Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Identical SEC Primary Bills Introduced With Mixed Reviews in Arkansas

Given the small window in which the Arkansas legislature has to act during the special session this week, things are likely to move at an expedited pace. While one anti-SEC primary bill was the first introduced on the session's first day a day ago, it was not the only bill filed. But as it turned out, HB 1002 was not the only ominous sign for the Arkansas effort to join the SEC primary on March 1 either.

The Arkansas state House and Senate also the introduction of identical bills to move all of the primaries in the Natural state from May to March. Both versions saw opposition. On the House side, HB 1006 was objected to during its introduction and second reading. However, opponents did not have the numbers to prevent the bill from being referred to the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee. That committee later in the day sent the bill along to the floor with a "Do Pass" recommendation. 

The story was different in the Senate. The state Senate version of the SEC primary bill faced no pushback on its way to committee, but once it was in the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee the effort to move SB 8 along failed. Minority party Democrats voted against the legislation, effectively bottling the bill up in the committee.1 

This was one of the questions FHQ posed on the call of the the special session last week. During the regular session earlier this year, the Senate State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee (and later the full Senate) passed an SEC primary bill, but one that would have followed the example of previous Arkansas presidential primary shifts. It would have created a separate presidential primary and left all other primary election in May. An alternate bill -- one similar to the special session bill, SB 8 -- that would have moved all Arkansas primaries to March failed in committee. Entering the special session, it was an open question whether the Senate committee would balk at similar legislation (even with the governor's backing). 

It appears that question has now been answered. Though SB 8 quickly stalled in committee, the bill's sponsor, Senator Gary Stubblefield (R-6th, Branch), is contemplating discharging it from committee for consideration on the floor of the state Senate.

Overall, day one of the Arkansas special legislative session was not necessarily a positive one with respect to the SEC primary move. There was resistance in both chambers. That said, the state House will take up its version of the SEC primary bill on day two.

1 Democrats on the State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Committee objected to moving all Arkansas primaries to March on the grounds that it would push up filing deadlines and force campaigning into holiday season in the year before the election:
Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, said it could result in an unfair advantage to incumbents. 
"You're talking about campaigning over Thanksgiving and Christmas," Chesterfield said. "We're talking about campaigning in some of the most treacherous weather around."
Others warned that history might repeat itself:
Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock, also questioned whether an earlier primary date would increase Arkansas influence. With former Gov. Mike Huckabee seeking the Republican nomination and former Arkansas first-lady Hillary Rodham Clinton campaigning for the Democratic nomination, most other candidates would be reluctant to spend much time here, she suggested.
Arkansas last moved its presidential primary forward for the 2008 cycle and saw both Huckabee and Clinton run then as well. That had most candidates campaigning elsewhere, yielding the state to its favorite children.

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