Missouri will hold a presidential primary on February 7th.
Let’s recall why that’s a pertinent as well as an impertinent question.
Some comments from Senator Tim Green of Spanish Lake help explain this situation a little bit. Why, he asks, is so much attention paid to Iowa for its caucuses and New Hampshire for its first-in-the-nation primary? Iowa has three million residents. New Hampshire has 1.3 million. Missouri almost has more registered voters than the total populations of those two states. Why shouldn’t Missouri be among the first tier of states in the presidential primary system, he asks.
Green is a Democrat. All of this controversy about when or whether to hold a presidential primary has been a Republican problem. A Republican problem thanks to a Democrat.
Back in 1988, St. Louis congressman Richard Gephardt was thinking he’d look good in the White House. Democrats controlled the legislature in those days and thought an early Missouri primary would help him get there. So we had a presidential primary. Gephardt laid an egg and soon decided the White House was out of his price range. But that primary got our legislators thinking and they passed a bill a few years later making our primary permanent.
In recent years, other states have gone batty with the idea that THEY should be first or at least among the first. The jockeying has gotten a little crazy in recent months.
So along comes the Republican National Committee and it says to Missouri, “You can’t have your presidential primary on February 7th. You have to move it back a month or we will not allow your national convention delegates to vote at the convention.” The RNC gave Missouri until October 1 to get ‘er done.
The legislature passed a bill last spring doing just that. But lawmakers loaded it down with other stuff that Governor Nixon thought went to far. So he vetoed it. He told the majority Republicans that he would sign a bill that just dealt with the primary election date and included it in the special session call.
What could be simpler?
The legislature screwed it up.
John Adams sang in the musical, “1776,”
You see, we piddle, twiddle, and resolve
Not one damn thing do we solve
Piddle, twiddle, and resolve
Nothing’s ever solved.
That was kind of the theme of the entire special session.
The legislature didn’t pass the bill by October 1. Some Senate members got into a snit about being ordered around by the national committee and several days before the deadline shelved the bill that the House had passed with almost no opposition. A few senators even started suggesting the primary should be cancelled completely because the state could not financially afford to let people express a preference for President of the United States.
The Republican State Committee was left in the lurch. It did what it had to do to make sure our delegates at the national convention got to vote. The RSC declared our delegates would be picked the old-fashioned way, through county caucuses.
So that let Senate Republicans to think that if the delegates were going to be picked in caucuses, the primary should be eliminated because it would now be meaningless. Convention delegates are picked in caucuses anyway and all the primary does anyway is guarantee that the delegates support the primary winner in early convention voting. So the Senate leadership decided to bring the primary election elimination bill up for debate.
That fired up Secretary of State Robin Carnahan who blasted the move as taking the vote away from the people. She argued that, among other things, the citizens’ right to vote was worth the cost of the election. When the bill came up in the senate Monday evening, those who supported keeping the primary suggested different approaches. To Hell with the RNC’s threat, one faction argued, let’s move our primary UP, not back. Let’s have our primary in January. We deserve an early primary because we have more people than Iowa and New Hampshire; we’re a bellwether state; and we have a right to be among the primary primary states. That didn’t fly.
Neither did a proposal that no presidential candidate could be listed on Missouri’s November presidential ballot who had not been on the primary ballot. That was an effort to make sure candidates came to Missouri. That was shot down.
If the Senate had defeated the proposal to end the primary for 2012 only, it could have voted on the bill moving the primary to March.
And it did defeat it. The vote was 16-16. Sponsor Kevin Engler of Farmington thought the vote was representative of the entire special session. He refused to bring up the House-passed bill for a March primary (after all of this there was no guarantee it would get a majority either) and left.
So we have a primary election February 7th. Republicans will hold caucuses to pick delegates and have not indicated if the primary will be considered advisory in any way. The national committee has pretty much indicated it better not be considered advisory because Missouri’s votes in the national convention would be jeopardized if it is.
As we left the Senate chamber Monday evening, we could hear in our mind William Daniels as John Adams singing about piddling, twiddling, and resolving not one damned thing.
Except one important thing was resolved even in a backhanded way. We still have the privilege of voting in a presidential primary. And that would seem to mean something to the individual citizen at least.