All the talk coming out of the Texas legislature this week has been about the birther bill introduced that would require presidential and vice presidential candidates to share with the Texas secretary of state their birth certificates in order to run. FHQ isn't here to debate that bill so much as point out that it has overshadowed another bill that was filed this week; one that would shift the state's presidential primary from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in February. State representative, Roberto Alonzo, as he did prior to 2008, introduced a bill to enhance Texas' impact on the presidential nomination process.
Of course, that 2007 bill, pushed by Democrats, got bottled up in committee -- a committee controlled by Republicans -- and Texas stood pat in March. That maintenance of the status quo actually worked well for both parties. Texas was among the states that put McCain over the top in the Republican nomination race and helped Clinton stem the flow of Obama victories after the February 5 Super Tuesday (effectively keeping the contest going).
The 2011 version of the bill (HB 318) is simply a repeat of what happened in 2007. Same Democratic sponsor, same Republican-controlled committee and same goal: Move the primary from March to February. What has changed, however, is that the national parties have a different set of rules regarding the timing of primaries and caucuses in 2012 than they did in 2008. Both parties are in agreement that only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can go prior to March 2012. All other states, according to the rules drafted and accepted by both national parties, are required to hold delegate selection events in March or later.
On at least one level, those rules make this Texas bill moot. If every other state outside of the exempt states is holding their primary or caucus on the first Tuesday in March or later, then Texas is already positioned on the earliest possible date. However, as FHQ has attempted to point out since the parties began drafting their rules for 2012, this is something that isn't necessarily be easy. In any event, it is a decision -- shifting the date on which a state's primary or caucus is scheduled -- that is fraught with problems.
First of all, with all other factors held equal, the national parties have still not developed a successful incentive or penalty regime to prevent states from ignoring the rules and scheduling their contests outside of the required timeframe. Taking away half of a state's delegates (or all of them) did not deter Florida (or Michigan) from breaking the national party rules in 2008. In fact, both states are still scheduled to have February primaries in 2012, given current election laws in both states. The expectation here at FHQ has always been that the states that are currently outside of that timeframe for 2012 would be where the action was in terms of primary/caucus movement. Yet, states currently in compliance with those timing rules can opt to position their primaries on dates that are in violation of those rules as well. Texas is in that group.
The second set of issues concerns partisanship within the primary date-setting bodies on the state level. Typically, it is the party outside of the White House that tinkers the most with its rules (see Klinkner 1994). In other words, Democrats intent on reelecting President Obama are less interested in shifting the dates on which their primaries or caucuses are scheduled than the Republicans who have a competitive nomination race. In Texas in the case of this bill, that notion is turned on its head; particularly if the same thing that happened in 2007 happens again in 2011. The bill is being sponsored by a Democrat, but the state legislature and the governor's mansion are controlled by Republicans. Those Texas Republicans may opt to go along with the national party rules, but they may also be tempted this time around to flaunt those rules and attempt to give Texas an outsized voice in the Republican nomination race by moving forward.
As such, HB 318, is one to keep an eye on as the Texas legislative session progresses next year.