Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Identical SEC Primary Bills Introduced With Mixed Reviews in Arkansas

Given the small window in which the Arkansas legislature has to act during the special session this week, things are likely to move at an expedited pace. While one anti-SEC primary bill was the first introduced on the session's first day a day ago, it was not the only bill filed. But as it turned out, HB 1002 was not the only ominous sign for the Arkansas effort to join the SEC primary on March 1 either.

The Arkansas state House and Senate also the introduction of identical bills to move all of the primaries in the Natural state from May to March. Both versions saw opposition. On the House side, HB 1006 was objected to during its introduction and second reading. However, opponents did not have the numbers to prevent the bill from being referred to the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. That committee later in the day sent the bill along to the floor with a "Do Pass" recommendation. 

The story was different in the Senate. The state Senate version of the SEC primary bill faced no pushback on its way to committee, but once it was in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee the effort to move SB 8 along failed. Minority party Democrats voted against the legislation, effectively bottling the bill up in the committee.1 

This was one of the questions FHQ posed on the call of the the special session last week. During the regular session earlier this year, the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee (and later the full Senate) passed an SEC primary bill, but one that would have followed the example of previous Arkansas presidential primary shifts. It would have created a separate presidential primary and left all other primary election in May. An alternate bill -- one similar to the special session bill, SB 8 -- that would have moved all Arkansas primaries to March failed in committee. Entering the special session, it was an open question whether the Senate committee would balk at similar legislation (even with the governor's backing). 

It appears that question has now been answered. Though SB 8 quickly stalled in committee, the bill's sponsor, Senator Gary Stubblefield (R-6th, Branch), is contemplating discharging it from committee for consideration on the floor of the state Senate.

Overall, day one of the Arkansas special legislative session was not necessarily a positive one with respect to the SEC primary move. There was resistance in both chambers. That said, the state House will take up its version of the SEC primary bill on day two.

1 Democrats on the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee objected to moving all Arkansas primaries to March on the grounds that it would push up filing deadlines and force campaigning into holiday season in the year before the election:
Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said it could result in an unfair advantage to incumbents. 
"You're talking about campaigning over Thanksgiving and Christmas," Chesterfield said. "We're talking about campaigning in some of the most treacherous weather around."
Others warned that history might repeat itself:
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, also questioned whether an earlier primary date would increase Arkansas influence. With former Gov. Mike Huckabee seeking the Republican nomination and former Arkansas first-lady Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigning for the Democratic nomination, most other candidates would be reluctant to spend much time here, she suggested.
Arkansas last moved its presidential primary forward for the 2008 cycle and saw both Huckabee and Clinton run then as well. That had most candidates campaigning elsewhere, yielding the state to its favorite children.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Request Denied, Minnesota Republicans Will Bind Delegates Based on Precinct Caucuses

The Republican National Committee has rejected the latest Minnesota Republican Party request for a waiver from the new delegate binding rules for 2016.

Since mid-February, around the time when Republicans in the Land of 10,000 Lakes agreed with state Democrats to conduct presidential caucuses on March 1, Minnesota Republicans have petitioned the RNC for clearance to continue holding their traditional non-binding caucuses. But the state party desire to continue with business as usual with respect to the delegate selection process conflicts with the national party crackdown on a number of the perceived rules bending/exploitation in 2012.

First, Minnesota was among the group of non-binding caucuses states that held presidential preference straw polls before the first Tuesday in March in 2012. While technically not a violation of the national party rules on primary/caucuses timing, a statewide, but non-binding vote, was held. Furthermore, Minnesota was one of the states where the delegate selection/allocation did not reflect the results of that straw poll. That may seem obvious; non-binding caucuses leads to unbound delegates. However, the delegates chosen reflected neither the winner of the caucuses (Rick Santorum) nor the presumptive nominee (Mitt Romney). Those delegates instead were chosen before Romney had clinched the nomination in late May and were aligned with Ron Paul.

This was viewed as problematic by some in the national party; as against the will of the caucusgoers who participated in the February preference vote. Minnesota was not alone in this regard in 2012. Colorado, Iowa, Maine and Missouri all conducted caucuses under similar, non-binding rules. And all were targeted when the RNC revisited its national delegate selection rules at the Tampa convention in 2012. Among the list of changes was to end the practice of non-binding caucuses; to make the allocation process dependent upon the results in the earliest statewide vote.

