Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Florida Legislature to Create Outside Committee with Primary Date-Setting Authority

Rachel Weiner at The Fix is reporting that Florida Speaker of the House Dean Cannon indicated in a conference call today that he will introduce legislation tomorrow to create a commission charged both with solving the Sunshine state's presidential primary dispute with national and early primary/caucus state parties and setting a date for the primary.

Florida’s legislative session ends May 6. Cannon said the legislation, which he will put forward tomorrow, will add “flexibility” to the process. This way, he said, Florida Republicans can work with other states on its calendar without forcing legislators to attend a special summer session.
The bipartisan "presidential preference primary date selection committee" would be asked to make a decision by October on a primary date within the window of the first Tuesday in January and the first Tuesday in March. The panel would be made up of ten appointees — three picked by the House Speaker, three by the Senate President and three by governor, along with the secretary of state as a non-voting chair.
Where the state lawmakers are not backing down is their conviction that Florida should be early. “We belong early in that conversation, because the path to the White House has to go through Florida,” Cannon said.
A more thorough analysis will have to wait until the legislation is [hopefully] accessible tomorrow after it is filed. But in the meantime, this proposal accomplishes one main objective. It buys Florida some more time. With the end of the legislative session approaching in less than a month, it was becoming less and less likely that the state would be able to deal with this issue in time. The proposed set up sounds a lot like the system used to govern the date-setting of Washington state's presidential primary. The law in the Evergreen state sets the primary -- one that has in the past only been utilized by Republicans as a means of allocating delegates -- for the fourth Tuesday in May. However, if the state parties desire an alternate date the third provision in the law is triggered:

(3) If an alternative date is proposed under subsection (1) or (2) of this section, a committee consisting of the chair and the vice chair of the state committee of each major political party, the secretary of state, the majority leader and minority leader of the senate, and the speaker and the minority leader of the house of representatives shall meet and, if affirmed by a two-thirds vote of the members of the committee, the date of the primary shall be changed. The committee shall meet and decide on the proposed alternate date not later than the first day of October of the year before the year in which a presidential nominee is selected. The secretary of state shall convene and preside over the meeting of the committee. A committee member other than a legislator may appoint, in writing, a designee to serve on his or her behalf. A legislator who is a member of the committee may appoint, in writing, another legislator to serve on his or her behalf.
The Washington committee provides a much more bipartisan context than the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee proposed in Florida. Democrats will be left on the outside looking in as the speaker, president of the Senate and governor are all Republicans and are likely to select three Republicans each. The non-voting secretary of state is a gubernatorial appointee as well. Given the time frame cited for the primary (last first Tuesday in January and the first Tuesday in March), the date will not adhere to Democratic National Committee rules on timing anyway.

The other looming question coming out of this is whether the committee is being created on a permanent basis or is merely temporary -- to deal only with 2012. If it is the former, the state legislature is being asked to cede its power to set the date of the presidential primary to another entity -- something Georgia is attempting to do (though in the hands of the secretary of state). As Cannon alluded to, though, such a move, if permanent, would give Florida flexibility now and later to deal with setting the date of the primary in a more advantageous position.

For those answers, we will have to wait until the bill is made public, though.


UPDATE: The partisan make up of the committee has been clarified. Paul Flemming at the Pensacola News Journal has added that none of the three (speaker, president, governor) can select any more than two people from one party. That would assure a 6-3 advantage for Republicans at the worst. But Democrats would have some voice in the matter.

William March at The Tampa Tribune also seems to indicate in closing his write up on the conference call that the amendment offered tomorrow would make a permanent change to make Florida more like Iowa and New Hampshire.

UPDATE II: An amendment is supposed to be added in the House State Affairs Committee by its chairman, Rep. Seth McKeel (R-63rd, Lakeland) tomorrow. A look at the meeting notice for the committee on April 14 makes it appear as if that amendment will be added to HB 1355, an elections bill that eliminates a Presidential Candidate Selection Committee.

NOTE: Well, I've misread this. The window for the committee is the first Tuesday in January to the first Tuesday in March. In other words, the Presidential Preference Primary Date Selection Committee could technically move Florida's primary up. I'm sure that will go over well if it comes to pass.

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