The National Conference of State Legislatures has this calendar as well, but in alphabetical order. FHQ is more concerned with sequence. Which state legislatures convene first, when do their sessions end and how does this impact the scheduling of presidential primaries?
|2011 State Legislative Session Calendar|
|Date (Open)||States||Date (Close)|
|December 1, 2010||Maine*||June 15, 2011|
|December 6||California||September 9|
|January 3, 2011||Montana|
|January 19||Hawaii*||mid May|
|January 24||Utah||March 10|
|January 26||North Carolina||early June|
|February 1||Oregon||June 30|
|March 1||Alabama||mid June|
|March 8||Florida||May 6|
|April 25||Louisiana||June 23|
*States in italics are caucus states. State parties and not state legislatures control the scheduling of those contests.
**State legislatures with year-round sessions.
The table answers the first two of the three questions posed above. With the schedule of state legislative sessions down, though, what impact will this have on the 2012 presidential primary calendar? As has been mentioned several times in this space, the true impact of anything dealing with the 2012 calendar will be felt first in the 18 non-exempt states with primaries currently positioned prior to March. Those are the states where some action is necessary to pull the timing of their delegate selection event within the bounds set by the two national parties' 2012 delegate selection rules.
The most interesting note is that the state legislature in Florida does not convene until March 8; the next to last state to open its session. Why is this noteworthy? Well, Florida, a state whose election codes have the 2012 presidential primary scheduled for January 31, is technically scheduled ahead of when the parties want the exempt states -- Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- to hold their contests. To be sure, if Florida were to leave the law alone, those four states would likely move their contests to earlier dates than what the parties desire, but the end result is that Florida holds a tremendous amount of sway over what the eventual primary calendar will look like in 2012. The late state legislative start date in Florida, then, means that many states will have already missed the window to pre-file or introduce legislation to alter the section of state election laws concerning presidential primary timing; all before Florida has even opened its legislative session. Other states, like Virginia (another primary state scheduled in violation of the national party rules), will have already brought the gavel down on the 2011 state legislative session by the time Florida starts. In other words, a state could act on 2012 primary timing prior to when the true lynchpin in the process moves (or doesn't move). Now, states in that position are not without options. One way to circumvent that problem is to bring the issue up in a special session; one that is already scheduled or where that isn't the singular issue. The other is to add an amendment for moving the primary date to another piece of legislation as a means of passing it through the legislature. Though another state's actions were not the motivation, this is what happened in Georgia (see Georgia section of that post) during the 2007 session of its General Assembly. Efforts to pass a bill specifically designed to move the date on which the Peach state's presidential primary would be held in 2008 failed, but language accomplishing the same ends was inserted in another bill in the form of an amendment toward the end of the session.
An additional factor to note is that the above discussion only accounts for those states in violation of the national party rules; those states, again, that would technically require action to come into compliance. What it does not account for are those states currently in compliance with those rules that may choose to challenge and thus violate them. The bill that has been pre-filed in Texas is an example of this.
Let us also recall that the Republican nomination contest, as the likely only competitive one, will be where all of this matters most. First of all, the Republican rules governing the 2012 nomination process provide only one penalty for states that choose to violate the timing rule: one half of their delegation to the national convention. This was not enough of a penalty to prevent all those 2008 states with contests prior to February (New Hampshire and South Carolina included) from rolling the dice. Florida and others may choose influence over delegates again in 2012. Of course, some have speculated that since the Republican National Convention is in Tampa, Florida Republicans may desire having a full delegation at a convention they are hosting. For other states (and even Florida for that matter), it remains an open question.
Regardless of all of that, state legislatures will convene mostly over the next few weeks and will continue to do so throughout the first third of 2011. That is when the work to shape the 2012 presidential primary calendar will truly commence and is something we here at FHQ will be watching closely.