Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Pair of Presidential Primary Bills Fail to Gain Traction in Hawaii

Contest type -- whether primary or caucus -- has been a topic of discussion in and out of national party rules-making circles in the time since 2016. That Sanders saw successes in that format and Clinton problems essentially forced mode of allocation into rules discussions on the Democratic side. And even Republicans have ventured into talks about potentially providing incentives to states with primaries rather than caucuses for 2020.

But most of the action thus far on this front has been on the state level. Maine and Minnesota have both adopted through the legislative process presidential primaries to replace the caucus format for 2020. And Colorado arrived at the same endpoint but via ballot initiative in 2016. In a mark of the type of energy exists behind efforts to shift from caucuses to primaries in the presidential nomination process, two bills have been even been introduced in Hawaii.

Now, the Aloha state has traditionally held caucuses rather than a presidential primary. For much of the post-reform era, the two state parties settled into a regular pattern every four years on the presidential primary calendar: Hawaii Republicans started their process with precinct meetings in late January and their Democratic counterparts on the islands followed suit in late February or early March. The regularity with which that pattern occurred developed despite a [state] constitutional provision -- Article II, section 9 -- allowing the addition of a presidential preference primary election.

And over the last two decades at least, no legislation has been proposed to add such an election. That changed during the 2018 legislative session. Bills were introduced to establish a presidential preference primary on the second Saturday in May (SB 2584) and one to create a study committee to examine the switch from caucuses to a primary (SB 2249).

No, neither bill has gone anywhere, nor are they likely to. Both are bottled up in committee, basically dead after missing legislative deadlines to move the legislation along before the 2018 session adjourns in early May. To some extent that is not exactly evidence of "energy" behind a caucus-to-primary change in Hawaii. However, most of the changes of this sort tend to occur not during midterm election years, but in the year before a presidential election year. Additionally, that anything was proposed at all is worth noting in the case of Hawaii. Again, a regular pattern had developed around caucuses and caucus scheduling, and breaking long-standing traditions is not a goal that is easily attained in the presidential nomination process.

Whether that changes in Hawaii in particular is a question for 2019. But this is a phenomenon -- caucus-to-primary shifts -- that is happening at the state level even without a national party prompt at this point in the cycle.

More: 2020 Presidential Primary Calendar

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