Thursday, April 16, 2015

SEC Primary Bill Halted in Arkansas

Resistance in the Arkansas state House to the creation of a separate presidential primary election has killed for now the effort in the Natural state to join the SEC primary. Michael R. Wickline at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette walks through the particulars:
Stubblefield said he withdrew his SB389 from further consideration in the House State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee in the waning days of this year's legislative session after it cleared the Senate on March 27. 
He said the House committee chairman Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, told him that he would kill the bill in the committee. 
Bell could not be reached for comment by telephone Monday afternoon or Tuesday. 
After Stubblefield introduced SB389 on Feb. 17, Bell tweeted "I oppose split primary" and "Will it be listed as donation to Huck?" -- an apparent reference to former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who ran for the GOP nomination for president in 2008 and is considering doing so again in 2016.
There were two bills to shift the date on which the presidential primary in Arkansas will be conducted in 2016 that Senator Gary Stubblefield (R-6th, Branch) introduced during the 2015 state legislative session. One sought to create a separate presidential primary while the other would have moved all of the May primaries (presidential primary included) to the first Tuesday in March. The former passed the Senate but was blocked in the state House by Representative Nate Bell (R-20th, Mena), the chairman of the committee to which SB 389 had been referred for consideration in the lower chamber.

Rather than see the bill die a slow death as the session concluded (due to end next week), Stubblefield, the legislation's sponsor, withdrew the bill.

But perhaps the state Senate advanced the wrong bill. Bell is opposed to the separate primaries, but there was an option to move them all up from May to March. This gets at the heart of the problem for states in the position Arkansas is in. Do you create a separate primary which carries with it a price tag (and a negative impact on turnout in a later primary for other offices) or do you move everything to an earlier date that would have state legislators campaigning for renomination during the state legislative session (and would lengthen their general election campaign)? FHQ raised this predicament with Arkansas in mind back in December. It was always going to be a steeper climb for Arkansas because the decision-making calculus is different there than it is in Alabama or Mississippi. That difference proved problematic.

However, the SEC primary idea is not dead in Arkansas. It is dead for the 2015 regular session of the Arkansas General Assembly, but the idea could be resurrected in a special legislative session. Arkansas, like we saw with Missouri in 2011, grants the governor the power to not only call a special session of the legislature, but to determine on what the session will be focused. Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson (R), according to Wickline, has already signaled that a special session could be called to deal with the recommendations of a legislative task force on the state's Medicaid expansion.

Hutchinson could also add the SEC primary idea to the agenda. And he favors the earlier primary:
"Though the governor is supportive of moving the presidential primary, he has no intention of calling a special session for this issue," Hutchinson spokesman Kane Webb said. 
"As to the money to pay for a separate presidential election, it's his understanding that the funds are in the budget for this," Webb said.
That roadblock still exists on the House side.

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