Thursday, May 23, 2013

Under Fire Again, Will Iowa Caucuses Remain First?

That's the question that Scott Conroy poses and explores in a deep dive over at Real Clear Politics:
The main criticisms of the caucuses have remained essentially the same over the last 37 years: the process is undemocratic (the majority of voters do not participate in it); it is inequitable for otherwise strong candidates who do not benefit from the parochial advantages inherent in Iowa’s electorate; and the rules and procedures surrounding the contest are arcane to just about anyone who’s not directly involved in the cottage industry that springs up every four years in a state where a would-be commander in chief who draws 20 people to the local Pizza Ranch is deemed to have staged a successful event. 
With a contested presidential campaign cycle looming for both parties in 2016, the preeminence of Iowa is facing a series of new challenges, however -- particularly on the Republican side. 
And while there may well be changes to some aspects of the process this time around, the caucuses appear all but certain to again kick off a presidential campaign..."
This is a fantastic read, but backloads the best reason for why Iowa will retain its first in the nation status in 2016: the national party delegate selection rules. It really is that simple.

Collectively, the rules now further entrench Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina -- the carve-out states -- at the beginning of the queue. Mind you, the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee has yet to take up the issue of the rules that will govern the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination process. However, the fact that the RBC did not commission a group -- as it usually does every four years -- to reexamine prior rules and recommend changes is telling. In other words, don't expect much of a change from the 2012 Democratic delegate selection rules. There may be some alterations, but those changes will not include any significant tweaking to rules that specifically define earlier positions for the four aforementioned states.1 The buffer each is given between its contest and the point at which the window opens for other non-exempt state contests (first Tuesday in March, presumably) may change, then, but little else.

Conroy mentions the changes to the Republican rules for 2016, but seemingly overstates the extent to which future changes between now and next summer may affect Iowa (or the other three carve-out states) in the next round of presidential nominations. As of now, the four carve-out states under the new RNC rules have a window of time a full month ahead of the next earliest delegate selection event to schedule their nominating contests. Since Missouri failed to move its presidential primary to a later date during the recently adjourned 2013 state legislative session, the Show Me state's February 2, 2016 primary is the next earliest contest. That gives the carve-out states -- including Iowa -- even more scheduling power than the 2012 rules. The previous iteration carved out February for Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina without accounting for the potential for non-carve-out states to push into that window of time.

Now, Conroy does bring up the new binding mechanism that will now affect all states with no further loopholes for caucuses (like Iowa has exploited during the last two cycles) and the possibility of additional rules changes before the rules have to be finalized in the summer of 2014.2 That is an important point. The binding rule will add a new layer to the Iowa process, but even if Hawkeye state Republicans do not comply, the RNC has provided itself with some cover at the convention with the new Rule 16.A.1 to record delegate votes in a way that reflects the results at the statewide level (in Iowa's case, the precinct caucuses).

As for future changes, well, removing Iowa or any of the other carve-outs from their respective perches will be very difficult task. Look no further than the deliberations over the rules at the RNC spring meeting in April. Any change has to pass with a 50% vote in the Rules Committee and 75% vote among the full RNC membership to be instituted. That is a high bar. And when there is no near consensus behind an idea like stripping the carve-out states of their positions, it becomes even higher. Yes, the Growth and Opportunity Project report seemingly threatened caucuses, but that is something much easier recommended than actually placed in the rules and implemented.

That would very likely take some help (Read: similar action) from the DNC to work. And while the discussion around the 2012 Democratic delegate selection rules did include a round where some best practices for caucuses were discussed, requiring primaries as a means of allocating delegates was never discussed.

The current and future 2016 rules will very (VERY) likely continue to protect Iowa and the other three carve-out states, and that is why they aren't going anywhere.

...regardless of (the shrinking likelihood) of a threat from a rogue state(s). The other stuff is just fodder.

