Monday, March 05, 2007

NewsOK: Early primary risks penalties, officials say
Candidates could be fined for campaigning here, chairman of the Democratic Party says.

A bill that would move up Oklahoma's presidential preferential primary next year is being touted as a way to attract more presidential candidates but could have the opposite effect and cost the state delegates at the national conventions, leaders of both parties say. House Bill 2095 would set the presidential primary a week earlier. Instead of Feb. 5, it would be Jan. 29, just two weeks after the first contest in the race, the Iowa caucuses.

To slow down the scramble of states trying to be among the first with primaries, the Democratic National Committee is threatening not to seat at its convention delegates from states that move their primaries to earlier than Feb. 5, the earliest date allowed by Democratic Party rules. Oklahoma will have less than 50 delegates at next year's national convention.

Campaign fines
Lisa Pryor, chairman of the Oklahoma Democratic Party, said both national political parties have stipulations that would allow them to fine candidates who would campaign in Oklahoma if the primary date is moved up before Feb. 5.

"I don't think it will bring more candidates to Oklahoma, I think in fact it may turn some of the candidates away, at least the top tier candidates because they're not going to jeopardize campaign funds,” Pryor said.The Republican National Committee has indicated it would punish states that move up their primaries next year by taking away some of their delegates.

"That could be a negative factor,” Oklahoma Republican Party Chairman Tom Daxon said. "We're going to have to find out how serious the national party is to making those changes.”

Delegates in jeopardy?
State Rep. Trebor Worthen, R-Oklahoma City, the author of HB 2095, said he doesn't think Oklahoma's delegates will be in jeopardy.

"Practically speaking, I don't see it being enforced because there's going to be too many states that would be affected by it,” said Worthen, chairman of the House Elections and Redistricting Subcommittee. "The nomination is decided well before the convention actually occurs, and I doubt that whoever the nominee is will support a move by the national party to reduce the number of delegates that he wins.”

"I don't see Oklahoma in danger of losing any delegates if we move the primary to Jan. 29,” he said.

Oklahoma having its primary a week earlier would bring more national attention to the state and attract more presidential candidates, Worthen said.

If HB 2095 passes the House, it still must win Senate approval. Gov. Brad Henry has said he would wait until he sees the bill's final version, but he supports keeping Oklahoma in the primary season spotlight.

Other states also are considering or already have moved up their primary dates, so Oklahoma still would be competing with bigger states for candidates' attention.

Oklahoma saw an increase of presidential candidates in 2004, the first time the state had a primary in early February. Previously, the primary was in March.

School elections affected
If the measure passes, it would mean Oklahoma school board and municipal candidates would have to start their campaigns early. Annual school and municipal elections also would move from Feb. 5 to Jan. 29.

State Election Board Secretary Michael Clingman said the earlier date would not cause a problem with election officials as long as it requires all local elections to be held on the same date.

"What we can't do is we can't run statewide elections a week apart,” he said.

Worthen said his measure would prevent that from happening.

"They're already supposed to be held on the same day as the presidential primary,” he said. "We're not changing that. … We're moving the presidential primary up one week and the local elections along with it.”

Clingman said some cities that have charters requiring municipal elections to be the first Tuesday in February would have to approve resolutions moving the elections to Jan. 29.

Story By Michael McNutt
Capitol Bureau

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