Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Nevada Won't Have a January Presidential Primary in 2016

However, AB 302 will live on in a different form.

The Nevada Assembly Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections convened on Tuesday, March 24 to conduct a hearing a handful of bills. Among them was AB 302, the legislation introduced by Assembly Speaker John Hambrick (R-2nd, Clark) to revamp the nominations process in the Silver state. That bill called for, among other things, the creation of a presidential primary option in Nevada and the coupling of it with the primaries for other offices in January of a presidential election year.

Suffice it to say, those provisions alone held some fairly significant ramifications for not only Nevada but the general order of the national presidential nomination process as well.

Most of the problem areas appear to have been shed or are about to be shed from the bill.

January primary? Out.

Coupling of the two sets of primary elections (in January)? Out.

Creation of a presidential primary? Still in.

And that -- the possible creation of a presidential primary -- was the crux of the hearing.

Daniel Stewart from Speaker Hambrick's office provided a rough sketch of the details that would be in the bill after he described to the committee what was going to be amended out. But first he mentioned that the original bill was nothing more than a placeholder, introduced to beat the March 16 deadline for individual legislators to introduce legislation for the 2015 session. The intention, then, was never to attempt to create a Nevada presidential primary and move it into January.

The bill now seems -- and it is still "seems" because the amended version of the bill was not available to the committee during the hearing and is not online at this point -- to create a presidential primary option for a single date in February for the state parties in Nevada to opt into at their choosing. In other words, the state parties could opt for either party-run caucuses or a hypothetical state-run primary. There was no discussion about how a date would be chosen. Jointly by the two major parties? By, say, the secretary of state? That is a matter that will have to be ironed out in the amended version of the bill.

In reaction to the proposed changes, the members of the committee fell into to two basic camps: 1) receptive if not supportive of a switch from caucuses to a primary and 2) those concerned such a switch would endanger Nevada's first in the West status protection in the national parties' delegate selection rules.

Committee chairman, Lynn Stewart (R-22nd, Clark) and Assemblywoman Victoria Seaman (R-34th, Clark) both liked that a prospective primary would likely have the effect of increasing participation in the presidential nomination process and that a primary would have the potential impact of tamping down on some of the confusion that plagued the Nevada caucuses process on the Republican side (particularly in 2008 and 2012).

However, Democrats, Assemblyman Elliot Anderson (D-15th, Clark) and Assemblyman James Ohrenschall (D-12th, Clark) worried aloud that trading in the caucuses for a primary, specifically when the Democratic National Committee rules protect the Nevada caucuses, might negatively affect the privileged position Nevadans have enjoyed since the Democratic Rules and Bylaws Committee added Nevada as a carve-out state in 2006.1

The subsequent testimony from interested parties for, against and neutral offered more of the same in terms of reactions. The exception was the commentary from Nevada Republican Party Vice Chair Jim DeGraffenreid, who came out against both the original bill and the amended version more fully discussed in the hearing. He rejected the primary idea outright, saying that the state party could and would make the decision on its own and that the taxpayer expenditure for a presidential primary was not necessary. [This is an issue that has come up in other states as well.] And in response to the question of whether the Nevada Republican Party was against the bill, he said that was the party position.

The hearing on AB 302 basically posed more new questions than answered any. It opens up the conflict that is not foreign to other states: more participation in a state-funded, state-run primary or a party's right to freely associate with voters of its choosing in a process of its choosing. This bill may or may not move in its amended form -- the devil's in the details -- but even if it does, one party in the state (Republican) seems intent on sticking with caucuses and the other one (Democrats) may too due to the conflict a primary option may pose in the face of DNC delegate selection rules. The parties will likely have input on this and that likely produces a spectrum of outcomes ranging from a Utah-like system where state parties have an opt-in but a primary depends on (possibly uncertain) state funding to the bill getting bottled up in committee because neither party intends to participate.

This one is unsettled but for one thing: There will not be a January presidential primary in Nevada next year.

UPDATE 3/29/15: Senate version of January bill introduced
UPDATE 4/2/15: Hearing for Senate bill strips out January primary provision
UPDATE 4/9/15: Third Tuesday in February primary bill passed Senate committee
UPDATE 4/10/15: Amended Assembly bill for February primary option clears committee

1 That decision had the effect of forcing on national Republicans an early Nevada caucus that they did not necessarily want, but that they, nonetheless, reluctantly added to the mix in 2008.

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