1 Here's is that specific passage from Rule 11.A:
Provided, however, that the Iowa precinct caucuses may be held no earlier than 29 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the New Hampshire primary may be held no earlier than 21 days before the first Tuesday in March; that the Nevada first-tier caucuses may be held no earlier than 17 days before the first Tuesday in March; and that the South Carolina primary may be held no earlier than 7 days before the first Tuesday in March.
2 Of course, it should be noted that the RNC did not newly codify that new binding rule at its spring meeting in Los Angeles. The RNC reaffirmed that rule then. It was originally passed at the national convention in Tampa. There was an amendment to change Rule 16.A.1, but it did not pass the Rules Committee.

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

February Presidential Primary Outlasts Another Missouri Legislative Session

Yesterday brought a close to the first session of the 97th Missouri General Assembly. And with it came the most recent nail in the coffin that is the effort to bring the presidential primary in the Show Me state back into compliance with national party delegate selection rules.

For those who have been following along here in this space for the last few years, recall that this has been an ongoing and surprisingly cumbersome issue for state legislature since the 2011 session. The reason for the difficulty is not partisan. Republicans have overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the general assembly. Rather, what was problematic -- and still is -- was inter-chamber disagreement between the state House and Senate.1 The state House has continually pushed bills to shift the presidential primary from the current first Tuesday after the first Monday in February back a month to March. Now, to be fair, similar plans have been raised in the state Senate. After all, it was a Senate bill moving the primary to March that made it to Governor Jay Nixon's (D) desk in 2011. However, the state Senate has been the setting where these measures -- regardless of chamber of origin -- have found the most resistance on the floor. That resistance has taken several forms from procedural delays to seemingly poison pill amendments.

During this first session of the 97th, the tactic of choice -- or if not overt tactic, then direction pursued -- in the Senate was to simply amend the House committee substitute, removing several amendments added in committee and agreed to on the floor of the House. One of those amendments struck from the bill (HB 110) that passed the House would have shifted the Missouri presidential primary back a month to March.2 That bill was taken up on the Senate floor yesterday, passed in its Senate committee substitute form and sent back to the House. The House, then, in the clamor to bring the session to a close concurred with the Senate changes rather than drag the bill deliberations out further.3

That closes the 2013 chapter on the February Missouri presidential primary. What implications does the non-move have?

Well, for starters, despite the fact that the primary would be noncompliant with national party rules if conducted in February 2016, it is not the potential calendar killer that Florida would have been. That is because Missouri Democrats and Republicans would probably have an out. Missouri Republicans proved that they can hold caucuses as an alternative (as the state party did in 2012 to avoid national party sanction). Missouri Democrats successfully applied for a waiver from the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee to hold the February primary as the means of selecting delegates. But that was 2012, not 2016. The nomination race on the Democratic side in 2012 was not competitive and Florida's primary a week earlier provided Missouri with some cover. Missouri was not the main cause of the carve-out states pushing in January. Neither will be the case in 2016 and that would likely net Missouri Democrats some pressure from the national party to find alternative means of selecting but more importantly allocating delegates (i.e.: caucuses). Translation: Show Me state Democrats would find much more resistance to a waiver application in 2015 than they did in 2011.

There were two other bills that were introduced this past session that would specifically and solely have moved the presidential primary back into compliance. Those bills are now dead, though, and cannot carry over to the second session. That means the process will have to begin again with the introduction of new bills. And that is not unprecedented, but it is rare. As FHQ has mentioned a number of times, the majority of presidential primary movement tends to occur in the year immediately preceding a presidential primary year. One even year success story -- success in a primary move bill being proposed, passed and signed into law -- actually comes from Missouri. The Show Me state presidential primary was first moved to February in 2002.

Will something similar happen in 2014? We'll have to wait and see. Regardless, the process will likely be interesting to say the least.

1 This division was illustrated yesterday most clearly by Senator Brad Lager who during a sine die day filibuster claimed that the "leadership in the House is corrupt". Bear in mind, Lager was no stranger to the theatrics surrounding the primary date in 2011. He was the one who introduced the amendment that would have placed the Missouri primary on the Tuesday after the New Hampshire primary.

