Senate says not so fast about changing the Preidential Primary Date

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BY TIM SAMPSON

Missouri News Horizon
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Pushing the state’s presidential primary date back a month was never expected to be a drawn-out legislative ordeal, but the proposal has once again hit a road-block in the Missouri Senate, where lawmakers objected to national party efforts to minimize the state’s influence.

The chamber ultimately failed to come to a vote on the matter of moving Missouri’s primary from February to March before adjourning for the week, as House Bill 3 became stymied in the objections of senators from both political parties.

“Why do we want to take out citizens out of the game,” said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis, who was among the most vocal opponents of the bill. “We all can agree once March comes, pretty much you’re down to one or two candidates.”

The proposal to move Missouri’s primary from February to March, comes at the behest of both national parties which are seeking to spread out the various presidential nominating contests. In recent election cycles, more and more states have moved their primary elections closer to the beginning of the year when there are more candidates still in the race so that its citizens’ votes can have greater influence.

But with President Barack Obama not facing any primary challengers for the Democratic nomination, it’s an issue that most immediately would affect Missouri Republicans. The Republican National Committee has threatened not to seat the state’s GOP delegates at the nominating convention if the state legislature does not comply with their wishes.

But one Republican in the chamber, Sen. Jason Crowell, of Cape Girardeau, called his national party’s threats hollow, noting how they handled Florida in 2008. In that year, the NRC said it would not seat any of Florida’s delegates after they refused to get in line with the national order; however the national committee ultimately let half the state’s delegates vote at the convention.

In the middle of the floor debate, Crowell announced that he would be offering an amendment to the bill that would keep Missouri’s primary date in February but switch the state to a caucus nominating process. He said caucuses generally foster greater interaction between candidates and ordinary citizens.

He called the edict to move Missouri’s primary and effort by the parties to create a system that favors establishment candidates.

“Both parties are trying to rig these things to pick who their candidates are,” Crowell said.

The chamber adjourned for the week before Crowell’s amendment could be formally introduced. The Senate is expected to take up the matter sometime next week.

Although Crowell’s amendment may seem far-fetched, it would not be the first time this year that legislation to delay the presidential primary has been wildly diverted by the Senate.

When Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, first introduce the proposal last spring, it was wildly objected to by a number of senators who were able to successfully amend the bill to do the opposite of its original intention. Their amendment would have moved the state’s primary forward to take place just one week after New Hampshire’s primary, which is traditionally the second nominating contest in the nation. That amendment was later killed by the House of Representatives and the presidential primary delay was packaged into a larger election law bill. But when the governor vetoed that bill, the legislature was forced to revisit the issue this month during the special session.

For his part, Engler said he’s not thrilled with the current nominating system, which gives a great deal of influence to Iowa and New Hampshire, but he said that conforming to the parties’ wishes was the only way to ensure Missouri had any kind of voice at all.

“What makes Iowa so special?,” he said. “I don’t know. But it’s what the parties have chosen to do.”