Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Missouri Primary to a Week After New Hampshire?

The AP and Missouri News Horizon blogger Tim Sampson are reporting that the Missouri Senate has passed an amendment to SB 282 that would place the Show-Me state's presidential primary one week after New Hampshire's primary.1 The state Senate bill initially called for the presidential primary to be moved from the first Tuesday in February to the first Tuesday in March. But the original intent of the bill has been hijacked from the bill's sponsor and Financial and Government Operations and Elections Committee chairman, Senator Kevin Engler (R-3rd, Farmington), who shepherded the bill through his committee.

There are a few things to note about what is an otherwise very interesting move given the current situation with Florida trying to carve out the fifth position in the primary and caucuses queue. First of all, the vote that took place today was on an amendment offered by Senator Brad Lager (R-12th, Savannah). It was the second amendment on the bill that was offered and adopted by a 16-14 vote. That said, the final bill and all its amendments require a vote by the full state Senate. Second, this complicates what looked like a sure thing move to March in Missouri. Both the Senate and House bills were introduced by the chairs of the committees dealing with elections in both chambers and though both are Republicans in Republican-dominated houses of the legislature, the bills -- at least the one in the Senate -- did not have the full support of a united Republican majority.

If the amended bill with its new, one-week-after-New-Hampshire requirement passes the Senate it sets up a showdown scenario on several levels. Much of that depends on what happens in the House. Assuming the House passes an unamended version of one of the two bills moving the primary to March, then the House and Senate have to in some way reconcile those two once each crosses over to the opposite chamber. Of course, nothing would stop the House from also acting on the amended version of the Senate bill while the March House bill dies in the Senate. Needless to say the legislative process could fall apart at any point at which time the Missouri primary would remain on the first Tuesday in February -- in violation of the national parties rules.

Hovering over all of this is the fact that Missouri Governor Jay Nixon is a Democrat, and the Democratic Delegate Selection Rules for 2012 dictate that all Democratic state-level actors prevent a primary timing violation (Rule 20.C.7). In other words, the threat of a veto looms over this process if a bill comes before the governor that sets the Missouri primary a week behind New Hampshire. The quirk in all of this is that Nixon would have his hands tied either way. Signing the bill would put the primary in violation of the national party rules, but not signing keeps the primary in February and is still a violation of the same rules.

This is a conundrum that may, if legislators realize the road they are going down, may give rise to some momentum behind the bill that seeks to combine the Show-Me state's presidential primary with its state and local primaries in June, a bill that has seemingly stalled in committee since being introduced late last month. But there's a lot to play out in the legislature first before that may happen.

1 Tethering a primary to the date of the New Hampshire primary is not new. Wyoming Republicans early in 2007 anchored their caucuses to New Hampshire's then late January date. New Hampshire was later forced to move and so too did Wyoming Republicans, only they moved three days ahead of New Hampshire. Delaware's state law prior to 2003 placed the First state a week after the New Hampshire primary like this Missouri amendment as well. That was altered in 2003 to comply with Democratic Party rules disallowing that because it would have meant a January primary for non-exempt states when February was as early as was allowed.

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