Monday, May 9, 2011

Texas Inches Closer to an April Presidential Primary. ...or does it?

As we have mentioned here at FHQ in the recent past, changing the scheduling of the various elections in Texas in order for the Lone Star state to comply with the federal MOVE act is and has proven to be an extremely complex task. One piece of that puzzle that has been discussed is shifting the state's presidential primary back from the first Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in April. That effort -- one supported by both the major parties in Texas -- got a boost late last week when a Texas House committee substitute to SB 100 was unanimously passed by the House Defense and Veterans' Affairs Committee on May 6.1

That said, this -- the move of the presidential primary -- is anything but a done deal. That reality was made clear during the committee testimony on the the state Senate bill in the House committee. The first conflict concerns differences between the Senate-passed version and the House committee substitute. The version that passed the Senate did not include the April presidential primary provision, for starters. But that's really a minor issue in the grand scheme of the wider bill. Republicans on the floor are likely to balk at moving back, but if it means the state both doesn't comply with the MOVE act as a result and is penalized for having a winner-take-all primary in the proportional window, 2 Republican members may be persuaded.

The most striking thing about the Defense and Veterans' Affairs committee meeting on May 5 was the urgency of committee chair, Rep. Joseph Pickett (R-79th, El Paso), to get something done. He stressed the fact that there would very likely be portions of the bill that committee members and the members on the House floor would disagree with, but that due to time constraints and the need to avoid the fallout for not being compliant with the MOVE act, the committee needed to pass something for the full House to consider and get into conference.

The bottom line is two fold. First, there is now an active bill before the Texas legislature to move the presidential primary back to April. As such, FHQ will reshade Texas on the 2012 presidential primary calendar map. That April move is now the more likely move.3 Second, some caution needs to be exercised here. The legislation is very likely to change on the House floor and/or in conference committee and those changes may well include a change to the April proposal for the presidential primary. That seems unlikely because of the pressure that would place on the state in terms of MOVE compliance. However, there are two apparent versions here -- both unpublished. The House committee has on several occasions referred to the Senate bill moving the primary back one week to the second Tuesday in March. There is a range then from the second Tuesday in March to the first Tuesday in April that will be discussed/debated on the House floor and in conference when the bill inevitably heads there. The House will pass a different version from the Senate. Some changes will be made to the laws governing the scheduling of elections in Texas. That much is clear. The House Defense and Veterans' Affairs committee was especially wary of the penalties associated with violating the federal MOVE act and was very open to making the necessary alterations to avoid them.

Hat tip to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for passing along this news.

1 A link to the text of the bill will be made available once it is posted on the Texas legislature's website.

2 The Republican Party of Texas will not be able to change the rules regarding delegate allocation from its primary before the primary is held next year. Rules changes of that kind can only be made at the state convention and the 2011 convention already occurred. The 2012 convention falls after the point at which the primary will have occurred.

3 The bill to move the Texas primary to February (HB 318) is logistically impossible given the constraints of the MOVE act.

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