Tuesday, March 29, 2011

California GOP, Budget and the 2012 Presidential Primary

Much is being made of the apparent discontent within the California Republican Party over proposed and Democratic-backed legislation to move the Golden state's presidential primary back to June. It started with talk coming out of the Republican convention in the state the weekend before last and has continued in the time since. For the record FHQ is not particularly swayed by either side of the argument over the timing of the presidential primary -- either political or budgetary -- in California next year.

Democrats have the luxury of not only having unified control over the state government, but because of that can also afford to save money combining the presidential primary with the primaries for state and local offices already scheduled for the first Tuesday in June. Republicans in the state are just out of luck. It doesn't seem entirely political, but the move to coordinate the two sets of primaries and save money in the process seems more like a means to an end. Yet, former California GOP chairman, Rob Nehring, is absolutely right that if the national Democrats had a contested nomination race in 2012, California Democrats would not be making this move to June. Instead, they would presumably be doing what California Republicans and the national parties want them to do: moving the primary back into compliance with a first Tuesday in March separate presidential primary. And would assuming Democratic control of the state and a competitive nomination race in 2016 make some effort to put California's primary back into the window of decisiveness.

What I think is being lost in all of this discussion is that we do and don't have an official Republican response to the Assembly bill (AB 80) that proposes the change to the presidential primary date. Sure, state Republicans have made their demands -- among them a March presidential primary -- but we have yet to see that plan manifest itself in the form of legislation. Well, we have, but most just don't know it yet. Senate Minority Leader Robert Dutton (R-31st, Rancho Cucamonga) just beat the deadline to introduce legislation last month when he introduced SB 782 which makes a non-substantial change to the portion of the California statutes dealing with the timing of the presidential primary. The removal of the comma will eventually be augmented by a change in committee; likely a rescheduling of the presidential primary from February to March.

Of course, it may seem more pragmatic to suggest that that new version would call for not only a March presidential primary, but concurrent primaries for state and local offices then as well. Now, it should be noted that California moved back before it moved forward in 2008. The assembly moved the primaries -- all of them -- from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in June for 2008 back in 2004 and then created the separate, February presidential primary in 2007 when a host of other states were shifting up to February primary dates. Part of the initial move back to June was triggered by what was deemed the "utter failure" of the March primary. Low turnout in the midterm election years and an overly long general election campaign were cited as problematic. With those issues out in the open, though, concurrent primaries in March seems like the compromise position on all of this. Democrats get the budgetary savings they want and Republicans get the date they want for the presidential primary and remove the necessity of inevitably moving the date again in 2016. But what about the turnout problem and lengthy and costly general election campaigns in midterm years? Why not keep the midterm primaries in June in midterm election years and the March primary in presidential election years? Other states do this. Pennsylvania, for example, hold concurrent primaries in presidential election years in April, but has May primaries in midterm years.

That would be the pragmatic, compromise approach in California, but we'll have to see what Republicans do with SB 782 first. If Republicans push this plan and Democrats quash it, then Nehring would have a point about the move to June being political.

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