Inside the Capitol

Monday, January 28, 2008

1-30 Standardize Presidential Primaries

Syndicated Columnist

SANTA FE -- Presidential primaries get more quirky with every election cycle as states jockey to gain influence over a future president and to make as much money and attract as much media attention as possible.
New Mexico never has done well in this political game. Gov. Bill Richardson convinced the Democratic Party to move up its presidential primary four years ago. The effort attracted candidates but scant media attention.
Iowa and New Hampshire remain the undisputed national champions in gaining influence and media attention. Every four years, many residents of these two states are willing to transform into the hokey stereotypes Americans have of those two states in order to please the media, which is everywhere.
Not surprisingly, the day after these primaries are over, the residents of the two states again begin trying to convince the world they are sophisticated and up-to-date.
New Mexico didn't even begin attracting Democratic presidential candidates until Gov. Bill Richardson dropped out of the race. By then it was too late to get much attention. Republicans, with their June primary, will get our state no attention at all.
Only once did Republican candidates ever flock to New Mexico. In between the 1988 Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, then-Gov. Garrey Carruthers hosted a national Republican governors conference in Santa Fe. One day was devoted to listening to the GOP's presidential candidates.
Sen. Bob Dole was walking on air after winning Iowa. He jokingly promised amnesty for those governors who already had endorsed Vice President George Bush. Amnesty wasn't a bad word back then but Dole still went into a tailspin and lost New Hampshire to Bush.
Even though the vice president was down in the delegate count at the time, he acted very much as leader of the crop of presidential hopefuls that day.
At noon, the governors had a private luncheon. So Bush led the presidential candidates out the door and to the Santa Fe plaza, where he knew the favorite noontime custom was to order Frito pies from the sidewalk window at Woolworth's. The meat and chile were poured into the Frito bag, which one then took across the street and found a plaza bench to sit and eat.
It was quite a sight, for the few of us who covered the event, to watch some of the top leaders of our country sitting alongside the regulars on the plaza with their plastic spoons and Frito bags.
It could never happen again. Today there would be staff members, security details and a huge press corps. Security likely wouldn't allow such an unprotected situation. And everyone already would have been in New Hampshire, anyway.
The trick to getting attention for a state is to be one of the first to hold a primary. Iowa and New Hampshire have laws requiring public officials to insure that theirs is the first caucus and primary in the nation.
The other states that scheduled their primaries in January did so through political maneuvering within their national parties or by breaking party rules and loosing some or all of their national convention delegate votes.
Are we looking at the primary season beginning in December next time? It could happen. The only other answer is the unlikely event of Republican and Democrat national committees getting together and developing some standard rules.
Even the "experts" on television can't keep it straight. Each party in every state has different rules. In New Mexico, closed primaries prohibit independents from voting. In some states, independents can vote in either primary. In other states, anyone can vote in either primary.
Democrats require that delegates be awarded based on primary results. But Republicans allow winner-take-all primaries. Both parties have super delegates, which include all members of Congress and various other political and party leaders, depending on the state.
As they say, it's time for a change.
WED, 1-30-08

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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