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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