2 That would have placed Missouri on March 8, 2016; a date shared by Alabama, Hawaii, Mississippi and Ohio on the current calendar.

3 In truth, the presidential primary amendment was not related to the original intent of the bill: to revise the method in which a vacancy to the lieutenant governor's position. A similar marriage of ideas was what led to Governor Nixon vetoing the bill in 2011. The governor did not disagree with the primary moving but with the governor's office losing appointment powers to statewide offices.

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Monday, May 13, 2013

Maine Presidential Primary Bill Gets 'Ought not pass' from Committee

The Maine bill to reestablish a presidential primary in the Pine Tree state got a vote of no confidence from the Joint Committee on Legal and Veterans Affairs on Monday.

The committee today after hearing testimony from interested and potentially affected parties last week briefly discussed the measure (LD 1422) among themselves in a working session. As it turns out, it was not the presidential primary provision that derailed the legislation. Instead, the committee was given pause by the constitutionality of a provision in the bill calling for instant runoff voting in primaries (not presidential); something that had already been dismissed in separate legislation this session.

The committee was reminded that the previous legislature had taken up similar measures dealing with the possibility of a presidential primary last session only to have that subsequently studied and rejected. On the current committee there was some support voiced for having a discussion about a presidential primary -- especially a discussion outside of the context of a presidential election year (the context of the 2012 study) -- but there was widespread agreement among the membership that this "was not the vehicle (the bill) for it".

The committee then unanimously agreed to deem the bill "ought not pass", endangering the prospects for a Maine presidential primary for the time being. To reiterate a point made here several times since the beginning of 2013, the years immediately following a presidential election are not successful times for presidential primary legislation to make its way through state legislatures. Bills are introduced and debated in those years, but not often passed. Maine is seemingly set to follow that pattern.

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Friday, May 10, 2013

Governor Branstad is Rightish: 2016 Iowa Presidential Primary

Come for the talk about candidates coming to the Hawkeye state, but stay for the nugget deeply nestled in Mike O'Brien's First Read piece on the possibility of an Iowa primary in 2016:
The governor also dismissed any suggestion that Iowa might move away from its traditional caucus system in light of a Republican National Committee report earlier this year discouraging caucuses and conventions as nominating processes. Those formats, rather than a traditional balloted primary, sometimes gives impassioned activists more of an ability to sway the outcome.  
"I don't think that we could go to a primary without being in a conflict situation with New Hampshire," Branstad said. "And we've always had a wonderful understanding and agreement with New Hampshire that we would have the first caucus, and they would have the first primary. I think that system has worked well, and I'd like to see us keep it."
"Understanding and agreement" aside, Branstad is correct in pointing out the potential conflict that an Iowa shift from caucuses to a primary would have with the the law on the books in the Granite state:
Presidential Primary Election. The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a date selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, or holds a caucus or in the interpretation of the secretary of state holds any contest at which delegates are chosen for the national conventions, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous. Said primary shall be held in connection with the regular March town meeting or election or, if held on any other day, at a special election called by the secretary of state for that purpose. Any caucus of a state first held before 1975 shall not be affected by this provision.
There are a couple of noteworthy items here.
1) As it stands now, Iowa adopting a primary as the mode of delegate selection would seemingly violate the New Hampshire law. A primary would a) not be a caucus and b) could be deemed by New Hampshire Secretary (of state) Gardner a "contest at which delegates are chosen for the national convention". Though, it should be noted that that interpretation provides the secretary wide latitude. Technically delegates are not chosen for the national convention in a primary unless either a) the delegates are on the primary ballot and elected directly on the day of the primary or b) there is a simultaneous caucus/state convention occurring alongside the primary.

In the typical scenario, the primary would only bind delegates (to be chosen later through a caucus/convention system) to particular candidates. Secretary Gardner could then justify allowing an Iowa primary before New Hampshire. However, that would run the risk of applying a different rationale to Iowa than any other similar primary state. Why Iowa, then, and not some other primary state? Of course, the national parties will or would have already singled Iowa out relative to other primary states. The rules of both parties -- as one can best envision them at this point in 2013 -- exempt Iowa but not other states. That is significant. The national party rules, then, make Iowa dissimilar to other states, but would an Iowa primary be too similar to New Hampshire under the law there. There is probably enough wiggle room in the current law to allow it if, you know, Iowa actually decided to adopt a primary as a means of allocating national convention delegates.

