Monday, September 4, 2017

Bells and Whistles Removed, Amended California Presidential Primary Bill Moves Forward

For much of 2017, there have been a couple of bills working their way through the California State Assembly to change the date of the presidential primary in the Golden state. And for much of the year both have been on a bit of a collision course. Both have made it through their originating chamber, but the bills differ from one another, requiring some reconciliation at some point.

That reconciliation came as August came to a close last week. The crux of this is that the Senate-passed bill called for the continued consolidation of the presidential primary with the direct primary for state and local offices and moving that combined primary from early June to the third Tuesday in March. Additionally, the legislation would have given the California governor the power to shift that consolidated primary up even further on the primary calendar than the newly called for March baseline.

Alternatively, the Assembly took a simpler path, more consistent with the way in which other states tend to move their primaries around. Again, the budgetary constraints placed on the state almost require the presidential and direct primaries to remain consolidated. A separate presidential primary election would cost the state more than $100 million. But the Assembly bill would leave the direct primary in June in midterm election years while shifting the consolidated primary election up to the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in March in presidential years.

In the end, there were atypical aspects to each piece of legislation. The staggered result of that Assembly bill (AB 84) -- a March primary in one year, and a June primary in another -- is exception rather than rule in most states with consolidated primaries. Alabama and Mississippi stand out as states that have a similar, on-again-off-again approach, but again, most states -- Illinois and Texas among them -- with consolidated primaries tend to be more consistent, holding them at the same calendar point regardless of the what office is at the top of the ticket in a given year.

On the state Senate side, the uncommon provision in the bill (SB 568) was and has always been the additional power granted the governor to shift the primary to an even earlier date than the new third Tuesday in March baseline. It was always poorly designed. Basically, the earliest the governor could realistically schedule the primary was for the first Tuesday in March. There is more to it than that -- which interested readers can dig into here -- but that essentially powerless power ceded to the governor would only really give the executive in the Golden state the ability to move the primary to a point on the calendar where Assembly bill would already move it.

But as of August 31, those complications are gone. First, the Assembly bill was pulled off the active list in the Senate and the gubernatorial provision was removed from the Senate bill. What is left is a piece of legislation (SB 568) that would push the consolidated California primary election up from the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in June to the first Tuesday (after the first Monday) in March. That calendar position would be used in both presidential and midterm election years starting in 2019, eliminating the staggering of the Assembly bill.

The amended Senate bill will now go on the calendar for a final vote in the Assembly and have to return to the Senate for consideration there before moving on to the governor for signature. With a uniform date now settled, California's potential impact on the 2020 presidential primary calendar can be more clearly discussed. As outlined in previous posts in this space, the proposed shift would move a significant chunk of delegates from late in the calendar to the earliest spot on the calendar after the four carve-out states. Such a cache of delegates moving to the beginning of March would shift up the point at which half the delegates will have been allocated in both parties by about a week depending on how other states react between now and 2020.

First, though, California has to move its primary. And that will likely take more time as the remaining Senate-passed (but now amended) bill continues its path through the legislative process.

A tip of the cap to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing along news of the amendment to FHQ.

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