It was that rule that Minnesota Republicans sought a waiver from this spring. In the face of 2012 delegate selection rules changes, though, the RNC has denied the waiver requests. The result is that with March 1 precinct caucuses, Minnesota Republicans will be required to proportionally allocate delegates to candidates based on the results of that preference vote at the caucuses. What that proportionality will ultimately look like remains undetermined for the time being.

However, to hear Minnesota Republican Party chair, Keith Downey, describe it, the process will be without many restrictions:
And since the ballot is binding proportionately, Downey believes, “it protects the upstart candidates who can sustain their candidacy without having to win outright. My opinion is that this is actually a better situation for grass-roots activists … who may prefer an outlier.”
By "restrictions" FHQ means thresholds to determine the candidates who qualify for delegates. What Downey discusses does not sound like a process that will limit the candidates who will receive delegates; will not require a candidate to get up to 20% of the vote in the preference vote to be allocated any of the 38 Minnesota delegates. Any move to institute such a threshold would likely stoke the tensions between the establishment and liberty wings of the party.

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First Presidential Primary Bill of Arkansas Special Session Does Not Call for SEC Primary Date

In a sign of what may yet come in the short special session this week in Arkansas, the opening salvo in the effort to join the SEC primary on March 1 does not actually call for moving the presidential primary in the Natural state to March. Instead, Representative Nate Bell (R-20th, Mena), who derailed the regular session bill to create a separate presidential primary scheduled for the SEC primary date, went in a different direction.

On the opening day of the three day special session, Rep. Bell introduced HB 1002. This legislation would bump up the date of the Arkansas consolidated primary, but only to the first Tuesday in May for the 2016 cycle. Under current law, the Arkansas primary would be held on May 24, three weeks later than the proposed date from Bell. Additionally, Bell's bill would also require the state House and Senate Committees on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs to "study the effects and benefits of holding the preferential primary election and the general primary election in May" after the 2016 cycle.1

These study committees have come up from time to time and tend to lead nowhere; as in the presidential primary does not move. That was the case when Indiana in 2009 talked about but did not ultimately study the benefits of moving out of the Hoosier state's typical early May primary for something earlier.

In the Arkansas case, the study committee may be nothing more than a stall tactic. Bell chairs the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee and bottled up the previous, regular session bill there. That he has proposed alternative legislation may signal that he is willing to do the same with any SEC primary bill that may once again come over from the state Senate (with the governor's support). This is just a three day session, so running out the clock is very much an option that is on the table as far as the Arkansas effort to join the SEC primary.

1 The "general primary election" is what the runoff system is called in Arkansas. The "preferential primary election" that precedes it is what is called a primary election in the majority of states.

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Pennsylvania Parties Not That Open to Presidential Primary Change

The proposed shift of the Pennsylvania presidential primary from April to March raised eyebrows in both major parties in the Keystone state.

The resistance has less to do with the presidential primary than it does with moving the all of the primaries -- presidential primary included -- from the fourth Tuesday in April to the third Tuesday in March.1 As FHQ often mentions, creating a separate presidential primary has its costs -- funding an all new election -- but shifting around a consolidated primary also has costs. In that instance, however, the cost is not directly financial. Take the recent discussion in Nevada over a proposed consolidated primary scheduled for the end of February. Concerns there tended to revolve around the idea state legislators would be affected. Their renominations would be pushed to earlier points on the calendar. That would trigger even earlier campaigning and an even longer general election process. Elongating the primary and general election phases for state legislators requires raising and spending more money.

There are financial costs, then, in moving a consolidated primary, but in that case the burden is shifted from the state to the legislators. Over the years, that has tended to produce some reservations among those state legislators. In turn, that often leads to inaction and an unchanged primary date.

This may or may not affect the yet-to-be filed presidential primary bill in Pennsylvania. But, as James P. O'Toole at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette notes, this is an old dilemma in the Keystone state and a move that does not have the support of the two state party chairmen:
"I have not been supportive of changing the primary date because of the way it affects so many other people,'' said Rob Gleason, the chairman of the state Republican Party. "You'd have to change the date of for petition circulation … You'd be circulating petitions in January and February. I've always kind of resisted that.''

