March 9, 2007


Changing the date of the State’s Presidential Primary is about Term Limits

On Tuesday, the California State Legislators passed a proposal that would move the Presidential Primary from June to February 5. The stated motivation behind this move: to have a greater influence on picking the next presidential candidate. The Governor is expected to sign this bill.

If this scenario sounds familiar, it should. We went through this exercise in 1994. The State Legislatures felt slighted then and, wanting to have a greater impact on the presidential race, moved the primary up to March from June. At the same time, they moved the statewide direct primary elections to coincide with the June Presidential Primary. When the first March election was held, 27 other states made changes to their election dates and had already held their primary or caucus. Failing to get the desired results from an earlier presidential primary, in 2004 the date was moved back to June.

The California State Legislatures went back to the drawing board and, still feeling slighted in picking the next Presidential candidate, decided that what they needed to do was move the presidential primary up to February 5, the earliest possible date and at the same time keeping the statewide primary elections at June. Eight states have pending bills to move their elections up to Feb. 5 and at least eight states have tentatively scheduled their elections for the same day. It is déjà vu.

The rub here is that it is going to cost the counties an extra $48- to $80-million to hold the extra election. State Legislatures promise to reimburse the counties but there is nothing in writing, just a promise!

The funny thing here is that we haven’t exactly heard a clamoring from the voters to move the Presidential Primary up; the motivation for this move has come from the Governor with the State Legislatures looking to cut a deal on term limits and redistricting.

Redistricting, which is a high priority for the Republican Party, will be an important issue that will be discussed, analyzed, and debated. But, the real jewel in this whole process is the future of term limits for the State Legislatures. They gave the Governor what he wanted and in turn State Legislatures want his support for term limit changes. The measure (that has been submitted to the attorney general’s office) would hand all legislatures, such as Speaker of the House Fabian Nuñez, an opportunity to stay an additional six years. At present, State Senators serve two four-year terms and Assembly members serve three two year terms.

The proposal would also cut the total amount of time that newly elected lawmakers could serve in the Legislature from 14 to 12 years but allow them to spend all those years in a single house.

Again, we haven’t heard a huge clamor from the voters to change term limits. This is about elected officials looking to extend their stay in office. So all this talk about feeling slighted during the primaries is more about political wheeling and dealing with each Party trying to find a way to gain an advantage for their pet piece of legislation - term limits and redistricting, and they are willing to cost the local counties millions of dollars to play this game. It really has nothing to do with having a say in the Presidential Primary, but is self-serving, which doesn’t necessarily mean good government.

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