Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Kentucky and Minnesota Eye 2012

Not content to wait until next year, as one member of the Indiana legislature is, both state legislatures in Kentucky and Minnesota are at various stages of considering presidential primary moves for 2012.

The situation in Kentucky is the much further along. HB 18 began as a bill to alter the state's runoff election provisions. After having passed the House though, amendments were added in the Senate to split the state's presidential and state and local primaries; moving the former to the first Tuesday in February and the later to the first Tuesday after the third Monday in August. During the post-reform era, Kentucky has typically held both sets of primaries simultaneously in late May of presidential election years. And as I've shown in my own research (An earlier version of this paper was presented at the 2007 Southern Political Science Association Conference in New Orleans, LA.), those states with split primaries are significantly more likely to be able to frontload their presidential primaries than those states which hold those contests simultaneously with state and local contests. Kentucky has fallen into the latter category up until now. What Kentucky is faced with is basically the cost of holding an all new election in early February (often enough to prevent state legislatures from pulling the trigger on these moves). Having said that, the bill has passed the Senate (see here and here) and has now returned to the House for review. The 23-13 vote in the Senate broke along partisan lines with the Republican majority in the chamber supporting the measure in tandem with the one independent. Thirteen of the fifteen Democrats voted against while the remaining two abstained. Here though is the kicker: Kentucky's legislature is divided. The Senate is controlled by Republicans and the House by Democrats. The amendment concerning the presidential primary was penned by GOP senator, David Williams and with that Senate vote passing along party lines, it is unlikely the Democratic-controlled House will give the bill (with the amendment) much attention; much less pass it. Even if it did manage to pass the House, the bill would then go to the newly elected, Democratic governor, Steve Beshear. These states that have to change multiple laws to move their presidential primaries have a tough row to hoe. The more laws that have to be altered, the more likely partisan conflicts are to arise.

Minnesota offers a completely different set of circumstances (Imagine that, variation from state to state.). The frontloading discussion there only began after the chaotic Super Tuesday caucuses in the North Star state (see this link for more). The discussion may be in its infancy, but a bill has already been introduced to, first of all, establish a presidential primary and to then position it on the first Tuesday in February. That bill, SF2760 (House companion bill HF3045), was introduced in and referred to committee in both chambers on February 18 (this past Monday). In the Senate the bill was introduced by the president of the Senate, James Metzen, a Democrat. On the House side the bill was introduced by a bipartisan group of four (three Democrats and one Republican). Both chambers are controlled by the Democrats. So similar to Kentucky, Minnesota faces the issue of creating an entirely new election. That comes at a cost to taxpayers. Contrary to the Kentucky situation though, the fact that there appears to be some degree of bipartisan support for the bill bodes well. Should either of those bills make it through the Democratic-controlled legislature though, it would face the hurdle of getting past a Republican governor's veto.

What can we take from these situations in Kentucky and Minnesota? Party matters. If one party is opposed to the movement (or establishment) of a presidential primary, the task of moving that primary becomes that much more difficult. Split primaries matter. States that hold their presidential nominating contests in conjunction with their nominating contests for state and local offices have an extra hurdle to overcome; a hurdle that could inflame partisan divisions within the legislature for whatever reason. Those states that don't face the fetters of simultaneous contests have an easier go of it when it comes to frontloading.

The actions in Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota mark an early start to preparations for the next presidential nominating cycle. By comparison, Arkansas was the first to move their presidential primary (splitting their nominating contests) in anticipation of the 2008 primary season; making their move in 2005. So to look forward to the next round when the current round is still ongoing is a bit of a departure from what we've witnessed in the past.

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