Monday, March 21, 2011

Tennessee Senate Subcommittee Hearings Show Support for Primary Move to March over May

Rare are the instances when reporting is done on committee and subcommittee hearings on the state legislative level. Well, it happens, but not all that often with bills that would move the date on which state-funded presidential primaries are held. That's why it was nice to see some of that type of reporting last week. From no other source do we get a better glimpse at the motivation behind the shifts or potential shifts of primary dates.

In Tennessee Senate subcommittee of the State and Local Government Committee, state senators debated the two possibilities of a new date for the Volunteer state's presidential primary. Both SB 599 and SB 929 are bills that represent the majority party Republicans' desire to move the primary back to the first Tuesday in March. Tom Humphrey from the Knoxville News Sentinel:

Republican [Majority Leader Mark] Norris, who is sponsoring the bill, said it accommodates requests from the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee.

The idea, he said, is to "team up with some other states" to perhaps gain more national attention to the Tennessee primary.

But the Democratic-sponsored bill (SB 1875) would shift the date of the presidential primary back to the first Tuesday in May where it would coincide with municipal elections. Again, Humphrey:

Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis has a bill, SB1875, which would instead set the presidential primary on the first Tuesday in May. Kyle told the senators he would not oppose the Norris bill, but wanted them to be mindful of the impact of the presidential primary date on local elections.

Most cities and counties set their local primary election dates to coincide with the statewide presidential primary date, since they then avoid having to pay most of the election costs. With a February or March primary, Kyle said, local candidates must file their qualifying petitions in November or December, and some potential challengers to incumbents often do not realize that fact, leaving incumbents with "a free ride."

Notice that Kyle's emphasis is not on the potential cost-savings to the state per se but on the burden on challenging candidates due to such an early (February) presidential primary and the financial burden on unreimbursed local elections officials in the event a municipal election is not held concurrently with the presidential primary.

The Republican bills to move the primary to March are still the odds on favorites to pass the now-unified Republican-controlled government.

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