Thursday, June 6, 2019

New Arizona Budget Contains a Presidential Primary Opt-Out for State Parties

The scaling back from primaries to caucuses to help the incumbent beat has been quiet for a while now. Such is the nature of the decentralized way in which the process to nominate presidential candidates develops in the year before a presidential election year.

As quiet as things have been on that front, however, Arizona quietly broke the silence last week when  Governor Doug Ducey (R) signed HB 2751 into law. Normally, the way state budgets intervene in the presidential nomination process is through the funding (or lack thereof) of state government-run primaries. But this budget bill in Arizona does not clearly draw that line. Democrats will have a primary next year, so the state will be paying for an election for that. Presumably however, that election will not include a Republican presidential preference vote.

And that is because at the request of the Arizona Republican Party, Speaker of the Arizona House, Rusty Bowers (R-25th, Maricopa) inserted the following section into the budget legislation for the session:
Notwithstanding section 16-241, Arizona Revised Statutes, a political party that is eligible to participate in the 2020 presidential preference election pursuant to section 16-244, Arizona Revised Statutes, may opt out of participating in the presidential preference election by sending a written notice to the secretary of state on or before September 16, 2019. If a political party opts out of participating in the presidential preference election, the secretary of state shall notify each county recorder and officer in charge of elections and the clerk of each county board of supervisors not later than five business days after receiving the written notice from the political party that the 2020 presidential preference election for that party is canceled.
The highlighted clause now gives state Republicans the discretion to repeat what the party did the last time an incumbent Republican presidential was up for reelection in 2004: cancel the Republican presidential primary in the Grand Canyon state. This is not something, then, that is unique to the broader Republican Party defense of President Trump. Instead, it is in line with what other states -- Kansas and South Carolina among them -- are doing and have done in the the past: scale operations back when an incumbent is up for reelection.

Arizona Republicans now have until the middle of September to make a decision about whether they will opt out of the presidential primary, although the party has already telegraphed where this is headed. September is noteworthy because that is just before the Republican National Committee deadline to finalize state-level delegate selection processes falls (October 1). That will be a busy time as many states will be finalizing plans either at state conventions or in state central committee meetings.

Howard Fischer's Capital News Service story quotes Arizona Republican Party spokesman, Zach Henry, as citing past presidential primary opt outs. Henry is right that Arizona Republicans opted out of the 2004 presidential primary election. However, Henry also cites state Democrats as having acted in the same way during incumbent Democratic presidential reelection cycles in 1996 and 2012. Opting out is a misleading way of describing Arizona Democratic Party activity during those two cycles, however. In both cycles, Arizona had a last Tuesday in February presidential primary, a date non-compliant with Democratic National Committee rules in both instances. Arizona Democrats did not opt out of the presidential primaries in those cycles as they were forced to opt for later caucuses to avoid penalty from the national party.

Arizona Republicans in 2004 faced no such conflict. Although the Arizona presidential primary was set by Governor Janet Napolitano (D) for the first Tuesday in February, that was not inconsistent with Republican National Committee rules at the time. In fact, 2004 was the first cycle in which February primaries for states other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina were allowed by both parties. That allowance lasted through the 2008 cycle.

The parties' actions in these instances is different.

Thanks to Steve Kamp for passing along news of the Arizona opt-out provision to FHQ.

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