Friday, March 4, 2011

Bill to Hand Power to Set Primary Date Over to Secretary of State Filed in Georgia

A bipartisan coalition of six Georgia representatives has come up with by far the most interesting approach to 2012 presidential primary timing. Rep. Mark Hamilton (R-23rd, Cumming), Rep. John Meadows (R-5th, Calhoun), Majority Whip Edward Lindsey (R-54th, Atlanta), Rep. Mary Oliver (D-83rd, Decatur), Rep. Tyrone Brooks (D-63rd, Atlanta) and Rep. Alisha Morgan (D-39th, Austell) prefiled HB 454 on March 3 and has several wrinkles to it.

First of all, the bill shifts the presidential primary date-setting authority from the state legislature to the secretary of state. The effect is that this frees a state of the potential for partisan conflict that often hampers the movement of a primary. Such a move would also remove the issue of a state legislature having to be in session to move the date of a presidential primary around. This is how New Hampshire has been able to move with such ease in protecting its first-in-the-nation status since 1976. There is no partisan conflict and in New Hampshire's case, Secretary of State Bill Gardner can wait until a very late date -- after all the other states have selected dates -- to choose when New Hampshire will go. It would appear that this is the intent in Georgia as well.

The short term impact of this is that Georgia will remain an unknown for a while if this bill is passed and signed into law. There are, however, a few additional guidelines that add to the intrigue of this. The secretary of state wouldn't have unlimited discretion here. He or she would have to make a decision on the date "not later than 60 days preceding the date on which the presidential primary is to be held". Candidates have to have time to file and local elections administrators have to have time to prepare for the primary.

But let's look at this in the context of 2012. Secretary of State Brian Kemp, if given this authority, could wait all the way up to December 1, and like New Hampshire, see where all the other states are going to be positioned on the calendar. Now, 60 days from December 1 is January 30. That is just enough time to see not where New Hampshire is positioned, but where Florida ends up. Oddly -- or not so oddly enough -- Florida is currently positioned on January 31. Kemp can wait it out, see if Florida budges, how the RNC reacts and set the date of the Georgia primary accordingly. If the RNC caves to Florida's insistence on being on January 31, then Kemp could move Georgia up to coincide with its neighbor to the south on January 31. But if the RNC comes down hard on Florida, Kemp could move Georgia's primary back into compliance with national party rules (on March 6, for instance).

What this bill would do is keep Georgia's options open and allow it the most leeway to select an advantageous date that would not necessarily threaten New Hampshire or Iowa or South Carolina, but would potentially help the Peach state to align with Florida in a sub-regional act of defiance.

File this one away.

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