Friday, February 1, 2019

Maine Decision to Re-Establish a Presidential Primary Option for 2020 Hinges on Money

The on again, off again Maine presidential primary may be on again if legislation to revive it can make it through the state legislature.

But the progress of the bill will depend on the willingness of legislators to appropriate the funding necessary to conduct the election. That estimated $979,000 price tag -- more than 85 percent of which would fall to cities and towns -- has emerged according to the bill sponsor, as the "main sticking point" in the early discussions.

The Bangor Daily News reports:
"Spokespeople for Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, and House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, support the primary. But a Gideon spokeswoman said she would monitor the bill to ensure it has no “adverse fiscal or participatory impact.” Spokespeople for Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, didn’t respond to a request for comment."
And although Republicans are outnumbered three to two in both chambers of the Maine state legislature, legislative Republicans have raised the cost issue as well.
"Rep. Scott Strom, R-Pittsfield, a lead Republican on the election committee, said while he likes the idea of a primary, he’d back the caucuses if the new primary can’t be run concurrently with Maine’s regular June primaries because of cost."
Republicans do not have the numbers to force a consolidated June primary as a cost saving alternative, but that proposal may be enough to peel some Democrats away and sink the primary option for another cycle in the Pine Tree state.

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Historically, primary election funding has not been an uncommon point of contention in these types of deliberations. Those states that during the early part of the post-reform era responded to the Democratic Party rules changes by creating a separate presidential primary incurred the start up costs earlier and tended to normalize the expenditure. That had the side effect of making those contests in those state more mobile than other states.

Later adopters in the post-reform era were typically states that already had consolidated presidential and state primaries. Those states faced a different calculus. They faced either moving everything up -- presidential and state primaries (which affects in many cases the primaries for state legislators) -- or creating and funding a separate presidential primary election.

The transition from caucus to primary can follow that latter route because it raises many of the same state government funding tensions in the transition from a party-run caucus to a state-run primary. The allure is there to couple a presidential primary option to a preexisting primary for other offices. But timing matters. If it is too late in the presidential primary calendar, the draw (and the appropriation) is much less appetizing to legislators.

But this is what faces decision makers in the Maine legislature. To fund or not to fund. That may be the question, but majority Democrats in Maine may here from national actors pushing a primary option as well.

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Related:
1/18/19: Maine Lost its Presidential Primary

2/9/19: Maine Committee Hearing Highlights Familiar Divisions in Caucus to Primary Shifts

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