decisions regarding contraception and pregnancy.”
Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, another member of the platform committee, said that these policies are meant to demonstrate that health care choices should between an individual and his or her doctor.
“(We) came down on the side of saying we want healthcare choices to be between individuals and their health care provider. And that would be medical marijuana. That would be: is it important for your health to consider terminating a pregnancy,” Francisco said.
The platform also includes a rebuke of a controversial religious freedom bill, which passed the Kansas House in February, that attorneys said would have enabled widespread discrimination of same-sex couples.
“Religious liberty shall not be misconstrued as a license to discriminate or other violate the law,” the platform states. “Kansas Democrats support marriage equality.”
Rep. Jan Pauls, who represents Hutchinson, announced in May that she was leaving the Democratic Party to become a Republican over her opposition to the party’s stance on LGBT issues.
Pauls complained that the party was neglecting organized labor issues in favor of social issues. However, the platform also makes several strong pro-labor statements.
It voices support for public sector unions to organize and bargain collectively to negotiate a living wage.
“Kansas Democrats strongly support efforts to protect Kansas workers. We believe every worker should be paid a living wage, by paying the prevailing wage on state and local construction projects and other initiatives to pay workers a living wage,” the platform states. “Full-time employees should not have to rely on public assistance to survive.”
An amendment, sponsored by Rep. Gail Finney, D-Wichita, to oppose racial profiling by police officers also made it into the platform.