Monday, April 20, 2015

Texas Bill to Move Presidential Primary to January About "Show[ing] Some Texas Bravado"

The legislation introduced earlier this year in the Texas state House to move the presidential primary (and all the others tethered to it) from March to the end of January had its day in committee on Monday, April 20. Rep. Lyle Larson (R-122nd, San Antonio) introduced HB 1214 before the House Elections Committee by making a case that has been heard in state legislatures for years. Basically, why Iowa and New Hampshire and not ________? For Larson, the blank today was filled with Texas.

After urging legislators on the committee to "stand up and show some Texas bravado" to challenge the national party, the floor was yielded to those who wanted to speak for or against the proposed primary. No one who spoke backed the bill, but the bill's new co-sponsor, Rep. Mike Schofield (R-132nd, Houston), who sits on the Elections Committee was quick to echo Larson's sentiments as representatives from the Republican Party of Texas, the Texas Democratic Party and the Texas Republican County Chairmen's Association all testified against HB 1214, citing the national party rules and the penalties associated with violations.

FHQ watches a lot of these committee hearings. Some are thoughtful discussions on shifting around presidential primaries on the calendar to maximize a state's role in the nomination process. Others, however, are less about strategically positioning a state and more about attempting to assert a new primary order with ________ at the front of the queue. This hearing fell into the latter category.

And that tends to happen when the question is "How can the Republican National Committee tells us what to do about our primary in ________?" That was the question that Rep. Schofield kept coming back to in various forms. And no one who spoke against the bill could adequately voice one simple truth. It is a bitter pill for some to swallow, but the national parties can dictate who goes where on the calendar -- or that Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can go first -- and threaten rules-breakers with penalties because it is their party's nomination. The national party decides the rules. The RNC likes what it called during the rollout of its Growth and Opportunity Project (autopsy) Report the "on-ramp" that the first four states offer the process. They make possible a type of retail politics that is not replicable (or possible) in a large state like Texas, where reaching all those people across all that geography would advantage the monied haves over the have not candidates.

Perhaps that is just another way of saying rules are rules. That was said by both Republicans who testified against the bill. But that did not satisfy Schofield who wanted to know why more of a fight was waged by Texans against the Republican National Committee and its proposed rules at the 2012 convention. Well, it was. But those Texans were not fighting to get Texas to the front of the primary queue as Schofield wants. They were fighting against a rules package perceived to advantage the establishment of the Republican Party. The Iowa/New Hampshire question was not really dealt with, not in a heated way anyway. And while there was vocal opposition to some of the subsequent rules changes made at RNC meetings in 2013 and 2014, it was only a very loud and very small minority. Each time the RNC made a rules change, the rules were agreed to nearly unanimously in the Rules Committee and then again by the full RNC. And never was the idea of removing the carve-out states raised.

It is not controversial at the RNC, or if it is, it is a quiet controversy.

None of that is either here or there. The real problem here is the legislation that Larson and Schofield have brought before the Texas legislature. The intention of the bill is to move the Texas presidential primary from the first Tuesday in March to the last Tuesday in January. The bill and the sponsors behind it wrongly assume that such a move will make Texas first. It won't.

As FHQ said in an earlier post about HB 1214:
This is the same position the Florida presidential primary was set on in both 2008 and 2012. The difference is that while Florida moved into the fifth position on the calendar and lost half of its delegates during the last two presidential election cycles, Texas would move from the shared fifth position it enjoys now on March 1 -- assuming all other states comply with national party rules -- to the fifth position alone on the calendar at the end of January and have its delegation reduced to just 12 delegates (nine delegates plus the three RNC members from Texas).
Yes, Texas would still be fifth because Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina would leapfrog the Lone Star state, moving to earlier dates in January.1 Those four are much better able to move their delegate selection events around than a state whose legislature adjourns in June and could not respond to the eventual leapfrog.

But they would be all alone on January 26 with 12 delegates. Perhaps candidates would venture into Texas to battle over 12 delegates if it was the last contest before a month-long layoff during February, but it would be a strange primary with an asterisk by it. Candidates would go for a win, and that is really what Larson and Schofield are arguing: that this is about Texas being first (or somewhere closer to first) and that the delegates don't matter. Maybe, but the candidates would rather have a proportional share of 155 delegates than a proportional share of 12 delegates. But perhaps they would take a win in a neutered Texas primary.

1 And all four would do so without penalty. The Democrats have not punished any of the first four states in the last two cycles despite the fact that the DNC delegate selection rules specify very clear dates for all four contests. For Republicans, the rules allow the carve-out states the ability to hold contests up to a month before the next earliest contest without penalty. If Texas were to hold a January 26 primary, then the four privileged states would basically have a window from Christmas 2015 to January 26, 2016 to schedule their contests. Again, without penalty.

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