Sen­a­tor seeks March ’20 pri­mary

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - Northwest Arkansas - MICHAEL R. WICKLINE

A state sen­a­tor wants the Leg­is­la­ture to move the 2020 pri­mary elec­tion from its usual May date to March, to ac­com­mo­date that year’s pres­i­den­tial pri­maries.

A sim­i­lar move was made for the 2016 pri­mary elec­tions. Law­mak­ers tem­po­rar­ily shifted the year’s first elec­tions from May to March 1 for the south­ern re­gional pres­i­den­tial pri­mary.

The pri­mary elec­tion tra­di­tion­ally is held in late May. Un­der state law, the date is de­fined as four weeks be­fore the third Tues­day in June, when the runoff elec­tion is held.

At the re­quest of GOP Gov. Asa Hutchin­son in a 2015 spe­cial ses­sion, the Repub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture en­acted bills shift­ing the date of the 2016 pri­mary elec­tion to March 1 and the be­gin­ning of the 2016 fis­cal leg­is­la­tion ses­sion from Fe­bru­ary, its nor­mal start time, to April.

The move was de­signed to cre­ate the “SEC Pri­mary” with other South­ern states and to bol­ster the role of Arkansas and the re­gion in the pres­i­den­tial pri­mary process. The SEC is the South­east­ern Con­fer­ence, an ath­letic con­fer­ence that cov­ers much of the South.

In 2016, for­mer Arkansas Gov. Mike Huck­abee lost the state GOP pres­i­den­tial pri­mary, which was won by Don­ald Trump. For­mer Arkansas first lady Hil­lary Rod­ham Clin­ton won the Demo­cratic nom­i­na­tion in the state and the coun­try.

In its cur­rent form, Se­nate Bill 276, spon­sored by state Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Do­rado, would set the pri­mary elec­tion in Fe­bru­ary 2020. But Garner said Thurs­day that he aims to move the pri­mary elec­tion to the first Tues­day af­ter the first Mon­day in March, which would be March 3, 2020. Garner said he plans to fix the bill with an amend­ment to­day.

The 2016 pri­mary elec­tion “had a lot of en­ergy and can­di­dates com­ing here, and I think it worked out well for every­body in­volved,” he said. Trump was among those com­ing to the state.

“Let’s have that same suc­cess,” Garner said.

“We are de­ter­min­ing through the com­mit­tee process whether to make [the March pri­mary] per­ma­nent or not,” Garner said. SB276 is in the Se­nate State Agen­cies and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee.

“My thought process is we should [make it per­ma­nently held in March] be­cause it was so suc­cess­ful. But that will be de­ter­mined by the com­mit­tee,” Garner said. “I am very open to lis­ten­ing to the will of the body and the com­mit­tee to de­ter­mine if that’s what we need to do to move for­ward.”

State Repub­li­can Party Chair­man Doyle Webb said the party sup­ports Garner’s leg­is­la­tion.

“The change al­lows us to com­ply with party rules in the se­lec­tion of del­e­gates to the [Repub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion],” Webb said in a text mes­sage.

As to whether this would be a per­ma­nent or tem­po­rary change in the pri­mary elec­tion, Webb said, “That would be up to the Leg­is­la­ture and the gover­nor.”

Webb said, “un­der RNC rules, this is the first Tues­day [that] states who al­low pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion to the na­tional con­ven­tion can … al­lo­cate del­e­gates. I an­tic­i­pate that it could [turn] into a SEC pri­mary or Su­per Tues­day.”

The state Demo­cratic Party doesn’t have an of­fi­cial po­si­tion on SB276, said Reed Brewer, a party spokesman.

“Given that the Democrats will have a con­tested pri­mary elec­tion in 2020, it would be an ex­cel­lent op­por­tu­nity for Arkansas to have an early say in the nom­i­nat­ing process,” Brewer said in an email. “How­ever, mov­ing the pri­mary elec­tion would elon­gate the gen­eral elec­tion, which might place a strain on the can­di­dates here in the state. We look for­ward to talk about these con­cerns with the bill’s spon­sor.”

Hutchin­son said Thurs­day in a writ­ten state­ment, “His­tor­i­cally, we’ve had the ear­lier date for pres­i­den­tial years and kept non-pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in May.

“I want to dis­cuss this with Sen. Garner so that I can learn what he is think­ing about the date change be­fore I make up my mind,” the Repub­li­can gover­nor said.

Chris Pow­ell, who works for Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State John Thurston, said the of­fice is neu­tral on SB276. The sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice over­sees elec­tions.

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