Ideally, that last line in the law -- first added to the New Hampshire presidential primary law before 2012 -- would or could be altered to directly identify Iowa or by accounting for the national party exemption.

2) Another interesting twist -- question, really -- is what the new Republican rules do to the Iowa-New Hampshire relationship. Recall that the RNC members at the 2013 spring meeting in Los Angeles reaffirmed the new rule handed down from the Tampa convention that statewide contests be binding. In other words, if statewide precinct-level contests are binding, then potentially an Iowa caucus or primary violates the "or in the interpretation of the secretary of state holds any contest at which delegates are chosen for the national conventions" portion of the law. Granted, that is an or provision and not an and provision. Iowa would only have to meet one of those requirements to comply with the New Hampshire law (or perhaps more appropriately to not trigger the New Hampshire-side reaction -- earlier primary -- in law).

But let's assume (just for fun) that Iowa -- caucus or primary -- had to meet that specific part of the law. Would the Hawkeye state with a binding Republican contest run afoul of Secretary Gardner in New Hampshire? No, again, the language is important: delegates chosen. Unless either of the primary exceptions above are built in, then Iowa would be fine. Keep in mind that the Iowa Democratic caucuses have been binding according to the DNC delegate selection rules for quite a number of cycles now. And that has never served as a point of contention in New Hampshire.

Neither would a binding Republican contest; primary or caucus.

There were some issues with the 2012 Iowa Republican caucuses, but those were never problems that were not solvable by a means other than switching to a primary as the mode of delegate allocation. FHQ would be surprised if a switch is made and even if it was, it would not necessarily conflict with the law.

That said, if you're New Hampshire, it is awfully difficult to the hold the nation's first primary second. That's where Branstad's reference to understanding and agreement is key.

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Rubio says super PACs helped drive his push for moving Florida primary

So sayeth the headline from the Tampa Bay Times.

Here's what Rubio had to say:
"All I did was let them know what the party wants," Rubio told the Buzz. "They are pretty clear they are going to continue to penalize states," that move up their primary, resulting in fewer delegates and distant hotels for the nominating convention.  
"When we changed the primary when I was in the House, it made sense because at that time these elections were still being decided in three or four early states. In the advent of super PACs, where someone will give you $1 million and you can survive for months at a time, it's changed. If these races are going to go on until April or June, then it behooves Florida to have its full comple­ment of delegates."
The bit about the penalties is consistent with what Rubio's state director in Florida has already said. And honestly, that should probably have been the extent of the senator's comments. However, he raised the specter of super PACs as well. Look, did super PACs play a role in the 2012 Republican nomination race? Sure. Were Foster Friess and Sheldon Adelson the reason that the race went "until April or June"? No. No, they weren't.

The main reason for the length of the primary campaign in 2012 was a spread out calendar. The combination of Florida repositioning itself at the end of January, thus pushing up the majority of carve-out states, and a number of other states moving contests into April, May and June was what drove the calendar dynamics. And those state-level actions were a direct response to -- We're going to go full circle here. -- the national party rules and especially the penalties. The spread out calendar meant that it was going to take -- even in a marginally competitive nomination race -- until late March before anyone could reach the requisite number of delegates to wrap up the nomination. As it stood, it was all but impossible for Santorum, much less Gingrich, to catch Mitt Romney in the delegate count. That is a fact that became clearer between Super Tuesday and when Santorum suspended his campaign in early April.

That was 2012.