"I see no reason right now to change it, from the Democratic side,' said Jim Burn, the Democratic state chairman. "It throws everything out of whack; people are going to have to start a very complex series of events during the holidays … The costs and the complications far outweigh any benefits.
Bill sponsor, Representative Keith Greiner (R-43rd, Lancaster) claims to have bipartisan support for the move, but shifting the [presidential] primary will likely have to overcome some resistance.

1 FHQ spoke with Rep. Greiner's spokesperson, Eric Reath, last week and he confirmed that the proposed bill would move the full consolidated primary to March and not create a separate presidential primary.

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Saturday, May 23, 2015

Assembly Amendment Would Create Separate Nevada Presidential Primary

Another day, another change in the effort to create a presidential primary for the 2016 cycle in Nevada.

On Thursday, May 21 the Nevada Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections held a working session on SB 421. That is the bill to not only establish a presidential primary, but to move up the June primary elections for other offices to the last Tuesday in February, creating a consolidated primary. Typically, these committee working session yield votes to pass or table the bill under consideration. However, that was not the case with the LegOps work session on the state Senate-passed presidential primary legislation.

Instead, yet another amendment was introduced, adding still one more bend in the wending path toward a potential presidential primary. The proposal now on the table would create a separate presidential primary scheduled for the last Tuesday in February. The primaries for other offices would stay in June.

While this addresses some of the negative feedback SB 421 received in its initial Assembly hearing earlier this week, it does have budgetary implications. The separate presidential primary obviously will cost the state of Nevada. To reduce those costs, the amendment to the Senate bill would not provide for early voting -- eliminating that potential conflict with New Hampshire -- but would allow for absentee and military voting. Those would be the only exceptions. Otherwise, all voting will take place on election day, presumably February 23, 2016 if this bill passes and is signed into law.

Of course, if the LegOps committee signs off on this change and the Assembly passes the bill in its amended form, it will have to return to the Senate. Senate sponsor, James Settlemeyer (R-17th, Minden), has shepherded this bill through committee and the full Senate and has appeared willing to make changes -- any changes -- that would facilitate a change from the caucus/convention system to a primary.

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Friday, May 22, 2015

Kansas House Passes Bill Eliminating Presidential Primary

The Kansas state House followed Senate's lead, more narrowly passing the conference committee report for HB 2104. The omnibus elections package that includes a provision to permanently cancel the presidential primary in the Sunflower state cleared the Senate last week.

This ends the standard operating procedure that has prevailed in Kansas over the last two decades: canceling the primary every four years. HB 2104 eliminates the presidential primary altogether and ends the practice of the legislature being required to revisit its postponement. While Kansas has been a caucus state for both parties since 1996, the presidential primary statute has still been on the books.

This legislation would make Kansas a caucus state permanently. The bill now heads to Governor Sam Brownback (R) for his consideration.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

SEC Primary Bill Passes Alabama House

Joining the SEC primary inched closer to reality in Alabaman this morning.

The Alabama state House on Thursday, May 21 by voice vote passed SB 240. The legislation would make only a minor tweak to the Alabama statutes, moving the consolidated primary -- including the presidential primary -- up a week to March 1. Four years ago, the Alabama legislature eliminated its separate February presidential primary and combined that election with the the June primaries for other offices. The 2011 change brought all of those elections together on the second Tuesday in March, a date that coincided with the primary in neighboring Mississippi.

Though Mississippi's bid to join the 2016 SEC primary on the first Tuesday in March failed during its regular legislative session, the Alabama shift to a week earlier on the 2016 primary calendar has now passed both chambers of the state legislature. That has Alabama poised to join Georgia*, Tennessee and Texas in the SEC primary. Tangentially regional/southern states, Oklahoma and Virginia are also scheduled to hold March 1 presidential primaries.

