Washington – When Connecticut delegates to the Republican National Convention arrive in Cleveland next week, one of the first orders of business will be to consider a party platform that has been called the most conservative in the party’s history.
It condemns gay marriage and disapproves of homosexuality, bars women from combat, calls for building Donald Trump’s wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and demands lawmakers use religion as a guide when legislating.
“I have serious reservations about it,” said state House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, one of 28 Connecticut delegates to the convention, all committed to Trump.
To Klarides, the platform does not reflect her view of the GOP as a “big tent party.”
Other Connecticut GOP delegates also criticized the social issues planks in the platform and said they would make a final decision on it after they are given the last draft of the document on Monday. At least one delegate – a longtime party activist – has embraced it.
Four years ago, when the party met in Tampa, Fla., to select former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney as its presidential candidate, Klarides was on the platform committee and backed a move by a Rhode Island delegate in support of civil unions.
Klarides said she did not think the amendment would be controversial – after all Connecticut had implemented a civil union law in 2005. But the move stunned the committee, she said.
“You would have thought I had stood in the middle of the room and took my clothes off,” she said. “You could have heard a pin drop in that room.”
Klarides is dismayed the party has lurched further to the right on social issues. The platform includes support of “conversion therapy” for gays and backs state laws that limit the restrooms transgendered people can use.
She also opposes the broad pro-life plan in the platform, which has no exception for rape or incest.
“I think there should be nothing [on abortion],” she said.
The 2016 Republican platform, which will be voted on Tuesday, builds on the document the party crafted four years ago in Tampa. Socially moderate delegates tried to remove some of its language on gays, but were defeated.
The Log Cabin Republicans, a national gay rights group, called the platform “ the most anti-LGTB platform in the party’s 162-year history.”
“This isn’t my GOP…heck, it’s not even Donald Trump’s!,” said Log Cabin Republicans President Gregory Angelo. “When given a chance to follow the lead of our presumptive presidential nominee and reach out to the LGBT community in the wake of the awful terrorist massacre in Orlando on the gay nightclub Pulse, the Platform Committee said ‘no’.”
But Republican National Committeewoman Patricia Longo, who as one of two Connecticut delegates appointed to the platform committee helped draft the document, said she strongly supports it, especially the planks that deal with social issues.
“I love it,” said Longo, who is attending her seventh national convention. “It’s probably the most conservative platform we’ve ever had.”
The party’s policy document may be problematic to some moderate Northeast Republicans, but Longo predicted Connecticut delegates will embrace it. “It’s a pretty conservative group we have here,” she said.
J.R. Romano, the head of the Connecticut Republican Party, is leading the Connecticut delegation, which includes, besides the 28 delegates, another 25 alternate delegates and about 65 guests.
He said the GOP does not require Republicans to pass an ideological litmus test and the platform “doesn’t define candidates,” nor is it binding.
For Romano, the main purpose of the convention is rallying around Trump and helping him defeat Hillary Clinton in November, not the party’s platform.
“As Republicans, we can’t have purity stand in the way of unity,” he said.
Eighty percent support
Rep. John Frey, R-Ridgefield, said the platform reflects the GOP’s position as a “center right” party.
He said he could not support all platform planks, especially those concerning social issues, but said he and other Connecticut Republicans can support “about 80 percent” of the document, which also calls for lower taxes and a bolstering of national security.
“There’s more in the platform we can agree with than disagree with,” Frey said.
But he also said, “I’ve never used the platform to run for office.”
Frey is one of three sergeants-at-arms responsible for security inside the convention center, which is expected to hold about 40,000 people.
He is in the minoirty of delegates at the convention who supported other candidates – in Frey’s case New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio – before backing Trump
But Frey said he’s committed to Trump now.
“Trump won Connecticut, so I will vote for Trump,” he said.
Like Longo and Romano, Frey, a Republican National committeeman, traveled to Cleveland before the convention’s official start to attend meetings on security protocols.
Rep. Anthony D’Amelio, R-Waterbury, was slated to go to Cleveland early as Connecticut’s second member of the platform committee. But he said a “miscommunication” with the RNC kept him home. He said he had told the RNC it would be difficult for him to leave town on the days the panel met this week because of his involvement in a festival for his church, Our Lady of Mount Carmel. But he said the RNC never got the message and scheduled him for work on the committee anyway, without informing him.
D’Amelio said he hopes delegates will vote in a strong platform next week that “could resonate down to the state level” and reflect Trump’s “new path” in American politics.
But he said he disagrees with some of the social-issues planks and wishes he had attended the meeting of the platform committee to add his voice to those who dissented.
Trump’s choice for a running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a staunch social conservative, widens a rift between conservative members of the GOP and party moderates, many of whom come from the Northeast, on social issues like gay rights and abortion.
Meanwhile, led by Gov. Dannel Malloy, the Democratic platform committee last weekend approved what’s considered the most progressive platform in party history.
The liberal bent of the Democratic policy document, which will be voted on by delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia at the end of the month, was influenced by those committed to Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.