2016 may be a bit different in terms of the calendar. If there are no Florida-type moves, a la 2008 and 2012, from other states, then the primary calendar may kick off in late January and feature a February full of contests in the lead up to what would presumably be Super Tuesday on the first Tuesday in March (March 1). Depending on where Florida ends up -- It could be as late as April based on the likely-to-be-signed elections bill. -- the point at which 50% of the delegates plus one have been allocated (the earliest point at which a candidate could win the nomination) will likely not happen until April anyway.

...without even considering super PACs.

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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Follow Up on the 2016 Florida Presidential Primary

If you haven't read FHQ's take on the implications on the Florida presidential primary of the broad elections reform bill passed on the final day of the legislature was in session last week, start here.

There are a couple of additional points FHQ wants to add to the original discussion of the destination for the 2016 Florida presidential primary.

A) I tweeted this on Sunday, but it does bear repeating in this space. It really is striking the the 180ยบ turn that political actors in Florida have made over the last six years regarding the Sunshine state presidential primary. We have gone from an initial bipartisan adoption of legislation endorsing the idea that Florida has just as much right to be early as Iowa and New Hampshire in 2008 to a partisan Republican stance (among state legislative leaders and state party elites) that Florida deserves to be early and no later than the fifth state to hold a contest in 2012.

Contrast that with what was said about the backdrop for the last-minute amendment to the elections bill affecting the presidential primary. Rubio Florida state director, Todd Reid, reached out to FHQ over the weekend (...offering to share the language of the bill with me following my late-night tweet Friday).1 Reid has become a point man of sorts for discussions of the presidential primary rider on the elections bill passed last week and was kind enough to exchange emails with me on the matter. Again, contrast 2008 and 2012 above to Reid's reasoning for a move:
  1. The RNC superpenalty is too harsh.
  2. The grassroots (especially the actual delegates to the convention in Tampa) were unhappy with and vocal about the hotel and convention floor seating assignments situation.
  3. The grassroots was always hit or miss about the utility of the early primary. [Again, as FHQ stated above, it was a move pushed by state legislative and state party leaders; not the grassroots.]
  4. The Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee "was a newly created entity and no one was really wedded to it." [The parameters guiding the PPPDSC left up to chance to some extent that the Florida could end up violating the superpenalty.]
  5. There was some desire -- and this is the 180 -- to reduce uncertainty for rulesmakers and schedulers by having a decision on the date of the Florida primary before October 2015.
Embedded in the reasoning are two things: 1) the new penalty is having the desired effect (directly or not) and 2) Florida, contra 2008 and 2012, is signaling that it will play by the rules in 2016. Again, that is a striking reversal. And yes, that's the sort of thing that typically stokes the "He has to be running" chorus concerning Rubio in 2016. It is a move that is made with the most political of political moves serving as the backdrop.

B) FHQ made the point in the original post that there is some ambiguity to the new measure that could complicate its legal application in 2015-16. Then, I made the point that a discontinuity between national party rules could lead to the triggering of an earlier (February 23) primary under certain circumstances. [One could call this a discontinuity between the Florida law and RNC rules.] As FHQ stated at the time, all of that was dependent upon the maneuvering of the Republican Party of Florida. Drop the true winner-take-all allocation of delegates and that could open the door.

There are a couple of follow ups to this:
  1. Delegate allocation decisions by the Republican Party of Florida could push the primary forward a week further, but it could also push the primary back into April as well. There is no proportionality requirement in the RNC rules at the moment. But if that may/shall discrepancy is "fixed" then the RPOF could make the argument that the first Tuesday that the rules of the major political parties provide for state delegations to be allocated without penalty is the first Tuesday after April 1. But that brings us back to the original point... 
  2. On the clarity side, there would still be a potential argument with Democrats in Florida over the "true" date called for in the new statute. RPOF could make the case that the primary should be in April, but Democrats in Florida may desire a March primary instead. Call this the either/both issue proposed in the first post. Without the sort of guidance that the inclusion of either or both would entail in the statute, it is difficult to arbitrate the decision on when the primary should be held. And it goes without saying that the statute as currently constructed does not provide for an arbiter on the decision of when the date of the primary should be. 
    • Court could be one route, but depending on when this potential dispute arises, it could push up against when the primary season is to start (or more importantly when the filing deadlines hit for the candidates). 
    • It is also true that some states have proposed laws requiring prior agreement among state parties to a primary date. Otherwise, the secretary of state decides or a fixed date is invoked. This is the law regarding the scheduling of the Minnesota caucuses that was problematic in 2011. The new bill in Maine mimics this set up with reference to a proposed primary in the Pine Tree state. On the other end, the recently proposed Nevada legislation would give the secretary of state in the Silver state the date selection decision, not if the parties were in disagreement, but if another western state jumped ahead of the date for the primary called for in the statute (if the bill became law). 
As FHQ alluded to in response to the proposed change in Florida, the intent of the legislation is of real benefit to the national parties and carve-out states. However, the flexibility added to the statute may actually serve as ambiguity; shifting problems between the state and the national parties to a potential showdown between the two state parties.

