WASHINGTON -- Democratic party rule makers recommended today that delegates to the 1984 national convention be bound to presidential candidates by nothing stronger than their conscience, and that Iowa hold its first-in-the-nation caucuses five weeks later than in 1980.
The party's rules reform commission, preparing revisions of party ground rules for the 1984 convention, approved a change that would repeal language saying delegates pledged to specific candidates 'shall be bound' to that candidate on the first ballot. They substituted a provision calling on delegates to support their candidates 'in good conscience.'
In another section of the rules, the 68-member commission voted 47-16 to recommend that the Iowa precinct caucuses -- held Jan. 19, 1980 - be held no earlier than Feb. 27 in 1984. In the same action, the group recommended that New Hampshire be allowed to hold its traditional first primary no earlier than March 6, 1984, a week before the opening of the three-month period in which all other states much choose delegates.
The proposed rule changes, which would have to be approved by the Democratic National Committee before taking effect, also would rule out early delegate selection for such states as Maine, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, which were held outside the three-month delegate selection 'window' in 1980. Maine and Minnesotta could, however, ask to hold their caucuses as early as Iowa and Massachusetts could ask to have its primary on the same day as New Hampshire.
The party's rules reform commission voted 48-1 to repeal the controversial rule that legally binds delegates to vote for the presidential candidate to whom they are pledged for 'at least the first convention ballot.'
The commission, headed by North Carolina Gov. James Hunt adopted a proposal saying, 'Delegates elected to the national convention pledged to a presidential candidate shall in all good conscience reflect the sentiments of those who elected them.'
That language removes any legal requirements on pledged delegates except where state laws governing primaries cover committed delegates.
In a session that lasted to near midnight Thursday, the commission agreed to back away from delegate selection reforms of the 1970's in an effort to lure Democratic elected officials and party leaders back to the convention as elected official.
In the late-night session the group approved a compromise plan to give up to 849 Democratic elected officials -- mainly members of Congress - and party leaders delegate seats at the 1984 national convention.
The rules change, approved 47-6, could increase the number of voting delegates at the next convention to nearly 3,900, about 570 more than in 1980.
The plan, a compromise worked out by representatives of potential presidential candidates Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts and Walter Mondale along with labor and party officials, would add to convention rolls 549 elected officials and party leaders as unpledged delegates and another 300 who would be committed to candidates.
In 1980, the party provided for 309 seats for elected officials and party leaders but all had to be pledged to candidates. It was the addition of a category for unpledged delegates that caused controversy within the commission.
The Democrats in general have opposed the idea of unpledged convention delegates since they began reforming their rules after the 1968 election, fearing that large blocs of unattached votes could be used by political bosses to 'broker' conventions.
But since 1976, a feeling has grown in the party that recent reforms had frozen out many elected Democrats who did not want to commit themselves to a presidential candidate months before the national convention.
This loss of members of Congress and state officials, according to the argument, removed the convention's debates and even the presidential nomination from the realm of political reality. It was said to be one of the reasons that Jimmy Carter, nominated under the reform rules, had such difficulties trying to deal with Democratic members of Congress during his four years in the White House.
Under the proposal adopted by the commission, the Democrats in the House and Senate could nominate up to two-thirds of their members to serve in state delegations. Top state party leaders also would get seats automatically and state committees would pick state and local Democratic elected officials to fill the additional slots allocated to state delegations under the new rule.
There was a foreshadowing of the 1984 nomination race in the debate. Kennedy supporters wanted all new delegates pledged to a candidate but Mondale backers and other party factions wanted 30 percent of the convention made up of unpledged delegates.
The compromise would provide for about 14 percent of the total number of delegates to be uncommitted. Some women on the commission protested the plan violated a party rule to divide convention votes equally between the sexes. But Rep. Geraldine Ferraro, D-N.Y., said no such result was intended nor would be allowed to occur.