Will Early Nominations Lead to Voter Disinterest?

The other day I received an e-mail from my cousin Kathy in California. Kathy is one of the most thoughtful people I know. Kathy teaches in the university system in California. She holds at least two graduate degrees. She is always open to new ideas. And while she and I sometimes do not agree, I know she is listening and studying different points of view. Kathy said she was thrilled when California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the law moving the primary date in California from June to February, 2008. At last, she thought, California would be a major player on the political scene.

Then she read my commentary and realized that this had been done in haste. She understood that it was helpful to have California round out the primary season in June because otherwise the nation would see what it is like to nominate the leaders in both party primaries by, depending upon whom you believe, either February 5 or mid-March, 2008.

And that, my friends, is the problem. This has been done with too much haste. I received a similar reaction to that commentary from many others. They simply hadn’t followed the situation enough as this was happening and now we are stuck with the whole political process having been changed before our eyes.

Can anything be done at this stage? The Republican whip in the House, Rep. Roy Blunt (R.-Mo.), was asked that question at a meeting last week. Blunt is normally a proponent of having States handle as much as they can because he knows from experience that states know much better how to handle problems since the one-size-fits-all offered by the federal government usually doesn’t work.  

Blunt’s son Matt is governor of Missouri, by the way. This time, however, Blunt said he thought the federal government should step in and perhaps set up a series of regional primaries which at least would give all parts of the country a chance to participate in the primary system.

I, too, usually favor states over the federal government unless it is a matter of having an equal chance at obtaining an education. President Dwight D. Eisenhower was correct to send the troops to Little Rock to enforce the federal law which decreed that Black children were entitled to a decent education and that keeping them out of the public school system was wrong. That offended the states-righters to the point that it took decades for an equal education for minorities finally to be accepted. To this day that issue is debated in some circles. My view is that it would have been preferable for states to have enforced the law but since their position was immortalized by the late Alabama Gov. George C. Wallace, who stood in the school house door shouting “Segregation forever,” Eisenhower was correct in doing what he did, even though it cost his party support in the South.

I regret Rep. Blunt’s answer but I agree with it. Since a few big states have taken away political power from small states, making them irrelevant, perhaps it is time for the Federal government to step in. The question would be whether a bill establishing regional primaries or any other reasonable solution could pass the Congress. If action were taken in the next few months it would not be too late to remedy the situation. I doubt that such a bill could clear both Houses to be signed by the President in such a short time frame. Moreover, I see no incentive on the part of the Democrats, at least in the House, to enact such a bill. Think about it. They have strong majorities of House members plus two senators each in California, New York and Illinois. It is in their interest to let the big states dictate the show. The Senate is a little different story. There small states are on a par with the large. A hindrance to any such legislation is that some of the small states have Republican United States senators. I doubt that Sen. Harry M. Reid (D.-Nev.), who hails from a small state, will be moved to set up regional primaries after large-state governors and senators get on his back.  It is a lead-pipe cinch that the self-proclaimed most powerful woman in the world, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D.-Calif.), would tell the drafters of a regional primary system to go shove it, if you would pardon the expression.

So while any idea can be introduced in the form of a bill, and I don’t doubt that Blunt could find some Democrats as lead co-sponsors, I see no chance of this passing. Republicans would need to take back the House for any such bill to have a chance of passage and then we would be speaking of the 2012 election. By all measure Democrats are likely to increase their strength in the Senate in 2008. Republicans have many weak candidates to defend and there currently are only one or two vulnerable Democrats. So, I hope you will enjoy the ride, America. You had better pay attention to what the candidates of both parties say. Early next year it will be all over save the general election and the public may well be so sick and tired of the nominees that the electorate will turn off and go into a deep political slumber.