Monday, April 20, 2015

The 2016 Washington State Presidential Primary May Be Headed for the Exits

In a not-all-that-unexpected move, the Washington state Democratic Party voted this past weekend at its state central committee meeting to select and allocated delegates to the 2016 national convention through a caucuses/convention system. The party had already telegraphed the move with the earlier release of its draft 2016 delegate selection plan.

With Washington Democrats set to hold caucuses in 2016, it does seemingly spell doom for legislation that has been working its way through the Washington state legislature this winter/spring. As it stands now, state law calls for a Washington presidential primary in May of any presidential election year. However, legislation (SB 5978) that has already passed the Republican-controlled state Senate in Washington calls not only for moving the date up to March, but also for the state parties to allocate some of their delegates based on the results of the primary election. Without buy-in from both parties, the primary would still be held but with all candidates from both parties listed together on the primary ballot.

With state Democrats shunning the presidential primary, the latter option would be the only available option for both parties. That would likely push Republicans to a caucuses/convention system as well and leave a high price tag on a meaningless beauty contest for the state.

That writing now appears to be on the wall and state legislators have responded. In a public hearing on the by Senate-passed bill this morning -- Monday, April 20 -- the House Committee on Appropriations introduced an amendment to require the parties to allocate at least 75% of their delegates via the primary. But if both parties did not opt into a the primary under those criteria, then the primary would be cancelled.1

This is good legislating. It provides the state parties with a primary option, albeit with contingencies, but automatically cancels the primary if both parties (or just one really) choose to go the caucuses route. That saves legislators the trouble of revisiting the cancelation of the primary every four years. If both parties do not opt in the cancelation would be automatically triggered.

The primary would remain in May, but the secretary of state would retain the option of selecting/proposing an earlier date for the election that is in the current law. In reality, if the law is changed, it puts the decision-making power in the hands of state Democrats. The party has traditionally held caucuses instead of using the primary. If the party were to continue that practice in the future it would in effect cancel the primary each time.

Now, it should be mentioned that the amendment was merely offered today. The House Appropriations Committee did not vote on it much less send it off to the floor of the Democratic-controlled lower chamber. Even if the bill made it through those two steps (a likely outcome given that state Democrats have chosen caucuses), it would have to return to the Republican-controlled Senate. The upper chamber would have to concur with those changes to send the amended bill on. Republicans may balk at that in the upper chamber. However, their choices would be meaningless primary with an $11.5 million price tag or save the money and let the state Republican Party use the same caucuses/convention process it used in 2012 when the Washington presidential primary was cancelled.

In other words, Republicans' hands are kind of tied on this one. Even Secretary of State Kim Wyman admitted in public testimony today that she would opt for the cost savings if the primary is going to be meaningless. Time will tell if the bill moves on in its amended form and if Senate Republicans agree with her.

1 That amendment was brought by committee chairman, Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48th, Bellvue).

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1 comment:

jimrtex said...

HB 5978 had stalled in the House State Government committee, and was not reported to the House, missing legislative deadlines.

There are later deadlines for bills with fiscal impact. The original bill had no fiscal impact, because there is a presidential primary in current law.

HB 5978 could not advance in its Senate-approved form, because of the deadline. If nothing passes, the 2016 primary will be held, the Democratic Party will ignore the results, but take the list of voters duped into public affiliating with the party.