Friday, January 13, 2023

Roadblock to an Earlier Michigan Presidential Primary?

Yes, Democrats control state government in Michigan after the 2022 midterms. 

Yes, there is now legislation to bring the Michigan presidential primary in line with the calendar proposal adopted by the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee (DNCRBC) last month.

But none of that necessarily means that obstacles do not stand in the way of the state's Democrats coming into compliance with the DNC's likely rules for the 2024 cycle. The legislation -- SB 13 -- is simple enough and non-controversial to the Democratic majority, but state legislative rules may gum up the works with respect to the legislation moving seamlessly through the legislature and being implemented in time for February of next year.

The Detroit News reports that even though the Democrats holding the levers of power in Lansing plan a "rapid" consideration of the presidential primary date change, they may need Republican help in the state House to make it happen. 
The reason is because the Michigan Constitution requires bills to take effect 90 days after the end of the legislative session unless two-thirds of the lawmakers in each chamber vote to give them "immediate effect."
That "immediate effect" measure matters because Democrats hold only a narrow majority in the state House, short of a two-thirds advantage, and the legislature typically adjourns at the end of the year. Late December 2023 is within 90 days of the proposed new position of the Michigan presidential primary on February 27, 2024. 

In other words, Michigan Democrats may need state House Republicans to get the primary date change over the finish line. And therein lies the rub. Although Republicans in the Great Lakes state may in theory support and earlier primary and a potentially larger voice in the presidential nomination process in 2024, Republican National Committee (RNC) rules prohibiting primaries and caucuses other than the four typical carve-out states before March 1 may deter cooperation in the effort. Assisting state Democrats now in shifting the presidential primary into February may cost Michigan Republicans around three-quarters of their national convention delegates in 2024.

That is a steep price and was intended to be when the RNC added the penalty for the 2016 cycle. But just because there are national party rules against any particular maneuver on the state level does not mean that Republicans in any given state will follow along blindly. There may, then, be enough Republican support to push SB 13 through the House and immediately thereafter take effect.

Of course, even if Republicans in the minority pull together in united opposition to the move in the Michigan state House, Democrats will still have tools at their disposal to bring the primary move to fruition. If the majority completes their 2023 work in time, the Democrats will still have the ability to adjourn the session early enough that there is at least a 90 day cushion between that point and February 27, 2024. 

Two footnotes to this:

1. National party cross-pressures
The politics of this are interesting because of the dynamics that exist between what is happening in Lansing and how legislators there are being cross-pressured by the national parties' rules if not the national parties themselves. Michigan Democrats want SB 13 to move "rapid[ly]" in order to meet the February 1 deadline to have the primary moved that the DNCRBC-adopted calendar rules package set in December. There is probably some wiggle room on that deadline as long as the legislature is making progress. 

But the Republican side of this equation raises some questions. Clearly, RNC penalties are on the radars of at least some Michigan Republican legislators. One Republican opposed state Senate-passed legislation in 2022 that would have pushed the presidential primary even earlier into February because of the rules implications. 

Yet, at this point in time, how much are the feelings of that lone Republican, Senator Jim Runestad, being buttressed by representatives from the RNC? That is unclear. There is a large enough team at the RNC to be able to multitask on a variety of issues, but considering that a heated race for RNC chair is taking place in the same window in which the DNCRBC is requiring completed action on the primary move in Michigan, it could mean that resources may be diverted at the very time they are needed in Lansing. It is not that RNC backup is necessarily needed in Michigan to inform Republicans in the state legislature of the gravity of moving the presidential primary, but rather that the national party may be sidetracked at a point when that backup may matter most. 

2. Maybe Michigan cannot help Georgia
On a different note, this potential legislative roadblock in Michigan complicates to some degree the Georgia primary situation for the Democratic National Committee (DNC). FHQ recently raised the prospect of the DNC switching the Georgia (February 13) and Michigan (February 27) primaries in the proposed calendar order as a means of actually getting the presidential primary in the Peach state into the pre-window. 

However, such a switch was predicated on an unfettered Democratic majority in Lansing; a majority free to tweak legislation if necessary. Michigan Democrats in the legislature may still have that ability, but it appears that the entire Democratic apparatus in the state -- state party and legislature -- are taking the February 1 DNCRBC deadline seriously. The quicker the legislative majority in Michigan feels compelled to move on SB 13, the less likely it is that the Georgia situation can be fixed in a way that is amendable to the Republican secretary of state there. 

Again, there is likely some latitude in that DNCRBC deadline if Michigan is moving positively toward the goal of changing its primary date. But that is a tricky position for the DNC. At once they want to convey the need to lock in the primary date change in Michigan, but to also find a way to accommodate the complications that are present in Georgia. And at some point the DNC is just going to have to finalize its calendar order and be ready to face whatever state-level reactions come. Still, the party does not want to finalize a calendar rules package that will be tough or impossible to implement and creates headaches down the road.

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