...with no one to solve them.

As well-intentioned as the change is, the legislature will likely need to revisit this at some point. That is why it was good this was added now, rather than in, say, 2015 when it may have been more difficult to fix.

Stay tuned...

1 I want to point out the fact that I did not press (much less ask) Reid on the Rubio/2016/Florida primary shift point. FHQ will leave that to others to explore. The one thing I will add is that such maneuvering -- if there was a connection -- is not unprecedented in home states or elsewhere.

Jimmy Carter's nascent campaign in the lead up to 1976 was involved in arguing (in Florida) that the Florida presidential primary should remain early (then in March). During the invisible primary of the 1980 cycle, President Carter's team again was instrumental in urging both Georgia and Alabama to join forces with Florida at an early point on the calendar. The Ted Kennedy threat was apparent in the move as the southern subregional primary was seen as potential counter to any advantage Kennedy might gain in the two states after Iowa that year: New Hampshire and Kennedy's home state of Massachusetts. [As it turned out, Carter won Iowa, New Hampshire and the three southern states and encountered more trouble from Kennedy later in the calendar when the nomination was mostly wrapped up.]

Bill Clinton's campaign -- or Clinton himself -- used the Arkansas governor's connections from his time as head of the National Governors Association as an in with Georgia governor, Zell Miller. Miller helped guide through the Georgia General Assembly a bill to shift up the date of the Peach state primary by a week in 1992 (to the first Tuesday in March). This move was intended to give Clinton a southern boost after New Hampshire. [NOTE: The bill was proposed, passed and signed into law before Clinton had announced his candidacy.]

More recently and less obviously, the 2008 cycle saw Arkansas and Illinois move to earlier and seemingly more advantageous dates on the presidential primary calendar (for favorite sons/daughters candidates). There were Arkansans seeking the nominations in both major parties (Huckabee signed the Arkansas move into law in 2005.) and among the stated reasons for the move of the Illinois primary in 2007 was to help then-Senator Obama in the Democratic primary race.

So again, it has happened before. Whether that is the case with Rubio and Florida for 2016 is an open question.

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Saturday, May 4, 2013

2016 Florida Presidential Primary: Out of January, But Confined to March?

Sine die day 2013 in the Florida legislature was a typical last legislative day of the session in that there was the usual hustle and bustle of pushing some measures -- often complex -- through at the last minute. Late Friday in Tallahassee that included an omnibus elections reform bill that ultimately included a provision altering the dynamics of the Sunshine state presidential primary.

Early reports out of the capital (see Miami Herald) seem to have misinterpreted both the practical application of the bill and its implications (...likely or otherwise). First, here are the changes deeply nestled in an amendment to HB 7013 [scroll down to line 1005 on p. 37]:
Each political party other than a minor political party shall, at the presidential preference primary, elect one person to be the party's candidate for nomination for President of the United States or select delegates to the party's national nominating convention, as provided by party rule. The presidential preference primary shall be held in each year the number of which is a multiple of 4 on the first Tuesday that the rules of the major political parties provide for state delegations to be allocated without penalty. Any party rule directing the vote of delegates at a national nominating convention shall reasonably reflect the results of the presidential preference primary, if one is held.
FHQ will spare everyone a cut and paste of the struck through portions of the original bill that were changed, but I do want to drive home one very important point about the transition called for in the above legislation: The changes to this bill did not and do not eliminate (or nix) the early presidential primary in Florida. The changes made to the election law two years ago already accomplished that, or at the very least provided for the possibility of that (impermanent) outcome. The law, as altered in 2011, laid the groundwork for a handpicked committee -- the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee (PPPDSC) -- to select (by the end of September) the date on which the Florida presidential primary would occur in the following (presidential) year.

