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Senate Unanimously Approves Presidential Primary Bills

February 16, 2015

The Senate sent through bills Thursday moving the presidential primary to the third Tuesday in March, a change supporters believe will make Michigan as relevant as it can be on the national scale.                                                                                                                              

SB 0044 and SB 0045 address a change in Republican National Committee rules that would significantly reduce the number of Michigan delegates allowed at the Republican National Convention should Michigan’s presidential primary date remain the fourth Tuesday in February.

Both bills passed unanimously in the Senate Thursday.

In 2016, the change would set the presidential primary date to March 15. That date, which was voted on by the Michigan Republican Party, works best because it sets Michigan apart from Southern states with March 1 primaries while keeping the state relevant on a national scale, bill sponsor Sen. David ROBERTSON (R-Grand Blanc) said.

In addition, the 15th is the earliest the primary can be to allow for a winner-take-all system, which he said could make candidates work harder for Michigan votes.

“It’s about maximizing our relevance, if you will, within the process,” Robertson said.

The bills were initially introduced by former Senate Majority Leader Randy RICHARDVILLE last session, but died in lame duck (See “Presidential Primary Date Bills Clear Committee,” 2/5/15). 

March 15 makes sense for a myriad of reasons, especially considering the goal is to keep Michigan voters relevant in the primary, said Paul WELDAY, chair of the 14th Congressional District Republicans. March 1 would put Michigan in competition with a cluster of Southern states that would be a tough competition to bring candidates up north, he said.

“If Michigan were to go into that day, we’d be lost,” he said.

But quibbling over the date distracts from the overall need to change the February date to protect Michigan’s delegate count, he said.

“There’s no right answer here, but there’s no reason to tempt fate,” he said. “The field is so large and scattered about that there’s still going to be a very wide open nomination in March.”

The bills now head to the House Elections Committee, where Chair Lisa Posthumus LYONS (R-Alto) said she plans to take it up next week, but is keeping her mind open to accommodate for some of the concerns she’s heard about the March 15 date.

She said she is most concerned about making Michigan an important part of the process and questioned whether basing the final decision on other states’ actions was the appropriate route to take.

“We can’t control what the other states are going to do — some of them haven’t made up their minds, some made up their mind and now they’re considering switching days,” she said. “It’s really hard to make decisions based on what other states are doing.”

Judy ALLEN of the Michigan Townships Association noted some members have expressed concerns that the third Tuesday in March falls during the week of the Board of Review, which could make life difficult for the township clerks. The group has not taken an official position on the bill, she said.

If the Legislature does nothing, the presidential primary — if either party decides to hold one — will stay on the last Tuesday of February, which would chop the number of delegates Michigan could send to the Republican national convention from 59 to nine.

Even if  SB 0044 or  SB 0045 are signed into law, neither the Michigan Republican Party nor the Michigan Democratic Party are obliged to hold primaries on that date.

One or both could opt to select the state’s presidential preference through a caucus or convention, which wouldn’t upset John YOB, who is working with likely presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Rand PAUL (R-Ken.).

“I am for a closed primary and against people being dishonest by calling the Michigan primary closed when it isn’t actually closed,” Yob said.

Changing Michigan’s presidential primary to the type of “closed” system Yob is talking about would require many more legal changes than what  SB 0044 and  SB 0045 currently do.

However, if the bills are signed into law as they passed the Senate, he thinks the likelihood the GOP will settle for a closed process go up because the party’s “grassroots” will object to elected officials “trying to shove an open primary down their throats.”

The MRP will have a new chair after this month and whoever that is will not be necessarily bound to the March 15 date supported by outgoing Chair Bobby SCHOSTAK.

The front runner to succeed Schostak, Ronna Romney McDANIEL, hasn’t articulated her preference and didn’t respond to an email from MIRS in which she was asked about the subject.

Candidate Norm HUGHES said he thinks asking the state to pay $10 million to hold a presidential primary for Republicans, the party of low taxes and less government, is not consistent with what the GOP stands for.

Hughes sees three alternatives — a closed selection process headed by county Republican parties on a common date across the state, using delegates or party faithful to vote for presidential nominees or a caucus.

“I intend to appoint a blue ribbon committee in my first week to address the issue and make recommendations for a Republican State Committee meeting I intend to call in March in mid-Michigan,” he said.     

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