Pro-Choice Governors Lose Speaking Roles At Convention ‘They’re Attempting To Keep The Word Abortion From Being Said In The Convention Hall’

SUNDAY, AUG. 11, 1996

Two moderate GOP governors who sought to amend their party platform’s anti-abortion plank have been bumped from prime speaking roles at the Republican National Convention, leading GOP abortion-rights supporters to charge they are being silenced.

Massachusetts Gov. William F. Weld said he would not address the convention after party officials objected to his plans to talk about his support for abortion rights. California Gov. Pete Wilson said he would not appear either because party officials rescinded an invitation to address the gathering in prime television viewing time on the East Coast Monday night.

Republican National Committee Chairman Haley Barbour said Weld and Wilson chose not to participate because they did not want to take the roles assigned to them in this carefully scripted and tightly controlled convention.

Wilson’s spokesman, Sean Walsh, said it was “patently false” that the governor ever turned down an opportunity to speak in prime time.

To underscore the point that Barbour’s version lacked the ring of truth, Wilson dispatched aides late Saturday with copies of the minute-by-minute podium schedule in which Wilson was scheduled for “remarks on immigration” from 5:38 to 5:43 p.m.

The content of all convention speeches is being reviewed by party officials, Barbour said. “There’s not anybody on the program who is being told, ‘Here’s 10 minutes. Say whatever you want,’ ” he said.

But Republican abortion-rights supporters charged party leaders were trying to silence dissent. “So much for free speech,” said Darlee Crockett, national co-chairman of Planned Parenthood Republicans for Choice. “They’re attempting to keep the word ‘abortion’ from being said in the convention hall.”

Weld and Wilson played leading roles in the effort to amend the tough anti-abortion GOP platform language this past week. The platform committee soundly rejected language Wilson offered stressing personal responsibility in trying to reduce the number of abortions. After the platform committee deleted language explicitly acknowledging abortion-rights supporters in the party, Wilson and Weld, along with Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, R-Maine, began discussing a floor fight over the issue.

Weld told reporters in Boston he was being asked to talk about Bob Dole’s economic plan. Weld said he instead wanted to talk about “a woman’s right to choose and the future direction of the Republican Party.”

“He is not on the program because he didn’t want to talk about balanced budget and taxes,” Barbour said.

“It’s not the way I would do it, but I don’t think it’s that unreasonable,” Weld said.

Barbour said Wilson, a Dole campaign national co-chairman, was never invited to address the convention from the podium Monday evening but instead had been asked to welcome the gathering to California Monday morning.

“Governor Wilson has been told from the beginning - and he’s been told by me - he’d be treated just like any other presidential candidate,” Barbour said.

Wilson aides produced a letter from Barbour asking Wilson to “participate in our Monday session,” which the aides said they took to mean a speech. Barbour challenged that, saying the phrase did not mean “a speech from the podium.” Wilson chose not to participate in the welcoming ceremony, saying he did not want to overshadow San Diego Mayor Susan Golding, R, the aides said.

This past week, Republican officials have tried to portray the dispute over abortion as a sign of an expanding, diverse party. Noting that three-quarters of Americans live in states with GOP governors, House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., told the platform committee: “When you get 75 percent of the American people in one room, … you have fights, you have noise, you have a little heat.”

Abortion-rights supporters will still have prominent convention roles, but none is expected to discuss abortion. Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, R-N.J., for instance, will preside over the convention’s opening session with Texas Gov. George W. Bush, an abortion foe, a gesture that Gingrich has described as “uniting the two wings of the party.”

In addition, Rep. Susan Molinari, R-N.Y., will deliver the keynote speech Tuesday night. She is not, however, likely to address her support for abortion rights, saying she prefers to focus on the issues that unite the party.

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