Friday, April 3, 2009

Georgia in 2012: Back to March?

First Florida and now Georgia.

Regional policy diffusion is the name of the game and in the lead up to 2012, it looks as if the backloading of presidential primaries may be an idea that is spreading. Of course, a bill being introduced is far different than it becoming law, but there is currently an active bill in both chambers of the legislature in Florida and now one in Georgia that would shift the 2012 presidential primaries in each to later dates not earlier ones.

There's a reason that I mentioned the distinction between bill introduction and a bill becoming a law, though. Sure, Florida and Georgia are following the lead of Arkansas -- which has already moved back -- but the circumstances are different in Arkansas than in Florida/Georgia. In the Natural state, the move to February in 2008 was a costly one. It meant having to fund an all new election for the presidential race (one separated from the May primaries for state and local offices). And that cost was just too high when Arkansas legislators looked back on it. Arkansas has done this before; moving up in 1988 to coincide with the other southern states and moving back to May in 1992.

The situation in Florida and Georgia, though, is quite different. Both states have essentially institutionalized a separate presidential primary. First, it is difficult to comply with national party rules on presidential delegate selection when your other primaries are in July (Georgia) and August/September (Florida). It forces both states to hold a separate presidential primary unless the state government opts to move the primaries for state and local offices. But with that Florida and Georgia have a bit more freedom to move that presidential primary having established the contest as a free-standing event.

So the Sunshine and Peach states are home free and can shift back to later dates in 2012, right? Well, they could if the majority of the state legislature was in a favor of the move. But that isn't the case in either state. HB 848 in Georgia and the two bills in Florida (House and Senate) are bills sponsored and introduced by Democrats (Rep. Billy Mitchell in Georgia) in Republican-controlled legislatures (not to mention governments considering both states have Republican governors) and partisanship is likely to stand in the way of these moves. With the Republican nomination at stake in 2012, Republican legislators are going to be much less inclined to shift their state back and into potential irrelevance on the matter unless required to by the national party.

And thus far in the positioning for 2012 (or at least in terms of the current bills that propose primary movement before 2012), that has been the mark of legislative efforts: They are being proposed by a member(s) of the out-party.
  • In Florida and Georgia, Democrats are pushing backward shifts of presidential primaries in Republican-dominated states.
  • In North Carolina, the situation is reversed (times two). A group of Republicans are sponsoring a bill to move the Tarheel state's primary up to the first Tuesday in February in a Democratic legislature. The story in Oregon is the same.
  • In New Jersey, a Republican has called for an Arkansas-like repeal of the separate presidential primary that would place the contest on the same June date as the state's other primaries. But the bill there is a hold over from the 2008 session.
I've pretty much dismissed any of these moves taking place during this legislative cycle; the conditions just aren't right. And that likely won't change until the national parties force the states' hands or these bills gain some measure of bipartisan support.

UPDATE: Mitchell's bill in Georgia is apparently in response to a resolution adopted at the Democratic convention last August that closes the window in which non-exempt states can hold delegate selection events to points during or after the first Tuesday in March. [The Georgia General Assembly won't address the issue until 201o anyway because today -- April 3 -- is the final day of the Assembly's session.] This sets up a conflict if the Republicans don't follow suit and eliminate February contests as well. The Democratic Party's task of getting states into compliance with that March call would be complicated in Republican-controlled states by the fact that those Republicans may have no desire to move unless compelled to by the national party. I'm assuming this idea will be discussed at some point during the Democratic Change Commission's meetings because it is a problem in February (2008) states like Arizona*, Florida, Georgia and Utah, where the state government is controlled by Republicans, or in Alabama (governor), California (governor), Connecticut (governor), Louisiana (governor), Michigan (Senate), Missouri (House and Senate), Oklahoma (House and Senate), Tennessee (House and Senate) and Virginia (House), where some portion of the government is Republican-controlled. That's an extensive list of states where partisanship could prove preventative to presidential primary date shifts that could bring a state into compliance with just one party's rules.

The Democratic Change Commission does have some wiggle room on this. The resolution that created the body states:
"...and that in making its recommendations, the Commission consider any revision of the Rules of the Republican Party of the United States adopted by the 2008 Republican National Convention regarding the scheduling and sequence of presidential nominating events."
Some of this, then, rests with the as yet unfilled Temporary Delegate Selection Committee that is charged with a similar task to the DCC's for the GOP. But if that group only offers up minimal alterations, the DCC will have to seriously consider dropping the "no February contests" portion of that resolution. And the commission can change that. That ability to change the rules mid-cycle is what has separated the Democrats from Republicans in that regard in past cycles.

*In Arizona, the governor -- currently a Republican -- can set the date of the presidential primary by proclamation if the set late February date is deemed to be too late to have an impact on the nomination process.

A big shout out to Matt from DemConWatch for the heads up on the bill.

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