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Hutchinson's Call for Special Session Includes Arkansas Presidential Primary Move

Under a proclamation from Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) a special session of the Arkansas legislature will convene on Tuesday, May 26.1

For our purposes here at FHQ the most noteworthy item on the governor's agenda for the session is "to move the full Arkansas primary elections from May to March". This is an expected move, but an interesting one. The bill (SB 389) that passed the state Senate during the regular session -- and was subsequently withdrawn after it was bottled up in committee on the House -- proposed to create and fund a separate presidential preferential primary election for the first Tuesday in March. That would have left the other primaries back in May.

That separate presidential primary would cost the state an estimated $1.6 million.

But it should be noted that a bill (SB 765) similar to the one the governor is asking the legislature to consider was also proposed during the regular session by the same legislator who introduced the separate presidential primary legislation, Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-6th, Branch). That bill, when considered beside SB 389, was discarded in committee in the state Senate.

That raises an interesting question: If the Arkansas state House opposes a separate primary, and the state Senate opposes moving a consolidated primary up to March 1, is this special session headed for an impasse? That depends. Did the state Senate committee really oppose the consolidated bill or did it just prefer the separate presidential primary option? If it is the former, then an standoff is likely. However, if it preferred the separate presidential primary option, it may not have opposed the consolidated primary option if it was the only one available.

Either way, that leaves some questions to be answered in a very short three day special session next week.

UPDATE (5/21/15): The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has more details on the presidential primary proposal from Governor Hutchinson. All the primaries would be moved from May to the first Tuesday in March, but the fiscal session of the state legislature would be shifted from February to April as well. That latter move would eliminate the conflict of legislators campaigning in the midst of their work on budgetary/appropriations matters. Hypothetically, campaigning would potentially affect  deliberations on those matters. This is a long-standing norm in Arkansas and other states. It is also something FHQ has discussed before in the context of an Arkansas presidential primary move.

Democrats in the state legislative minority are raising holiday and weather concerns (similar to minority party Democrats in Nevada), but Republicans are countering that the change is being made in time for everyone to adjust (via the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette):
[State Senate Democratic Leader Keith] Ingram said that moving all the state's primaries from May to March will create problems, lead to campaigning during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays and devastate state and local primary races if an ice storm occurs on primary day.
But [Speaker of the House, Republican Jeremy] Gillam said that "we are doing it early enough that everybody will have plenty of time to adjust the calendars, whether it be just on making a decision to run for office or how to conduct the elections.

1 The text of press release on the call for a special session:
Governor Asa Hutchinson Makes Official Call for Special Legislative Session
Agenda Items Focus on Economic Development and Government Efficiencies

LITTLE ROCK – Governor Asa Hutchinson has made the official call to legislators for a special session of the 90th General Assembly that will convene Tuesday, May 26, 2015. Along with the official call, the Governor has announced all items on the special session agenda below.

Governor Hutchinson issued the following statement: “This limited agenda focuses on job creation and economic development, while highlighting government efficiencies that will ultimately result in savings to all Arkansas taxpayers.”

Agenda items are as follows:
To consider an Amendment 82 “super project” at Highland Industrial Park in Calhoun County.

To consider reorganization of state agencies to provide efficiencies, better services and savings:
 » Merging the Arkansas Department of Rural Services (ADRS) with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC)
 » Merging the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority (ASTA) with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) » Merging the Arkansas Building Authority (ABA) with the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA)
 » Merging the Division of Land Survey with the Arkansas Geographic Information Office (AGIO) 

To make a minor fix to DWI law to assure continuation of federal highway funds.

To ensure that state law aligns with potential changes in federal law regarding farm-equipment traffic on a new section of interstate highway.

To correct technical errors made to bills when amendments were engrossed.

To move the full Arkansas primary elections from May to March.

To move the General Assembly’s fiscal session from February to April.

To honor Johnson County Deputy Sheriff Sonny Smith.

To confirm Gubernatorial appointments.


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The SEC Primary, Seriously Y'all

Via Tim Alberta at National Journal:
Because for the first time in the modern history of the Republican Party, the path to its presidential nomination takes an early and potentially decisive detour through the South. 
As the schedule tentatively stands, following the first four nominating contests in February—Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada—the campaign speeds up with a March 1 Super Tuesday dominated by Bible Belt primaries. The calendar will not be finalized until October, but Republican officials expect that at as many as six states—Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas—could wind up voting in a bloc. (It has been dubbed the "SEC primary" after the powerhouse football programs in the Southeastern Conference.) Even if Alabama and Mississippi fail to move their primaries up to March 1, they're currently scheduled to vote just one week later, on March 8, along with Oklahoma. Plus, Louisiana is holding its primary March 5, giving the South enormous influence no matter how Super Tuesday shapes up.

