Monday, April 4, 2011

Will Texas Move Its Presidential Primary Back?

That is the question before the Texas state legislature at the moment (via the Fort Worth Star Telegram); not because of budgets or strategy, but because of the federal mandate handed down from the MOVE act. Now, the MOVE act has wreaked havoc with some state's carefully balanced late summer/early fall primaries for state and local offices and the resulting temptation that has given some states to combine their presidential primaries with those state and local primaries. That would help not only with compliance with the MOVE act but also with state legislatures looking to trim budgets (see DC, Massachusetts and Missouri).

That isn't the case in Texas. State law requires that primaries for federal and state offices are held on the same date. Since 1988 that has meant a March primary in the Lone Star state (the second Tuesday in March from 1988-2004 and the first Tuesday in March in 2008). The budget, then, is not the concern. The 45 day window that the MOVE act requires for military service personnel abroad to have in order to fill out ballots is the complicating factor. Why? Well, the filing deadline to get on the primary ballot is set for January 2, and while that leaves over two months between that point and the March 6 primary in 2012, it won't give all local elections officials enough time to get their ballots printed up and sent out.

The filing deadline could always be changed, but that is not the quick fix in Texas that it is or has been in other states facing similar issues. The Texas filing deadline is set when it is because of the "resign to run" requirement in the state's constitution. Candidates have to resign one office in order to run for another, presumably higher, office. The deadline is set so that officeholders can do as much in the capacity to which they were elected prior to resigning that office to run for another. The functional dynamic of importance here is that changing that deadline would require a constitutional amendment. That's unlikely to be the course of action taken.

Instead, state legislators are looking at shifting the March primary back a few weeks to late March or early April. There are three bills before the state legislature currently dealing with the MOVE act, but none of them contain any provisions to move the date on which the Lone Star state's primary is held.

...yet. To keep track of this, keep an eye on HB 111, HB 3585 and SB 100. The two House bills are sponsored by Rep. Van Taylor (R-66th, Plano) and the Senate bill was brought forth by Sen. Leticia Van de Puette (D-26th, San Antonio). That the bills are sponsored in both chambers by one member from each of the two major parties points to at least some modicum of bipartisanship behind the idea. That said, FHQ should probably be careful not to overstate that in this instance. HB 111 is due for a public hearing later this week and that will be the first indication of what kind of consensus exists behind the primary date change or if it will be added to any of these bills in the form of an amendment in the future.

This move -- to later in March or in April -- would move Texas off the spot on the calendar the two national parties have reserved as the earliest point on which states can hold delegate selection events. If Texas were to move back and California to June, it would fundamentally reshape the delegate calculus in the Republican nomination race. The point at which one candidate could surpass the 50% plus one delegate level would shift back significantly as a result and potentially shift back the point at which the nomination is settled in the process. It would also make Florida a much more attractive early calendar prize. As an aside, if the Texas primary is moved back to April the Republican Party in the state to keep the winner-take-all elements they have maintained in terms of delegate allocation in the post-reform era.

Needless to say, this jeopardizes Rep. Alonzo's bill (HB 318) to move the Texas primary up to the first Tuesday in February. There had not been any serious movement on that bill any way, but now there is some reason as to why.

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