This piece orignally appeared on Salon.com during the platform hearings for the 2000 Republican National Convention.
Salon.com Politics | Inside the Republican pro-choice coalition - cont'd
Henry Hyde chimes in
A slim, coltish woman of 50, Cullman wears her neatly trimmed salt-and-pepper hair in a straight line a few inches past her shoulders, and favors finely fitted pants suits and minimal makeup. A polite indignance simmers in her piercing gaze, which radiates purpose and competence. Among the volunteers staffing RPCC phones (including the mother-and-daughter team of Gretchen and Scarlett Johnson of the Johnson & Johnson family), Cullman inspires an impressive level of loyalty. Many among the ranks have told me that they're here because of her. One young woman scurried to Philadelphia from New Jersey after reading a commentary by Cullman that appears in this month's copy of Glamour magazine. Even Merrill has manned the phones, calling 31 Republican governors to marshal their support for changing the platform.
Cullman spends much of her days here in Philadelphia in a smoke-filled room, plotting strategy with Lynn Grefe, the RPCC's national director, and several board members. She periodically appears to address her troops in the two large salons at the Hilton that the group uses as its convention headquarters.
Call the wisecracking Lynn Grefe the perfect foil to Cullman's cool, composed disposition. Small and slender with expressive brown eyes, Grefe just can't help herself from talking in sound bites. Seeking to avoid an off-putting message, it was Grefe who arrived at the group's slogan, "Warning! GOP Pothole Ahead!" that appears across the backs of the yellow T-shirts. "We truly believe that this abortion language is a pothole on any road to unity for this party." Grefe explains, "and we are asking that it be taken out."
A hyperactive New Yorker, and mother to two kids who were school age when she adopted them, Grefe represents another face common to this group: regular, middle-class people, several of whom have worked in the social service field. Long before she found a life in politics, Grefe worked in a halfway house for delinquent girls run by the woman who is now the group's animated administrator, Susie Walrich. Both found their way to New York, where Grefe began consulting to corporations and Walrich found employment in the New York State Division of Child and Family Services. Walrich, who shares with her husband a nearly full-time interest in auto racing (together they command a Nissan 500 tube-frame car designed for road racing), came on board to work for Grefe in the RPCC's New York offices earlier this year after leaving her 25-year career with the State of New York.
When she and her colleagues are accused of disloyalty to their party, a nearly everpresent smile suddenly disappears from Grefe's face. "You know what's interesting?" she asks. "The platform has been bad, as far as we're concerned, for 20 years, and we're still here. We're still Republicans. The other side, they say 'change one word of that platform or you pick a pro-choice VP, and we're out of here.' I don't think they're Republicans." At a press conference earlier this week, Grefe offered to buy a bus ticket for any pro-lifer who cares to bolt the party over a change in the platform language.
Platform deliberations are expected to continue until 6 p.m. on Saturday, when Platform Committee chairman Tommy Thompson, the pro-life Wisconsin governor, has promised to settle all issues with a strike of his gavel. Should the talks not go their way (as of late Friday, discussions appeared to have closed on the topic), the coalition continues to hold open the possibility of seeing the issue raised on the convention floor next Monday, when convention delegates will be asked to ratify the platform. "We're willing to go as far as it needs to go," says Cullman.
This morning I joined members of the coalition for breakfast at the Marriott, the dining spot most often used by platform delegates before they resume their places in the convention center. Seated nearby was Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., the notoriously anti-abortion congressman who chaired the platform committee in '96, and who today sits on the subcommittee that will take up the issue of the abortion plank. I asked him to assess the coalition's chances of winning the plank's removal. "I have no idea," said Hyde. But what would it mean for the party, I asked, if the issue were to be raised on the convention floor on Monday?
"It would mean that democracy is in full force," Hyde replied.
salon.com | July 29, 2000
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About the writer
Adele M. Stan is a regular contributor to IntellectualCapital.com and the Washington correspondent for Working Woman magazine.