13 October, 2005

The West Shall Rise?

An old idea is being bounced around again: namely, the concept of a Western Primary day, bringing the 8 intermontaine states together as a single bloc. Only this time, I think it's got some muscle behind it.

This interests me. Just the concept behind it would be enough to make anyone that is interested in politics sit up and take notice. (Well, make that anyone that isn't part and parcel of the organized parties, that is.) So I've done some digging over the last couple of days.

The idea started in 1998 with this concept paper from the Western Governor's Association:
The West has had the least amount of impact historically on the presidential primary process because many of the states have smaller numbers of delegates at stake and that several of them have primary or caucus dates late in the process. As a result, Western issues are rarely mentioned by candidates, and candidates spend little time campaigning in the region. The presidential primary process has been essentially an east to west phenomenon starting with Iowa and New Hampshire, followed by the New England states, and then Super Tuesday in the South. By the time the race reaches the West, voters are merely endorsing the candidates that have already locked up their parties' nominations.

To remedy that situation eight western states created a Western Presidential Primary Task Force to discuss creating a regional presidential primary. Participating states, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming, met on November 16-17, 1998 to discuss whether and when the interior western states should hold a coordinated regional primary. As a result of the meeting and subsequent discussions, the Task Force has agreed to recommend to their legislatures that each state move its presidential primary or caucus to March 10, 2000. By national party rules, the legislatures have until July 1, 1999 to change their state's primary or caucus date for the 2000 presidential election.
Well, that was all well and good for back then. So what's happened in the meantime? From a Utah Daily Herald editorial:
If Utah Gov. Huntsman and his New Mexico counterpart, Gov. Bill Richardson, have their way, Western states will have a greater say in the 2008 presidential election by holding primary elections on the same day.

Huntsman, a Republican, and Richardson, a Democrat, are seeking to revive the idea of a Western states primary for the presidential election.

So far, Utah and New Mexico are the only states seriously on board, while Montana, Colorado and Arizona have expressed interest. We hope they sign on, along with Idaho, Nevada and Wyoming.
And the "Unofficial Voice of the Utah Senate Majority" gets this:
Huntsman was accompanied in his trip to New Mexico by Republican and Democratic legislative leaders from Utah as well as the chairmen of the state's Democratic and GOP parties.

He and Richardson expressed confidence that at least three states -- New Mexico, Arizona and Utah -- will hold their presidential contests in early February 2008.

"That to my mind is critical mass," Huntsman said. "That's enough to do it outright. But if we can add to that another two or three, that would be icing on the cake."
From Michael Stratton, the recently appointed member of the Presidential Nomination and Scheduling Commission:
"A regional primary would change the system so that western issues and values would be front and center," Stratton added. "It would give voters in Western states more say in the process and a louder voice in our democracy . It would also give more focus and attention to the growing Hispanic populations--which are very important to Democrats--in western states such as Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada."
The idea's also gotten tacit approval from the Commission on Presidential Reform.

Because the races for the presidential nominations in recent elections have generally concluded byMarch, most Americans have no say in the selection of presidential nominees, and intense media and public scrutiny of candidates is limited to about 10 weeks. Moreover, candidates must launch their presidential bids many months before the official campaign begins, so that they can raise the $25 to $50 million needed to compete.

The presidential primary schedule therefore is in need of a comprehensive overhaul. A new system should aim to expand participation in the process of choosing the party nominees for president and to give voters the chance to closely evaluate the presidential candidates over a three- to four-month period. Improvements in the process of selecting presidential nominees might also aim to provide opportunities for late entrants to the presidential race and to shift some emphasis from Iowa and New Hampshire to states that more fully reflect the diversity of America.

Now, those guys aren't just intellectuals and high-brows. The CFER has James Baker III and Jimmy Carter as co-chairs, so it's not simply a partisan analysis. Nor is it strictly a West Region concept, this need to overhaul the primary system, as seen on this chart by the National Conference of State Legislators. A good chunk of states have overhauled their primary and caucus systems as a trial run for the 2004 elections. This not only saved the states money, but also increased voter turnout by a few percentage points as well.

And with that, the CFER went a bit further than most, reccomending that the various Secretaries of State "create four regional primaries, after the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, held at one-month intervals from March to June.The regions would rotate their position on the calendar every four years."

Now, some of you are going to say "Wait a moment! Why do Iowa and Hew Hampshire get to keep their slots and the rest of us get to rotate?" Well, my stubborn friend, the Commission understands that Iowa and New Hampshire are fully ingrained into the political mythos of the country. Anyone and everyone interested in a run for the White House sends both themselves and their operatives to those two states in order to test the waters over 18 months before the two states even cast a ballot.

Now, this concept isn't universally supported. Not by a long shot. This editorial by the Standard-Examiner (again, those wacky Utahns) rakes Governor Huntsman over the coals for even thinking about picking up the torch that Mike Levitt started carrying. And a commenter over at Charging RINO thinks that "ALL states need to hold their primaries at the same time, to give all states a say on who they want as a candidate." And this is just a small sample of the polite ones. You don't want to even read the impolite ones. Trust me on this.

So what do I think with all this blather going on? This is probably one of the best ideas to come down the pike in a very long time, and is highly overdue. Time after time, the nominees are decided long before some states even hold their primaries, and with a rotating schedule, no one region will be left out of getting first crack at the candidates.

Of course, there are significant logistical hurdles to overcome, not to mention the resistance from those states that will damn-all want to be first. But it will be worth it, if only for the fact that every 16 years, every voter in the country will have first crack at thinning out the herd. The concept is inherently fair for the country and should be adopted.

Probably won't have a chance of happening before 2008 rolls around, though. I'm too much of a realist to think that all these intense negotiations will be completed before July of 2007 (the congressional deadline for changing the primary/caucus day). However, we can get a good running start for 2012.

Ladies and gentlemen, game on.

[turn signal: Colorado Luis]

No comments: