California State Assemblyman Paul Fong, D-Cupertino, recently introduced legislation that would move the California Republican presidential primary from its current “stand alone” status in February 2012 to being reconsolidated with the state’s own direct primary in June.
Fong, appearing on C-Span’s Washington Journal television program, noted that the proposed change would lead to an estimated savings of approximately $97 million, the cost of the “stand alone” primary in 2008. With the current state budget deficit at $26.6 billion, any sort of savings for the state is viewed favorably by many different stakeholders.
According to Fong, with the “stand alone” primary, California had to hold three different elections: a February presidential primary, a statewide primary election in June, and the general election in November. These elections undoubtedly proved costly for the state and local governments to administer.
Fong also noted that his legislation has broad bi-partisan support from lawmakers in Sacramento and that even Governor Jerry Brown, who Fong referred to as “tight on money,” would see the legislation as a cost-savings measure.
Of particular importance to local government administrators, Fong’s legislation is supported by The California State Association of Counties, California Association of Clerk and Election Officials, and the Secretary of State’s office.
According to the CSAC bulletin, counties are in favor of this legislation in hopes of eliminating two separate primary elections, as well as the fear that an early primary would require local officials to finish redistricting months sooner than the law otherwise mandates.
The bulletin also states that at least one county, Los Angeles, will face increased costs and logistical difficulties because of the voting system they use. These difficulties stem from the requirements of Proposition 14 (the direct “top two” primary) and its implementing legislation, SB 6 (Chapter 1, Statutes of 2009).
In 2008, the primary was moved from June to February in an effort to give California a more prominent role in determining the presidential nominee; however, according to Fong, with 33 other states following suite, the move ultimately backfired and diminished California’s role. It became one state among many vying for attention in a very eventful primary season.
The process of moving a state primary up to increase its importance, called “front loading,” has become a popular move in recent election cycles. However, with the budget crisis demanding so much attention, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle seem willing to reform California’s current primary position.
On the other hand, some prominent Republican lawmakers argue that this move will decrease California’s importance in producing a primary winner.
According to an article on Politico, outgoing California GOP chairman Ron Nehring says Democratic lawmakers are proposing this legislation out of self-interest.
“I think they’re playing partisan politics with the primary since they know their nominee will be Barack Obama. They’re content to have it late,” said Nehring.
“It’s Republicans in California who will be less influential in the national presidential nominating contest by moving back to the June primary election date.”
As stated by Jack Chang in The Sacramento Bee, “The proposed move could turn California into a little more than an epilogue in the GOP presidential race.”
Fong countered these arguments stating that with the now extended campaigns from both major parties, no one knows when candidates will catch fire and gain the majority of their delegate votes, thus diminishing the importance of California moving their primary up to February as opposed to June.
Fong furthered his argument by saying that “if California had kept to its original schedule in 2008, we would have been more influential in determining our presidential candidates.”
If this legislation is indeed a partisan ploy on behalf of the California Democrats to diminish the importance of the Republican presidential primary, history shows that such audacious moves can come back to haunt those who advocate them.
For example, in 1947, many national Republican leaders supported passage of the twenty-second amendment, which would limit the presidency to only two terms. This amendment came in response to what many thought was irresponsible leadership by Franklin D. Roosevelt who was elected for an unparalleled four terms, dying in office during his last.
Republicans, however, would have been more than happy to re-elect both Dwight Eisenhower and Ronald Reagan to a third term if the opportunity presented itself; however, because of the twenty-second amendment, it did not. This is just one example of how legislation fueled by partisan politics can prove troublesome in the long-term.
Some also contend that this $97 million savings with the changing primary date is only a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall $26.6 billion budget deficit and that the cost of loosing national electoral significance does not outweigh the potential savings for the budget.
However, according to Fong, $97 million savings certainly matters in an era when “every penny counts.”
The bill passed 7-0 on March 15th from the Assembly Committee on Elections and Redistricting. California administrators should take note of how this legislation pans out.
This proposed law shows how a state and local-level piece of legislation can indeed have significant national consequences. It proves that, as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil famously quipped, “All politics is local.”
To watch Assemblyman Fong’s interview on C-Span, click here. Assemblyman Fong’s interview begins at approximately the 15:20 mark.
Andrew Carico is a native of Bristol, Virginia and former Staff Writer for PublicCEO.com. He holds a B.S. from Evangel University and an M.A. in Government from Regent University. He will be beginning his PhD studies in political science at Claremont Graduate University this fall. He currently serves as a research and teaching assistant at Regent University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.