Sunday, March 13, 2011

Utah in June?

The Utah GOP expects it.

Here's what Kathie Obradovich at The Des Moines Register had to say on the subject:
Last week, a mini-tempest arose amid reports that Utah's Legislature was set to
adjourn without changing a Feb. 7 presidential primary date. If that date held, it
could push Iowa and New Hampshire to move up their dates. The situation prompted
one national reporter to conclude, "Christmas in Iowa, here we come." Another
blogger envisions Halloween caucuses. Boo!

A throwdown to Iowa from the land of Mitt Romney? Not exactly. Lawmakers didn't
see fit to pay for a separate presidential primary. Utah GOP officials say they expect it
to be held at the same time as their state primary, probably in June. Crisis averted, at
least for the moment.
Sigh. Halloween caucuses? Crisis averted?

The only one dredging up Halloween, that I have seen, is FHQ and we're only the messenger there. South Carolina Republican Party chairman, Katon Dawson, was the one threatening that possibility back in 2007. No one is making such bold claims in 2011.

Crisis? What crisis? There's no crisis. Utah and any other state can go where and when decision-makers in those states desire. The notion that this threatens Iowa in any way is misguided. Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina (and to a lesser extent Nevada) will go first. Period. There is a reason the date-setting apparati in those early states is such that they can individually wait out the decision-making process in other states and simply go before the Floridas and Michigans and Utahs of the world (see more on that decision-making calculus here). As such Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina can play along with the national parties rules for now -- a hollow action -- but will ultimately move ahead of the earliest state outside of the four exempt states. Right now that is Florida and if the Sunshine state maintains the January 31 primary date, those exempt states will move up to either something like the dates FHQ tentatively has them in at the front of the calendar or on even earlier dates. But that isn't a crisis; that's par for the course for Iowa and New Hampshire.

Now, back to this Utah question. I'm less willing to so quickly dismiss the idea of the Beehive states presidential primary being locked into that February 7 date. Fine, the Utah GOP expects to include the vote on presidential preference in the June with the primaries in the state for statewide offices. How? First of all, that primary is scheduled for the fourth Tuesday in June. That is a point that is two weeks outside of the window in time in which events for delegate selection can be held. All non-exempt states, according to the national party rules, have to hold a primary, caucus, or convention to allocate delegates between the first Tuesday in March and the second Tuesday in June. It should be noted that only the DNC rules specify a back end to that window; the RNC does not. There is, then, an opening for Utah Republicans to hold their delegate selection concurrently with the primary for statewide offices, but that puts something of a burden on Democrats in the state. They are provided two non-compliant options for presidential primary dates and would more than likely be forced to hold caucuses on their dime. Again, there's a history of caucuses and party-run primaries in the state, so it isn't unheard of but the possibility of the state-funded option has been in place for the last couple of cycles.

As I said earlier this week, though, it isn't clear to me that Republicans, given a state-funded option on February 7, would opt to comply with national party rules by paying for and holding a primary or caucus of their own. But what if the state party was given an option in June? Again, how? What is the state election law mechanism by which this happens? Looking at the Utah state codes, the Western States Presidential Primary is dependent upon the state legislature appropriating funds for that primary to take place. The parties had that in 2008 (see p. 33, "Western States Presidential Primary"), but not in 2004. And it doesn't appear that they will have the funding in 2012 either. None of the appropriations bills that passed the legislature during the 2011 session contained any provision extending the typical one-time extension of general funds for the purposes of the February presidential primary (see HB 3 and SB 2). The parties, it seems, will have no choice but to either fund a delegate selection event themselves or take advantage of the fall-back option, the state primary in late June. What is not clear is how the state-funded option for a presidential primary is extended to the June primary and how the filing deadlines work when that later, state-funded option is used. The only mention of presidential candidates and filing deadlines in the context of the June primary either defers to the guidelines of the Western States Presidential Primary specifically or in terms of certifying presidential candidates for the general election ballot. It seems to FHQ, then, that some change to the state election code is necessary in light of that separate mention of presidential candidates unless the provisions apply to candidates for all offices broadly. That is not clear but possible.

In any event, that late June primary would put the Utah Democratic Party at something of a disadvantage relative to the state Republican Party (if it wanted a state-funded option). What works in the favor of both parties -- or at least complicates things to a lesser degree -- is that the Democrats are likely to have an uncontested race for the party's nomination. Utah does have an out from the February 7 date, but it is not entirely clear exactly how that will play out between now and October 1, when state Republican Parties have to provide to the national party their plans for delegate selection.


Anonymous said...

Much. Ado. About. Nothing.

Josh Putnam said...

Seems that way. As I have said in previous posts, though, with a history of caucuses and party-run primaries, the parties in Utah had something of an option to fall back on.

The new wrinkle is holding a presidential preference vote concurrently with the statewide primaries in June (...if the Utah GOP does in fact decide to do that).