Thursday, June 16, 2011

Louisiana Senate Panel Defers Presidential Primary Bill

With more or less a week to go in the legislative session, the Louisiana Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee dealt a seemingly serious blow to the bill to shift the Pelican state presidential primary back into compliance with national party delegate selection rules. By a vote of 6-1, the panel deferred on HB 509. The bill proposes moving the Louisiana presidential primary from the second or third Saturday in February to the third Saturday after the first Tuesday in March.1 Discussion around the bill was very limited before Senator Karen Carter Peterson (D-5th, New Orleans) made a motion to defer the bill. Senator Mike Walsworth (R-33rd, West Monroe) was the only member of the committee to question the Representative Alan Seabaugh, the House member speaking on behalf of the bill. Walsworth focused mainly on the costs of the move to taxpayers2 and on a repeated line of questioning as to why Louisiana was not trying to hold its primary on Super Tuesday.3

This was a strange move by the committee, but in FHQ's opinion -- having watched the hearing -- the deferral was more a matter of fatigue on the part of the committee than of playing politics with the date of the presidential primary. The committee had several nominations on their agenda and the chair, Senator Bob Kostelka (R-35th, Monroe) mentioned from the outset of the hearing that the committee wanted to move quickly through the consideration of bills and onto the nominations before them. Following lengthy discussions of a resolution to call on Congress to deal with the national debt and of a proposed Ten Commandments monument on the Louisiana state capitol grounds, the members of the committee, already two hours into the meeting, seemed eager to move on to those nominations.

In fact, reports of the death of this bill seem to have been premature, as it is slated to be reconsidered by the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee during its next meeting Friday morning. Should the bill be killed in that meeting, the implications are not that severe,4 despite warnings of delegate penalties. FHQ would expect both parties to abandon the non-compliant primary in favor of caucuses. The Republican Party in Louisiana has already indicated that it would do so, and Democrats, with an uncompetitive nomination race before them, would likely follow suit.

Thanks to Richard Winger at Ballot Access News for sending along the link the New Orleans Times-Picayune story.

1 The House-passed version of the bill would move the primary to the first Saturday after the first Tuesday in March, but the Louisiana secretary of state's office raised concerns over the conflict that date would have with Passover. Louisiana law -- like those in other states -- prohibits elections on religious holidays, and thus mandated an amendment to the original bill.

2 There would be no extra costs. The third Saturday after the first Tuesday in March is a date on which elections to 158 municipal elections in addition to both major parties' state central committees are held. That the presidential primary would coincide with those elections would actually save Louisiana taxpayers money.

3 Louisiana has not held a presidential primary on Super Tuesday since 1992. The calendar was more jumbled that year without a clear Super Tuesday after the collection of southern states that had held the most concerted regional primary to date in 1988. Regardless, Louisiana stuck with the second Tuesday in March date for its primary until the 2008 cycle; a date that had seen a large number of states pass by moving to earlier dates over that twenty year period.

4 That "severity" could certainly be a point of contention. Obviously a switch to caucuses would translate into much lower participation in the contest and that has its own implications. The point here, however, is that Louisiana, despite the warnings, will not lose delegates to either the Democratic or Republican conventions. The state parties will switch to compliant caucuses before allocating delegates via a non-compliant primary.

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