Monday, February 16, 2015

Washington Legislation Would Move Presidential Primary to March

Bipartisan legislation has been proposed in the Washington state Senate to move the Evergreen state presidential primary from May to March.

At the request of the Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman (R), legislation -- SB 5978 -- has been introduced to shift the presidential primary from the fourth Tuesday in May to the second Tuesday in March. The bill is backed by the state Senate majority leader -- Senator Joe Fain (R-47th, South King County) -- and the two ranking members on the Government Operations and Security committee -- Senator Pam Roach (R-31st, King/Pierce Counties) and Senator Marko Liias (D-21st, Lynnwood). That all means that this bill has some meaningful support to shepherd it through the state Senate (majority leader) and the committee the bill has been referred to first (ranking members on the GOS committee).

However, the broader picture of this bill is more muddled. The bill may have some powerful support, but that may only get it through the Republican-controlled state Senate. It is not clear that this presidential primary move would have support among the Democrats in control of the state House. That may have more to do with the history of the presidential primary in Washington state than it does about any friction between the two major parties in the Washington legislature.

Despite the fact that Washington has had a presidential primary in place since a 1989 ballot initiative created the election starting with the 1992 cycle, it has seldom been used by the two major parties as a means of allocating delegates to the national conventions. While the Washington Republican Party has had an on-again-off-again relationship with the primary (using it in some cycles but not in others), the Democrats in the Evergreen state have maintained a caucuses/convention process throughout. The lack of commitment to the presidential primary prompted Democrats in unified control of the state government in 2011 to cancel the primary for the 2012 cycle as a cost-savings measure.1

That history may say something about how easily this legislation will move through the legislature or if it moves through the legislature. And regardless of the ease of movement through the legislative process, the state parties will not necessarily adopt the presidential primary as their means of allocating delegates in 2016. If history is a guide, then Democrats would very likely keep the caucuses/convention process and Republicans might fully or partially utilize the election.

If the bill is successfully pushed through the legislature and signed into law2, and the Idaho presidential primary is restored, the neighbors would hold concurrent primaries on the second Tuesday in March (March 8, 2016). That is the date Mississippi and Alabama are potentially abandoning for the SEC primary on March 1, leaving only the Hawaii Republican caucuses and the Ohio primary on that date on the 2016 presidential primary calendar. Washington and Idaho may serve as something of a subregional primary on that day.

UPDATE (2/17/15): Identical House bill introduced
UPDATE (2/19/15): Senate bill passes committee
UPDATE (2/27/15): Bill to cancel 2016 primary introduced
UPDATE (3/3/15): Senate bill passes

1 The 2011 bills had Republican support as well (though the state party opposed the move). And it should be noted that the effects of that legislation were only temporary. The sunset provision canceling the primary expired at the beginning of 2013 meaning that the primary was back for 2016, scheduled for the fourth Tuesday in May.

2 That may be another point of resistance as Governor Jay Inslee is a Democrat.

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