Sunday, January 4, 2015

Primary Movement Starts with the State Legislatures: 2015 State Legislative Session Calendar

The National Conference of State Legislatures has this calendar as well, but in alphabetical order. FHQ is more concerned with sequence. Which state legislatures convene first, when do their sessions end and how does this impact the scheduling of presidential primaries?

2015 State Legislative Session Calendar
Date (Convene)StatesDate (Adjourn)
December 1, 2014CaliforniaSeptember 11, 2015
December 3, 2014Maine1June 17
January 2, 2015Washington, DCyear-round2
January 5Montana
late April
January 6Indiana
North Dakota1
Rhode Island
April 29
March 24
May 18
April 5
late April
late June
January 7Colorado1
New Hampshire
New York
May 6
June 3
May 30
early June
July 1
mid May
January 12Arizona
Puerto Rico
mid April
March 12
early April
early April
May 1
late May
May 12
April 26
January 13Delaware
New Jersey
South Carolina
South Dakota
June 30
year round2
June 4
late March
late April
June 1
early March
January 14Illinois
North Carolina
West Virginia
May 14
April 13
early July
February 28
March 14
January 20Alaska1
New Mexico
April 19
March 21
January 21Hawaii1early May
January 26UtahMarch 12
February 2Nevada1
June 1
May 29
July 11
March 3Alabama
June 15
May 1
April 13LouisianaJune 11
1 States in italics are caucus states. State parties and not state legislatures control the scheduling of those contests.
2 State legislatures with year-round sessions.

The table answers the first two of the three questions posed above. With the schedule of state legislative sessions down, though, what impact will this have on the formation of the 2016 presidential primary calendar? The biggest thing is that 2016 is not 2012. There are not nearly 20 states that have to make some form of scheduling change to comply with changes to the structure of the primary process at the national party level. In 2008 both parties allowed February contests. For 2012, both parties changed their minds and constructed a calendar structure that had the carve-outs in February and all other states in March or later.

Right off the bat, then, the 2012 cycle had a tension between where state laws had various primaries scheduled and what the national parties wanted in terms of the overall calendar. That tension has been greatly minimized. 2011 saw a significant amount of backward primary movement, and that process has continued in 2013-14. Importantly, past rogue states like Florida and Arizona have moved back from the brink and Michigan is signaling that it may follow suit. But that does not mean that there are not other rogues out there.

Here are a few things to look out for as state legislative session progress (mostly) over the first half of  2015 and into the latter half of the year.

Rogue states (2016 calendar for reference)
2015 looks a lot less like a minefield than 2011 looked from the national parties' perspectives. There are far fewer automatic problems on the calendar. New York has to move back. But the state legislature moved back in 2011, but just for 2012. Michigan and North Carolina have to move too. Michigan looks like it will move back, but North Carolina may be a different matter. Legislatures in both states convene on January 14.

The rest of the states that have any claim to a non-compliant position on the calendar at this juncture all have options that would allow them disarm in any potential fight with the rules committees in both national parties. Colorado parties can choose the March caucuses option laid out in state law. All the parties in Minnesota have to do is agree on a date they would like to conduct caucuses (by the end of February), otherwise the caucuses are automatically scheduled for the first Tuesday in February. The issues with Utah are twofold. First, and less problematic, the the Beehive state would only be on the first Tuesday in February if the legislature appropriates funds for a Western States Primary (WSP). That most likely means that there will not be an appropriation is there is no WSP. The second factor in Utah's case is perhaps more tension-ladened than the first. That has more to do with the attempt to move Utah to the first position on the calendar with online voting that popped up in 2014 and died on the final melee during the close of the legislative session after having passed one chamber. The very short session in Utah kicks off on January 26. We may begin to get some answers there then.

Regional primaries
Most of the talk thus far has been about southern primaries clustering on March 1, the earliest date on which the national parties allow non-carve-out states to hold primaries or caucuses. Florida, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia (and Oklahoma) are already scheduled for March 1 primaries. In 2014, Louisiana moved to the weekend following those contests and does not appear to be headed to an earlier point on the calendar as of now. Mississippi and Arkansas convene legislative sessions over the next couple of weeks and could join the fray with legislation to move primaries then. The state legislative session kicks off in March in Alabama. Alabama and Mississippi are easier to move (only a move up of a week) while Arkansas has some conflicts that make a move up from mid May tough but not impossible.

Regional clustering may not be done there. There was chatter about a midwestern primary in late 2013. Illinois and Missouri have already staked out a position together on March 15. Others may be interested in joining. Early in 2015, keep an eye on Ohio. The legislature in the Buckeye state opens its session on January 6. A later western primary may materialize as well (see Utah above).

Caucuses to Primaries or Primaries to Caucuses
Finally, one other factor to be mindful of is states switching from caucuses to primaries or vice versa. 2012 saw more of the primary to caucuses movement as Idaho Republicans abandoned the primary in the Gem state. Florida Democrats made a similar move but to avoid the sanctions associated with participating in a non-compliant January primary.

Fewer and less successful have been the attempts to shift from a caucuses/conventions system to primaries as a means of allocating national convention delegates. Minnesota tried it in 2009 and Maine did likewise in 2013.

There are always a few of these shifts. Typically, they do not develop in state legislatures; not the successful moves anyway. Rather, the changes in mode of delegate allocation that are witnessed tend to happen because of legislative inaction. State legislatures not moving non-compliant (too early) or very late primaries. Regardless, it is something to watch for as legislatures swing into action in the coming days, weeks and months.

Recent Posts:
Close of Michigan Session Kills Presidential Primary Bill

Why is Florida on March 1 and Not March 15?

Happy New Year

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