But that committee had a fair amount of leeway in making its decision. The bill signed into law in 2011 gave the PPPDSC the ability to set the date of the presidential primary as early as the first Tuesday in January and as late as the first Tuesday in March. That is different from the 2007 bill that changed the law to permanently position the Florida primary on the last Tuesday in January on the calendar. Though the PPPDSC opted to schedule the 2012 Florida primary for the same date (as called for in that 2007 law), the mechanism by which that occurred was different.

The changes pushed through in the amended HB 7013 yesterday did not eliminate the early presidential primary; it eliminated the ability of Florida -- through the decision-making force of the PPPDSC -- to be more adaptive in selecting a perceived advantageous calendar position. It eliminated those options.

The curious thing is that this maneuver was not even necessary. If the presumed landing spot for the Sunshine state presidential primary in 2016 is the first Tuesday in March (more on this in a moment), then that was already an option under the law enacted in 2011. One could argue that the legislature was leaving it to chance that the PPPDSC would opt in late 2015 to select a date for the primary that would be non-compliant with at least one of the national parties' sets of delegate selection rules. That is true but it is difficult to fathom a scenario in which a group -- the PPPDSC -- selected by the governor, president of the state Senate and speaker of the state House would go rogue. The whole issue throughout 2011 in Florida was that the unwritten mission of the committee was to do just that: go rogue. But that was the guidance the majority Republican group had gotten from the legislature, the governor and the Republican Party of Florida. It was not to go rogue (with the scheduling of the primary) so much as it was to make the Florida primary relevant/decisive to the Republican nomination race. Again, it is hard to imagine a scenario where a hypothetical PPPDSC put together in 2015 would set a date that would conflict with a calendar position that those very same guidance-providing interests desire. If the state party, governor and legislative leaders wanted a "later" date, they would place individuals on the committee who would support such a move.

In that regard, this change is a needless one. It was not necessary. It certainly was not necessary given the justification that was circulated: that Florida was going to get hammered with penalties from both national parties. Nothing in the current Florida elections law painted the state into any corner as far as delegates or delegate penalties were concerned. As long as the window provided to the PPPDSC by law included January and February, the possibility of facing the super penalty on the Republican side was always present. That is, present but not assured.

As for the Democrats, well, there are no DNC delegate selection rules for 2016 yet, so the Miami Herald reporting that those sanctions would be worse than the Republican penalties is wrong [WRONG, WRONG, WRONG]. It is factually inaccurate to state that "none of the Democrats' delegates would count in 2016, nor did they in 2008". Again, there are no 2016 delegate selection rules for the Democratic nomination as of now. And on top of that, Florida's delegates "counted" in 2008. The Democratic Party in Florida sent a full delegation with full voting rights to the convention in Denver that year. There was a period between late summer 2007 and the 2008 convention where Florida Democrats lost half their delegates, then all their delegates, then gained back half again (told comedically here) before gaining them all back for the convention. Those delegate slots did not count during primary season, but the delegates selected did count at the convention. [Here's a full timeline.]

Finally, FHQ wants to talk a little about the language of this bill and what means for where Florida will end up on the 2016 calendar. The presumption is that the "first Tuesday that the rules of the major political parties provide for state delegations to be allocated without penalty" means the first Tuesday in March (March 1, 2016). I do not think that is the case. That is the highest probability landing spot, but it is by no means the only possibility. There are a couple of reasons why that is the case.

