Monday, October 17, 2011

Around, Around It Goes in Missouri. Where It Stops Nobody Knows

FHQ just got done listening to a fascinating nearly-three hour floor debate in the Missouri Senate over the scheduling of the presidential primary in the Show Me state. And to say the rollercoaster ride to move the primary to March has been utterly crazy is, I think, understating the matter greatly. The debate this evening, though, served as a perfect microcosm of the whole process.

Given the option to move the primary to January, the chamber voted no.

Given the option to require the candidate appearing on the November general election ballot in Missouri be contingent upon having appeared on the primary ballot, the chamber voted no.

Given the option to move the presidential primary back to March, the chamber voted no.

Given the option to eliminate the primary altogether for 2012 only, the chamber voted no.

Again, this was a microcosm of the entire presidential primary date consideration in the Missouri General Assembly all year. Simply put, neither chamber could come to a consensus about what to do about the primary. Correction, neither chamber could come to a consensus that both chambers and the governor could agree to.

Let's look at each of the above votes in turn because they deserve some more in-depth attention than the fact that each got rejected. FHQ will wait on the daily journal for the session today before attempting to describe all the amendments to amendments that were offered. It got confusing after a while. In fact, after all the the measures failed one of the proponents of an earlier primary had to ask what had been voted on, not realizing that the elimination of the primary amendment had failed. FHQ, then, will simply refer to these as votes and leave it at that.

As for the January primary move, Senator Brad Lager (R-12th) proposed the amendment under the logic that if the national party was going to look down on a February date, then move the Missouri primary up to show constituents that the legislature wanted the voters' voices heard. Senator Lager was acting in the way that many in the Florida primary discussion in the state legislature there were -- to make a statement on the current system. Nevermind that the bill in its amended form -- such that the primary would have been on January 3, 2012 -- would never have passed the House and/or the governor. Of course, Lager was willing to defer to the will of the body and did once the measure was rejected by a 10-22 vote.

The March primary move was then discussed but prior to it being voted on another amendment was added to force the Missouri Republican Party to switch back to the primary from the caucus. The means by which the Senate saw as necessary to accomplish this was by requiring that a party's presidential candidate on the general election ballot in Missouri have appeared on the presidential primary ballot as well. This was seen as a stick by the members pushing this amendment -- to get the state party to request a waiver from the, in this case, RNC to move to a compliant primary after the October 1 deadline. None of the members felt they had any level of assurance that the state party would make the switch. One thing that did come up was that the Missouri Republican Party only switched a caucus system to avoid the penalties associated with a non-compliant February primary. But none of the senators felt confident in the switch back. [FHQ note: Parties that readily accept the state-funded primary are rarely incentivized to switch to a caucus the party would have to pay for when a state-funded option is on the table.] The fallout on this move was too much for the state Senate. Some were worried that a legal battle with the federal government [not to mention the national party] if by some chance a candidate was not on the primary ballot and could not then appear on the general election ballot. That, too, was defeated but by a voice vote.

Then the March primary move amendment came up for further discussion and a vote. And again, like the other amendments, it was voted down, 12-20, mainly because no one in the chamber felt comfortable with relying on the state party to move back to a primary.

The final vote came on the overarching Senate substitute to the House committee substitute to HB 3. The House-passed bill would have moved the primary to March and raised the filing fee for presidential candidates. The Senate substitute would have eliminated the presidential primary for 2012 -- bringing it back for February 2016 -- and struck the filing fee increase as well. The discussion on this one was fairly limited compared to the other discussions, but the vote ended the same: a tied 16-16 vote which prevented passage.

What does all of this mean? Well, aside from the reality that no consensus could ever be reached it means that Missouri will hold a meaningless presidential primary on February 7. That will cost the state up to an estimated $8 million and force the parties into holding caucuses. The Republicans had already selected a March 17 start date for its caucuses, but the Missouri Democratic Party has been awaiting a resolution to this impasse. that is apparently not on the horizon.

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