Thursday, March 10, 2011

An Update on Utah: Locked in on Feb. 7?

While some continue to harp on the Florida problem, there are other states that more immediately threaten the informally bartered scheduling arrangement the two national parties hammered out last year for the 2012 presidential primaries. Minnesota is somewhat locked into a February 7 caucus date for 2012, and while that falls just a day after when the national parties would like Iowa to hold its first in the nation caucuses, the state parties in Minnesota have the final say in the matter. The Minnesota GOP and DFL have to pay for the caucuses and can choose to schedule them when and where they want, though the national parties can lean on the state parties in a way that they cannot with state legislatures. The Minnesota situation is one, then, that has yet to completely play out. To some extent, it may depend on what happens in Florida. Should the state legislature in the Sunshine state opt to shift the primary back, pressure would grow on Minnesota's GOP to shift back as well.1

Minnesota aside, however, the most imminent threat to the 2012 calendar is Utah. As FHQ pointed out last week, the state legislature in the Beehive state was set to wrap up the work of its 2011 session by March 10 -- today. At that point there were several active bills that dealt with or mentioned the state's Western States Presidential Primary, but none that directly dealt with an alteration of the February 7 date on which the primary is scheduled for 2012. In other words, there was active legislation dealing with elections, but it would take an amendment including a provision to change the presidential primary date as opposed to a newly introduced piece of legislation.

That window now seems to have closed. First of all, the deadline for one chamber of the legislature to have finished up consideration of bills and transmit them to the opposite chamber came and went with little fanfare on March 7 -- this past Monday. That deadline does not preclude the second chamber from adding amendments to an engrossed bill -- one that has passed one chamber -- but no such action has occurred between Monday's deadline and the today's final day of the session. In fact, the bills that even make mention of the Western States Presidential Primary now fall into two categories: 1) Bills that failed to pass one chamber by Monday and 2) Bills that have already been enrolled -- passed both chambers -- and are in the process of being transmitted to the governor for his consideration. Neither the bills that are dead nor those that are on the way to the governor include any provision to shift the February date on which the 2012 Utah presidential primary will be held.

Utah, then, is locked into February 7 for next year. The state-sanctioned, state-funded primary will take place on February 7 and while it is true that the state parties in Utah, like Minnesota, have some final say in this, they are less likely to pony up the money necessary to hold a caucus at a later date when a state-funded option is available. Utah Democrats may face some pressure from the DNC to hold a later caucus, but it is unclear how receptive the party would be to that. The best indication of their motives will be when the state party releases a draft of its delegate selection plan for public comment. Republicans in the state, however, have more incentive to buck the national party rules. They have a contested nomination race that might involve up to two favorite son candidates (Romney and Huntsman) and they, of course, have a state-funded option on February 7 at their disposal. So while there is a tradition of caucuses -- early in the post-reform era -- and party-run primaries in the Beehive state, Republicans are now likely to ignore that given a state-sanctioned alternative, albeit at non-compliant time -- on the first Tuesday in February.

With Utah seemingly more locked in on February 7 than Minnesota, the Republican calendar will undoubtedly and now somewhat more officially, kick off some time in January as opposed to the parties' preferred point in February.

1There is no doubt that the Minnesota DFL will schedule a later caucus date to comply with DNC rules. They will not pay the full costs of a caucus in February only to have the national party strip the state's Democratic delegation of half or more of its ranks in an uncontested race.


Anonymous said...

I just noticed this in a politico story.

It has a line that says "After the close of the legislative session, the date of the state-funded primary can only be changed with the consent of both political parties.

Josh Putnam said...

Yes, I saw that earlier in the day. The best I can figure is that that is a mis- or over-interpretation of my line about the state parties having a final say in the matter. The Utah statutes seem pretty clear on this:

20A-1-201.5. Primary election dates.
(1) A regular primary election shall be held throughout the state on the fourth Tuesday of June of each even numbered year as provided in Section 20A-9-403, to nominate persons for national, state, school board, and county offices.
(2) A municipal primary election shall be held, if necessary, on the second Tuesday following the first Monday in September before the regular municipal election to nominate persons for municipal offices.
(3) The Western States Presidential Primary election shall be held throughout the state on the first Tuesday in February in the year in which a presidential election will be held.

There is nothing in there about the state parties' consent. Section 20A.9.403 that is referenced merely raises the issue of parties informing the state of the intention of utilizing the state-funded primary. Nowhere is there a provision that makes an alternative date conditional on combined state party consent. The Washington state law contains a provision like that, but Utah's statutes do not that I have been able to discover.