First of all, and to repeat an earlier point, there are no Democratic rules at this point. The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee may or may not continue with the first Tuesday in March as the earliest point that non-carve-out states can hold delegate selection events. That is an unknown right now, but FHQ is on record as saying that there is at this point little expectation for big changes on the Democratic side of the equation.

The second reason that it is anything but clear that the first Tuesday in March is the definitive calendar position for the Florida presidential primary is because of a semantic double whammy. For starters, it is an open question as to what constitutes the earliest calendar position without penalty on the Republican side. States can hold, as Michigan is seemingly going to do in 2016, a contest as early as the last Tuesday in February without penalty. With a shift in the method of delegate allocation, Florida Republicans could match that position. Secondly, the change in language in the Florida law does not require agreement between the major political parties on the issue of the earliest point at which states can hold primaries and caucuses. Without that sort of requirement, there are two ways of reading the proposed (It still requires the signature of the governor to be enacted.) law. Either...
  1. As it is being widely interpreted at the moment, that is the first Tuesday where both national parties' rules are congruent with respect to the earliest allowed date. In other words, even though under certain circumstances the RNC allows for an unpenalized, non-carve-out contest as early as the last Tuesday in February, the Florida law requires the penalty-less window to be open in both parties before the primary can be held. ...or...
  2. The other interpretation is the law is suggesting that when looking at both sets of major political party delegate selection rules, the state can hold a primary at the earliest point allowed by either parties' rules. 
It is not clear which is correct, which is why FHQ is of the opinion that the Florida legislature will revisit this segment of the law (if signed) in future sessions. The first interpretation begs for the addition of a both whereas the second interpretation seemingly requires an either. Either way, one or the other will need to be inserted in the law at some point for clarity.

Now, there are a couple of caveats to add to that second interpretation. One is that one must assume that the RNC will stick with their rules and penalties are currently constructed. Again, it is open as to what constitutes the earliest date on which a contest could be held without penalty in the Republican rules. If that last Tuesday in February/first Tuesday in March loophole is left unchanged, then that may cause problems for the legally constructed scheduling of the Florida primary. Of course, that leads into the second and largest caveat. Much of this depends on what the Republican Party of Florida wants to do with its method of delegate allocation. FHQ has argued that under certain circumstances, Florida could abandon a non-compliant true winner-take-all method of delegate allocation in favor of a compliant hybrid method with an element of proportionality and still maintain or improve the state's influence over the Republican nomination process (as measured by the resulting margin of candidate delegates). The RPOF could make that switch and complicate matters and the application of this law by making the last Tuesday in February the first Tuesday that the rules of the major political parties provide for state delegations to be allocated without penalty. However, that point is moot if RPOF scraps that idea and maintains a true winner-take-all formula.

Of course, the catch is that Florida Republicans -- if avoiding sanction is the goal -- are going to have to make some sort of change to their method of allocation, otherwise the delegation will be reduced by half (depending on the fate of the may/shall question). The party may be comfortable with that penalty as it has proven over the last two cycles, but if unnecessary changes are being made to state election law based on the threat of a super penalty that may never have been triggered by the Florida primary, then who knows?

The big winners in yesterday's maneuvering in Tallahassee were the national parties and the carve-out states; especially South Carolina (which has had to push forward the last two cycles because of Florida to maintain its first in the South status). Overall, chaos was reduced to some extent for the front of the calendar. Yet, in Florida questions remain as to the true nature of this bill. Chaos, or more appropriately, uncertainty were increased on the state level. For the last two presidential election cycles, Florida has been a perfect example of the limitations of parties policing themselves on issues like the presidential nomination process. This case is different, but continues to demonstrate how the different party interests  -- national parties, state parties, parties-in-state-governments -- interact with each other to accomplish that policing goal. In this instance, one can talk about policing being accomplished rather than it not being accomplished.

That is a welcomed development to the presidential nomination process. But it never had to be just Florida. All it takes is one state to be able and willing to challenge the national party rules. As the 2016 presidential nomination race continues -- yes, continues -- it will be interesting to see if any other state takes up the mantle.

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