The Primary Directive

The entire presidential primary system has become a poster child for the word “dysfunction.”  And Missouri is making its own contribution to the poster..

The business of holding the first primary has become an intensely competitive scramble.  It has become so extreme that folks in New Hampshire are saying their “first in the nation” primary might be as early as December 6 or 13th.

December! Good Lord.

Somebody needs to be The Dad here and get the kids in line.

Having the early or earliest primary is a big deal for the states.  The earlier the primary, the more candidates are going to campaign in the state, giving voters a closer look at the people who want to be President.  It’s also an economic development issue.  A lot of commercials and advertisements are bought in those early states.  A lot of candidates and huge numbers of campaign staff people rent motel rooms and eat and drink a lot.

If you’re primary is late, say in March, the economic and political impact on the state is decidedly lessened.

This is where Missouri gets into the middle of the mess.

The present law has our primary election in February.  We were a Super Tuesday state four years ago.  But several weeks ago the National Republican Committee told Missouri the state was going to have to move its primary back to the dead zone of March.  It’s an “or else’ deal.  If Missouri does not change its primary date, the state’s GOP delegates to the national convention will not be accredited to vote.

Umbrage has been taken in big gulps, especially in the state senate where Kevin Engler of Farmington wondered during debate sometime in the dim distant past of the early days of the special session why Missouri doesn’t just forget about the primary all together if that’s gong to be the national party’s attitude.  Pick delegates through caucuses, he said.  Canceling the primary would save the state as much as six million dollars. He and others also had some pointed things to say about the entire competition to be the first or an early primary. And some “who do they think they are” sentiments were aimed at the national Republican party.

When the Senate meets Monday afternoon, it will take up the House bill to move the primary to March.  Senate leader Rob Mayer says it will do more than just consider the bill.  Some Senators will try to change it to eliminate the presidential primary and go to a caucus system.

Enter Robin Carnahan, the state’s top elections official as Secretary of State.  She thinks scrapping the primary election stabs voters in the back.  She thinks eliminating the primary takes the voice away from thousands of voters.  And she thinks the rationale of cancelling the primary to save as much as six million dollars is unjustifiable. 

In a time when the Tea Party is demanding attention and accountability; in a time when demonstrators are occupying Wall Street and places in various cities—-people who feel they are left out of the governmental process—is this time for the legislature to tell Missourians they cannot vote in a presidential primary?   She asks that.

She’s made some calls to reporters to get her points before the public.  And she’s given us some numbers to consider.  She quotes an Associated Press article from 2003 noting the 1996 caucuses involved 20,000 people.  The 2000 primary election  involved 745,000 people.  Another qujote comes from a Post-Dispatch article in 1996 that said five counties did not have enough people show up at caucuses to even  hold caucuses.

Her figures show the 2008 presidential primary drew 1,415,951 voters.  It cost seven million dollars, an expense Carnahan believes is worthwhile because of the chance for voters to speak.

She says she’ll urge the Governor to veto any bill that eliminates the primary.

Presidential Primaries would be so much easier to deal with if politicians and states didn’t spend so much time playing politics with them.

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