Tuesday, July 19, 2011

West Virginia Republican Chair Calls for Presidential Primary to be Moved Up

In a press item released on the heels of West Virginia Republican Party chairman, Mike Stuart, detailing the plans for a caucus/convention system of allocating 2012 presidential delegates, he also called on the acting governor and legislature to act quickly and move the Mountain state's presidential primary to an earlier date. Said Stuart in the news release:
“It is time to move up the WV Presidential Primary to ensure that West Virginians have more say in picking the presidential nominees," said Mike Stuart, Chairman of the West Virginia Republican Party. “We owe it to our coal miners and West Virginia families to ensure that the issues that are critical and unique to the future of West Virginia are reflected in the selection of a President of the United States.”
“Today, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada lead the process of picking the next President. Those states have little in common with the drivers of West Virginia’s economy,” said Stuart. “By the time West Virginia picks its nominee for president, the selection is generally irrelevant and West Virginia families and coal miners get left behind in the process.”
“[Acting Goveror Earl Ray] Tomblin and the Legislature can very easily change the WV Presidential Primary and make a bold statement to the nation that a candidate for President has to go through and to West Virginia before getting to the White House. West Virginia is too important to the nation for it to continue to be irrelevant in the selection of a President.”
Stuart invoking the ease with which the acting governor and legislature could act piqued my interest. It would have been helpful to have had the mechanism by which this change could be made included in the release. Beggars, however, cannot be choosers.

The bottom line is that there at least a couple of complicating factors. First off, the West Virginia legislature adjourned for the year on March 18. That fact does not preclude the legislature from acting on such a change in the state's elections law. The legislature does hold regular joint, interim meetings throughout the time the legislature is technically out of session, and the legislature can act on legislation in those settings. From the West Virginia legislature's web site:

Interim Committees
Approximately once a month during the period between regular sessions - the interim - the Legislature gathers in Charleston (or another location in the state) for three days of committee meetings.

The Interim Committees usually are joint committees, with members of both the Senate and House of Delegates working together as single groups. For example, the Joint Standing Committee on Government Organization is made up of members of both the Senate Government Organization Committee and the House of Delegates Goverment Organization Committee.

The interim committees’ primary purpose is to provide a forum for the continuing study of issues relevant to the future of the state. During each interim gathering, members discuss and hear public comment on issues which may be addressed during an upcoming regular session. The joint nature of these interim committees allows members of the Senate and House of Delegates to consider issues and legislation which may affect both bodies in a similar manner.

Many times, bills to be introduced during the next regular session are drafted, studied and rewritten long before the session begins. Also, bills that did not pass during the previous session may be revisited during the interim period for reworking.

Some bills previously rejected by the Legislature still need some fine-tuning before the Legislature passes them into law. Hence, the interims allow for reconsideration, reworking and possible reintroduction at the next formal gathering of the Legislature.

The interim meetings also allow the Legislature to monitor the effects of current and recently-passed legislation. For example, if a bill has passed which alters the state’s environmental policies, an interim committee may be assigned to study its continuing effects on the state’s economy, our citizens’ health, and other related issues.

If the governor and legislature are so inclined, then, they could introduce, consider, pass and sign into law a change in the primary date during one of the monthly interim sessions. But that leads to the second issue that may stand in the way of the move (presumably to March 6 or earlier): money. The Democratic-controlled legislature would obviously have to help out Republicans during a political season that will find Democrats on the sideline with Obama the likely Democratic nominee. That said, there are partisan concerns here, but legislators would have to decide on either creating an all-new and entirely separate presidential primary election or move up the federal, statewide and local primaries from May -- and the state has held a May or June primary throughout the post-reform era -- to an earlier date. The former is going to cost a significant amount during a time in which the economy is not in the best shape. This is something that has been confronted in other states with varying results, but is no less pertinent here. The alternative would be to move everything up which would have an effect on not only the traditional date West Virginia voters are used to, but could also impact the filing deadlines and cause problems with the federal mandates of the MOVE act.

In reality, Stuart is likely fine with the caucus/convention system from 2008 being used again in 2012. The true aim is very likely to get the legislature to consider a move in the future. ...for 2016 or beyond. FHQ may be off base here, but because of the partisan implications in West Virginia, I don't think I am.

Time will tell. And at least we now know the mechanism by which the elections law could be altered while the legislature is adjourned.

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