Thursday, May 28, 2015

Arkansas House Sends SEC Primary Bill Off to Governor Hutchinson

The Arkansas House on Thursday, May 28 passed SB 8 by a vote of 67-22. The amended version of the bill would shift the primaries for a number of offices -- including the presidential primary -- from the mid-May to the first Tuesday in March during the 2016 cycle. The compromise hammered out in the state Senate would expire at the end of 2016 returning the Arkansas primaries to May for subsequent cycles.

The House had already passed its version of the bill that would have permanently set the date of the consolidated primary for March. That same bill faced resistance in the state Senate though, forcing the compromise to only make the primaries date change for the 2016 cycle. The House passed the compromise version by a wider margin than the permanent change.

The bill now heads to Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R) who supported the change in his call for a special session last week.

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Arkansas Senate Passes Compromise SEC Primary Bill

Arkansas legislators worked into the evening on day two of the current special session yesterday. After failing to gather enough votes to suspend the rules and consider SB 8 on the floor of the state Senate1, senators in support of the move to join the SEC primary on March 1 redoubled their efforts to push the measure through.

Those efforts by majority party Republicans included cutting a deal with state Senate Democrats to make the move of the consolidated primary -- including the presidential primary -- to March 1 temporary. Under the provisions of the amended bill, the Arkansas presidential primary will move into the SEC primary position on the calendar, but only for the 2016 cycle. The election would automatically revert to its current May position at the end of 2016 (for the 2020 cycle). This would either save future legislators from having to change the date back to May as they have in other instances when Arkansas has moved its presidential primary forward on the calendar (see 1988 and 2008) or force them to revisit whether to hold an early primary again in 2020 and beyond.

The amended SB 8 emerged from the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee with a "Do Pass" recommendation and was subsequently passed by a 28-6 vote by the full Senate. The measure now heads to the House for consideration. The lower chamber passed the original (unamended/permanent) version of the SEC primary bill on Wednesday.

For more see coverage from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

1 The chamber was able to gain enough support to extract the bill from committee, but not enough to meet the supermajority requirement to consider the bill immediately. Without that supermajority, the bill, by rule, had to wait two calendar days before the chamber could consider it. That would have pushed the special session, originally scheduled to adjourn on Thursday, May 28, into Saturday.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nevada Assembly Committee Rejects Senate-Passed Presidential Primary Bill

Supporters on the Nevada Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections could not muster enough votes to recommend SB 421 for passage on the floor of the full Assembly. The Senate-passed legislation would have created a separate presidential primary scheduled for the last Tuesday in February in its amended form.

However, the majority party Republicans on the committee were not on the same page (and have not been for the last week while this bill has been considered and tweaked), dooming the bill for now. Though it differs from the Senate-passed version, the Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections has voted favorably on the concept of a February presidential primary (AB 302) already. That bill, as passed by the committee, does not contain the protections Democrats in the Silver state would need to continue holding caucuses (as SB 421 does) though and is currently in the Assembly Ways and Means Committee (where it has been since late April).

With time running out -- the legislature adjourns June 1 -- this damages the chances of getting a caucuses to primary bill through the legislature to reflect what the RNC has been pushing for. But the end of legislative session can get crazy and this process in Nevada has been anything but dull on this issue during the 2015 session.

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Ohio Senate Passes March 15 Presidential Primary Bill

The Ohio state Senate on Wednesday, May 27 passed HB 153 by a vote 23-10 along party lines. The bill would push back the date of the presidential primary in the Buckeye state by one week from March 8 to March 15.

By moving back one week on the 2016 presidential primary calendar, Ohio Republicans will gain the latitude to determine the party's method of delegate allocation without restriction from the national party. In his introduction of the bill on the Senate floor, Sen. Frank LaRose (R-27th, Wayne) made it pretty clear that the Ohio Republican Party will opt to "speak with one voice" as a delegation when discussing the reasoning behind the bill. That would potentially bring another winner-take-all primary to March 15 with 66 delegates at stake. Traditionally, Ohio Republicans have utilized a winner-take-most (winner-take-all by congressional district) allocation plan.

The bill passed the state House earlier in the session in the same form that it just passed the Senate. That will now move the bill on to Governor John Kasich's (R) desk for consideration.

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Arkansas House Passes SEC Primary Bill

The Arkansas state House on Wednesday, May 27 passed HB 1006. By a vote of 56-32, the House passed the bill that would shift all primary elections in the Natural state up to the first Tuesday in March from May. Though the legislation faced resistance before getting to committee on the first day of the Arkansas special session and witnessed a number of legislators speaking against the bill on the floor today, HB 1006 passed and will now head to the Senate side of the capitol.1

The Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee rejected an identical bill in on day one of the special session. The real test for this version of an SEC primary bill -- a movement of a consolidated primary -- will be in the upper chamber.

1 Those speaking against the bill mostly cited problems associated with moving all of the primaries forward. That had less to do specifically with the presidential primary and dealt more with adjustments required for the primaries for the legislators themselves.

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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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Ohio Presidential Primary Bill Advances from Senate Committee

FHQ was waiting on the Ohio legislature to update HB 153 online to reflect the state Senate State and Local Government Committee passage yesterday, but waiting on those vote totals may put off posting this update until after the full Ohio Senate takes up the bill later today (Wednesday, May 27). In any event...

On Tuesday, May 26, the Ohio state Senate State and Local Government Committee passed HB 153 by a vote of 6-3.1 The legislation would shift back the date of the presidential primary in the Buckeye state by one week  to March 15 in order to help Ohio Republicans avoid having to proportionally allocated delegates to the national convention. To this point, through the House consideration and now in the state Senate, divisions on this issue have mostly developed along partisan lines with majority party Republicans in support of the move and minority party Democrats against such a modest shift.

HB 153 will be considered by the Ohio state Senate on Wednesday, May 27.

1 Source of vote breakdown: Introduction of HB 153 on the floor of the state Senate on Wednesday, May 27.

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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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