Thursday, March 10, 2011

Oregon Democrats and Republicans on Opposite Ends of Primary Debate

The public hearing yesterday on HB 2429 -- a bill proposed in the Oregon House in January to move the Beaver state's primary from the third Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in June -- clearly indicated a partisan break in sentiment on the intent of the legislation. Oregon Democrats -- the majority party in the Oregon House -- came out in favor of the move.
House Democratic Leader Dave Hunt, who co-chairs the House Rules Committee, said he's considering the bill because it would shorten the period for the general election and provide more space between the new even-year sessions of the Legislature and the primary.
In the even years, the session could run as late as the filing deadline in early March, said Hunt, adding that he would prefer to provide some breathing space between the two.
Shortening the general election by what would amount to three weeks is probably not a solid enough argument for Democrats to make, but the filing deadline argument has some precedent. Discussions in Kentucky during the 2011 legislative session and in Arkansas in 2009 -- both concerning bills to move primaries to August -- contained similar arguments. The perceived benefit is that the filing deadline and thus the decision to run for candidates comes at a point in which the legislature is no longer in session. The "breathing space" Hunt mentions would separate legislative decisions from decisions to run for office; that the latter would have less influence on the former.

Legislative members of the Oregon GOP and the state party voiced far different opinions on the proposed move.
At the hearing, Tyler Smith, a lawyer representing the Oregon Republican Party, opposed the bill. He said the later primary date could complicate the ability of the party to select delegates for the Republican National Convention. And Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, said she was skeptical of holding elections so close to summer when voters have their attentions diverted.
I don't know that either side has really developed a clear set of arguments on this proposed move. Three or four weeks deeper into the spring (or school year summer) probably won't make all that much difference to voters and it certainly won't complicate national convention delegate selection. Other states have scheduled and have had in the past early June primaries with little or no difficulty. The only potential conflict is that a later primary may come slightly closer to the point at which the state parties hold state conventions and begin identifying actual delegates to attend the national conventions. Those occur in July in Oregon, though, and the results of any primary would certainly have been finalized by that point whether in May or June.

In any event, there don't seem to be strong arguments for or against this measure and that doesn't necessarily bode well for the bill passing and being signed into law. Plus, in the grand scheme of things, it isn't in any way altering the impact Oregon is likely to have on the outcome of the Republican nomination race. Both dates are late enough that any impact would be dependent upon the race lasting that long. It could happen, but that goes against the grain of all post-reform Republican nominations.

NOTE: See an update on this post (with a deeper explanation of some of the state-level factors) here.

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