Thursday, April 2, 2015

Nevada Presidential Primary Bill Gets Chilly Reception in Senate Committee

The Nevada Senate Committee on Legislative Operations and Elections convened a meeting to hold the initial hearing on SB 421 on Wednesday, April 1.

The bill, like its counterpart in the state Assembly, proposes shifting the mode of national convention delegate selection in the Silver state from caucuses to a primary and consolidating that new presidential primary in January with the primaries for other offices in the state (now scheduled for June). However, also like the Assembly version, the state Senate sponsor, Sen. James Settlemeyer (R-17th, Minden) indicated in his introduction of the bill before the committee that the true intent of the bill a February date, not the January date in the original draft of the legislation.1

The targeted third Tuesday in February date -- though not included in the bill at this time -- better fits the scheduling restrictions in the national party delegate selection rules. Settlemeyer touted that as well as the potential for increased turnout in a switch from a caucuses/convention system to a presidential primary.

Yet, the changes gave committee members, elections officials and other members of the public who spoke in response to the bill pause. All seemingly liked the notion that trading in the caucuses would promote more participation in the presidential nomination process. Committee members balked at the potential move mostly based on the grounds that it is a (state) party decision as to how it selects and allocates delegates to a national convention. Furthermore, Democrats on the panel wondered about the conflict such a change would present given that the Democratic National Committee rules specify Nevada caucuses in the early calendar protections that are afforded the state.2

That is the main issue that does not bode well for this legislation: the reluctance of the state parties to actually participate in a presidential primary (if the state law is changed to provide for such an election). James Hindle, chairman of the Storey County Republican Party, spoke on behalf of the Nevada Republican Party and came out against the bill. More damaging to the bill's prospects was that Hindle indicated that the Nevada Republican Central Committee had debated the primary or caucuses issue at its spring meeting during the weekend of March 28 and settled on caucuses for 2016.

No one from the Nevada Democratic Party spoke other than the handful of Democratic members on the committee. Regardless, without state party buy-in on the primary concept, SB 421 faces a steep climb to emerge from committee in either chamber.

UPDATE 4/9/15: Third Tuesday in February primary bill passed Senate committee
UPDATE 4/10/15: Amended Assembly bill for February primary option clears committee

1 Settlemeyer introduced similar legislation calling for a January presidential primary during the 2013 legislative session.

2 Others who spoke out against the bill were more concerned about the provision in the bill moving the state and local primaries up to February from June and the problems that would present. Unlike bill sponsors in the hearing on the Assembly version, Settlemeyer was supportive of the cost savings associated with a consolidated primary and did not waver on moving the June primaries to February.

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