Monday, July 17, 2017

California Continues Slow March Toward Earlier Presidential Primary

In the earliest stages of the 2020 presidential election cycle, there has been little maneuvering on the nascent calendar of primary and caucus contests. However, the state that seems most likely to shift in 2017 in anticipation of the next nomination phase is a big one.

The question that emerges from the legislative action in California is where in March the Golden state will settle on the calendar. March is the destination in the two bills that have worked their way through the originating chamber -- one from the Assembly and one from the Senate -- to the cusp of final votes across the capitol. But they are not companion bills, nor has any effort been made to reconcile the two pieces of legislation with each other.

On the Senate side, AB 84 made it out of committee late last week with a unanimous green light to move the primary from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in March. But the Senate -- including the same Senate Committee on Elections and Constitutional amendments -- had already passed the more complicated SB 568. That bill would also move a consolidated California primary from June to March but to the third Tuesday in March (with an option for the governor to move the election up even further).

The same has been true on the Assembly side. The Assembly bill made it through its initial chamber and has made it through the committee stage on the state Senate with no amendments aimed at reconciling the two bills.

And the differences extend beyond a conflict over the date of the primary election in presidential election years. There is also a discrepancy with respect to the timing of the primary in midterm years. The Senate's governor's option bill would move the primary to the third Tuesday in March in both presidential and midterm years with the allowance that the governor may move the primary to an earlier date from the proposed earlier late March baseline. Yet, the Assembly version would maintain the June primary date in midterm years while shifting the consolidated primary to early March in presidential years only.

Neither version has seen much resistance along the way despite the differences. As such, it may be that the state legislature will defer to the governor to decide which version to sign (or veto them both).

Regardless, it should be noted that small changes to the Senate version in the Assembly will ultimately send the legislation back to the Senate if it passes the Assembly. That version, too, received a second reading on the floor of the Assembly, but was referred to the Appropriations Committee. That more complicated version -- with the governor's option -- may end up bottled up there with the more straightforward Assembly version pushing through to the governor.

The slow march (in an even slower year for presidential primary movement) continues in California.

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