First time in modern history that the Republican Party has had a primary calendar with such a swing through the South? I look back sometimes and wonder where the time has gone, but 1988 is still part of the modern period of presidential nominations. In that year, the entire South with few exceptions held primaries and caucuses on March 8, a date closer to the New Hampshire primary in 1988 than the comparatively smaller group of southern states will be next year.

George H.W. Bush swept them all in 1988. Huckabee and others hope for as much in 2016. The Democrats' split decision experience in the Southern Super Tuesday in 1988 might be a better comparison though.

Now let's look at that calendar of southern contests for 2016.
Mississippi's out.
The Alabama House has been sitting on their primary bill since April.
Arkansas failed to move during its regular session, but has hope for passage during a special session.

Oklahoma is currently scheduled for March 1 after a plan to move the primary back to April failed.

North Carolina and Virginia are out there as well. Virginia is set for March 1, and North Carolina may fall anywhere in the February 23-March 8 range.

No, the calendar is not set now, but we have a pretty good idea of what it will look like. Yes, Mike Huckabee did well in the South in 2008, but there are a number of candidates who might do well in the region. That may mean a repeat of 1988.

...the Democrats' version. That would make the South -- and the SEC primary -- less decisive.

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Path to Nevada Presidential Primary May Be Steep in Assembly

The Nevada Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections convened on Tuesday, May 19. On its agenda was the recently-passed bill to move a consolidated primary -- including a new presidential primary -- to the last Tuesday in February.

This is now the sixth time this session that a committee on either side of the Nevada capitol has heard testimony on the issue of trading in caucuses in the Silver state and replacing them with a presidential primary election. However, it is the first time that the switch has been discussed in the Assembly since it became clear that the Republican National Committee is pushing for a primary in the state for 2016. The RNC got a party line passage vote in the Nevada Senate a week ago that sent the matter over to the Assembly side.

That RNC involvement is really the only thing that has changed along with changes to the bills in both chambers the longer this legislative session has progressed. Well, the RNC has brought some more coverage, but the talking points have remained the same in these committee hearings and work sessions. And the people speaking for and against the primary and its timing have basically been the same core of folks through the previous five committee meetings.

The big story at this point is that minds really have not changed. Elections administrators, given the extra practice through repeated committee hearings, have refined their arguments but still balk at the possibility of a February primary (for all offices). Democrats are still against the move, but are satisfied enough with the out the bill gives them (to keep conducting caucuses) that they are not as concerned about upsetting the Democratic National Committee and losing the state's protected status at the beginning of the primary calendar. [There is little the state party can do on that anyway.] And the minor party representatives are still crying foul.

If none of that has changed, then why have proponents of the primary switch not adapted to counter those complaints? Arguing that turnout will be higher in a primary is a potentially great point, but repeatedly only pulling that out of the bag of tricks is not convincing enough to some on the LegOps committee in the Assembly. For instance, proponents could counter elections administrators complaints that it is tough train volunteers for the primary over the holidays or the arguments from some Democrats on the committee against campaigning over the holidays with an example. How did Illinois manage all of this with a consolidated primary on the first Tuesday in February 2008? Maybe that is a bad example. Illinois legislators liked that enough that they reverted to a mid-March primary for 2012.

But there are others. Texas will hold a consolidated primary on March 1, 2016. There may be complaints from elections officials in the Lone Star state, but FHQ has not heard them. They did not like the idea of moving the Texas primary to January, but they did not mind the March 1 date; only a week after the proposed primary date in Nevada. What is Texas doing to confront these same issues? Now, sure, there is a great deal of variation in election administration across states, but this might be something for proponents of the Nevada primary -- or perhaps the RNC -- to look into.

Time is running short. The regular legislative session is slated to end in Nevada on June 1 and there are Republicans on the LegOps committee who are not on board with the change. Tick, tick, tick...

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