Major disputes over party rules and procedures may erupt this weekend when more than 1600 rank-and-file Democrats and some 300 Democratic officeholders assemble in Kansas City, Mo., for the party's first mid-term national convention.
The goal of the convention is to ratify a charter or constitution of a sort no American political party has tried to write before. For several high-ranking party leaders, a primary convention goal will be to avert serious conflicts among party factions so that the party may begin to shape a united front for the 1976 presidential elections.
The final agenda for the convention will be drawn up today and tomorrow by the party's rules committee, which will hear arguments from various party groups for and against changes in the draft charter that will go before the full assembly of Democrats Friday through Sunday.
The rules committee today will also consider arguments for the inclusion of comprehensive policy meetings among leaders and delegates during the convention.
To Discuss 'Women's Issues'
Ann Lewis, special assistant to Boston Mayor Kevin White and a leader of the National Women's Political Caucus, said yesterday she intends to campaign for a "full discussion of women's issues" at the convention. She left yesterday afternoon for the rules committee meetings, also to be held in Kansas City.
"I understand we can get possible support from members of liberal labor, who also want some discussion of national issues," Lewis said. "If there's a coalition that succeeds in getting issues on the agenda, we [the caucus] want to be included."
National Democratic Chairman Robert S. Strauss said in a recent CBS News interview, however, that any attention to national issues at the convention will be secondary to ratification of the party charter. "This wasn't really written to be a policy conference," Strauss said.
A full-scale discussion of pressing national issues such as inflation and civil rights could turn into factious debate that would cripple the party in front of network television cameras, Strauss said.
Strauss and other high-level party leaders have expressed hope eight panel discussions scheduled for Friday will appease segments of the party calling for platform-like policy measures.
The panels, to be chaired by party leaders and aspiring presidential candidates like Sen. Henry M. Jackson (D-Wash.) and Sen. Lloyd M. Bentsen (D-Tex.), will cover topics such as the economy and natural resources.
Reports of the panel discussions will go to the convention floor Sunday, but the party leadership will adopt no specific party positions nor solicit votes.
Strauss this weekend may find himself in the middle of a titanic battle over proposed charter rules on two matters:
* Programs of "affirmative action" to encourage participation by blacks, women, youth and American Indians in all party affairs, and a ban on mandatory quotas; and
* The use of proportional representation in selecting national convention delegates--a process that bans winner-take-all primaries and unit-rule caucuses and, instead, allots delegate votes according to shares of a candidate's popular support.