jonathan shapiro

THIS PAST WEEKEND, as Chelsea Clinton cavorted through Oregon to campaign on her mom's behalf, Democrats from across the state gathered in the Eugene Hilton and quietly hammered out a legislative agenda for the next two years.

Laboring over ideas and organizational strategy, nearly 300 state delegates attended the biennial platform convention. In small groups of a few dozen people, state delegates voted on their top six priorities—called "action items" during the conference—for each of 13 broad categories such as "Foreign Policy and National Security" and "Human Rights." All day Saturday, April 12, the subcommittees scrutinized phrasing and intent and eventually approved a list of top action items. From there, the agenda items would head to the entire group of delegates.

Then, the six action items that receive the most votes in each category will make the 2008 Democratic Platform—a written document that provides all elected Democrats a reference guide as to where their party members stand on the issues. (The ballots were collected on Sunday and the results will be released this Thursday, April 17, on the Democratic Party of Oregon's website, oregondemocrats.org.)

Jill Thorn, the vice chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon, optimistically described the process as an "ongoing work of art" with the results acting as "something we can give to candidates and say, 'Here, this is what we as a party would like enacted into law.'" Though Thorn admits it is far from perfect, she believes the process is vital to a unified Democratic Party.

In previous years, the party used a different format in which all 300 attending state delegates deliberated together in one large room. This proved to be chaotic and inefficient, and often the platform convention concluded with an unfinished legislative agenda.

Teresa Hepker, party chair of Wasco County and a facilitator of the Foreign Policy and National Security subcommittee meeting, says the current system is much more desirable. "I'd subject myself to being a facilitator of 30 people any day [compared] to two days of standing in line at the microphone to have a debate about a few words."

Most Democrats seemed to agree, though some took issue with the fact that many of the subcommittee meetings were scheduled at the same time. One delegate from Clackamas County was conflicted over which meeting to attend: "I picked the Energy and Transportation meeting, but I really wanted to get to the Ecology and Natural Resources meeting," he said. "With six meetings scheduled at the same time, its frustrating to pick just one."