Utah Representative Jon Cox (R-58th, Ephraim) last year introduced and shepherded though the Utah state House legislation to move the Beehive state presidential primary ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire. That bill failed in the state Senate, but Rep. Cox is back with a 2015 bill affecting the date of the Utah presidential primary. This time, however, it is less provocative.
Currently, both Utah presidential primary options are non-compliant with the national party rules. If the legislature appropriates funds to a separate presidential primary, it would fall in February. Absent that funding, the parties would be forced into the June primary1, which falls on a date too late to comply with the rules. In other words, some change must be made on one end of this spectrum or the other if Utah is to hold a compliant presidential primary in 2016.
HB 329 was introduced by Rep. Cox on Thursday, February 12 and would move the earlier primary option available to Utah political parties from the first Tuesday in February to the fourth Tuesday in March.2 That fourth Tuesday in March -- March 22 -- is not only compliant with the national party delegate selection rules, but also is a date on which the neighboring Arizona primary has already been scheduled. Oklahoma is also eyeing that date and both Idaho and New Mexico are considering earlier March options as well. All together, that movement -- first in the legislatures and then on the calendar -- could facilitate a western regional primary (an effort Utah has been linked to). That, however, would require some revision to the legislation being considered in Idaho and New Mexico.
The regional primary considerations are secondary at this point in Utah. The bigger hang up in the Beehive state may be that a presidential primary option is being pushed within the state government while the state Republican Party is leaning toward adopting caucuses. That would render this move moot should the legislation be passed and signed into law. Yet, a regional primary may provide some measure of enticement to state party Republicans weighing their delegate selection options. But the decision-making within the Utah Republican Party could affect deliberations on this bill first. If the party chooses to move to a caucuses/convention system for 2016, movement on this bill may stop completely.
UPDATE (3/5/15): Amended bill passes House committee.
1 They could also opt to hold caucuses as a means of selecting and allocating delegates, but at the parties' expense.
2 That creates/appropriates funds to a separate presidential primary and leaves the primaries for state and local offices in late June.
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