Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Follow Up on the Later Texas Primary

Early last week FHQ discussed the several bills before both the Texas state Senate and House concerning the Lone Star state's compliance with the federal mandates in the MOVE act that passed Congress in 2009. Unlike many states, Texas does not have the problem of having to complete a late nomination process within 45 days prior to the general election. Instead, Texas has compliance issues on the front end of the calendar; having to balance a late, constitutionally mandated filing deadline (January 2 of the election year) with the need to have an advantageously scheduled presidential primary election. The 45 day buffer applies there and not to the general election. And I should say that after having just sat through the audio of the House Defense and Veterans Affairs committee meeting from April 7, that that is probably the simplest way of describing a set of issues that is complicated by a great many factors.

I won't get into it all here, but will instead keep my comments confined to the point the bills are in in the legislative process and the portions that will affect the timing of the 2012 presidential primary in the state. First of all, amending the constitution to change the filing deadline and the Texas resign-to-run provisions is a consideration, but is viewed as a last resort according to HB 111 sponsor, Van Taylor. Secondly, there is a broad, bipartisan consensus that the Texas legislature should do something to address the need to ensure that military personnel have the ability to vote and have their votes counted.

Getting to a point that that is accomplished and the various complicating factors are accounted for is the hard part though. The committee substitute to HB 111 discussed in the hearing would move the presidential primary back to first Tuesday in April. That move was supported by both Republican National Committeeman from Texas, Bill Crocker, and Texas Republican Party Chairman, Steve Munisteri. Both cited the need to comply with national party rules concerning timing and stressed the potential penalties associated with violations (half or more of the delegation). That is not a concern on timing but is based on the rules regarding Republican delegate allocation in the state. As was the case for the Republican National Committee in every post-reform cycle but 2012, the Republican Party of Texas cannot change its rules except at its convention and the party would need to change its winner-take-all allocation method to comply with the RNC rules if the state maintained a March primary. In other words, the state party could not make the necessary change to its method of delegate allocation until its convention following the primary in 2012. This concerned both Republicans for the potential penalties associated with an inability to make that change. Interestingly neither Crocker nor Munisteri mentioned the potential for Texas losing significance for moving to a later date and both touted the possible advantages of not only maintaining the winner-take-all rules with an April primary, but also the additional significance that would carry if the nomination race was still being contested at that point.

Overall, in this particular instance, the ability to maintain winner-take-all rules was valued over the potential loss of influence by having to move the primary back. At least that was the perspective from the national party and the state party. Other Republican legislators on the floor of the House or Senate may object to moving the primary back. That said, the only people that offered testimony at the hearing that were against any provisions in the bill or the committee substitute were county-level elections officials -- and they had no issues with an April primary.

In the end, the committee substitute that includes the April primary amendment was withdrawn and the bill left pending in the committee while the sponsor considers tweaks to potentially appease the bill's detractors. So, though the April primary provision is not officially part of an amended version of the House bill, there seems to be some consensus behind the idea. The Senate side committee consideration of the companion bill (SB 100) produced a substitute that left the presidential primary alone for the time being, but as was alluded to in the House committee hearing, the Senate consensus revolved around a mid- to late March primary date instead of an April date. If the state Republican Party has its way, though, that will not remain the prevailing sentiment in the Senate.

There are a lot of issues to iron out on this one and only a month and a half to make the necessary changes and shepherd the bill(s) through the legislature before adjournment at the end of May. The bottom line is that the April date for the presidential primary seems likely at this point.

Hat tip to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for bringing this news to my attention.

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