Indiana not a Player in Presidential Picking Season

March 19, 2007

Indiana Writers Groujp column for March 21 and thereafter
730 words

by Andrea Neal

    Indiana voters don’t have much say in the process of selecting presidential nominees. Beginning with the 2008 election, we’ll have none. That’s because California just moved its presidential primary from June to the first Tuesday in February. In a ridiculous game of one-upmanship, 17 other states are considering bills to move up their primary dates.
    By the time our presidential primary rolls around in May, the campaign money will all be spent and the nominees crowned. “We might as well not have a presidential primary,” said state Sen. Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson. In fact, we could save money by calling it off, as Washington state lawmakers are tempted to do.
    The implications would be comical if they weren’t frightening. California’s narcissism means presidential campaigns will start earlier and be more expensive while voters in states like Indiana will never see candidates and be less informed. Instead of playing California’s game, the rest of the country needs to join together and say: enough.
    Lanane, who introduced a bill this year to move Indiana’s primary from May to March, said it’s gotten to the point where a national approach is needed to create a workable system. “It’s going to take some sort of resolution by the political parties and/or Congress,” he said. Otherwise, the presidential nomination process “is going to be over by the end of February.”
    Lanane’s bill got a hearing but no vote because of the logistical issues it posed. If the state’s primary were in March, it would coincide with the Indiana General Assembly. Lanane and other lawmakers agree it’s not feasible for them to do their business and campaign at the same time.
    One solution would be to move only the presidential primary date and to keep the other primaries in May as they are now. That’s what California did, but taxpayers there will have to pay twice for primary elections, once in February and once in June.
    In light of California’s move, Lanane says even March wouldn’t be early enough for Indiana to have impact. Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Utah have primaries on Feb. 5 already and proposals are afoot to do the same in New York, Florida, Texas, Illinois, Michigan, New Jersey and Georgia. As always, the season kicks off Jan. 14 with the Iowa caucuses, whose influence has long been criticized as excessive for a state of its size
    The issue has drawn the attention of Secretary of State Todd Rokita, Indiana’s top election official and president-elect of the National Association of Secretaries of State. At its February meeting, the group discussed ways to get the states and national parties to agree to changes.
    NASS is pushing a Regional Rotating Presidential Primaries Plan, which would divide the country into four geographic areas and rotate each region to vote first beginning in March. The other regions would hold their primary elections in April, May and June. A different part of the country would vote first every 16 years.
    Another idea come from Jules Witcover, political columnist for Tribune Media Services and author of “No Way to Pick a President: How Money and Hired Guns Have Debased American Elections," who lambasted California’s move in his March 18 column.
    “Before the voters can evaluate the significance of one primary or caucus, a string of others will be right behind,” he wrote. “Americans will wake up in only a few weeks to find the choice for their next president narrowed to two individuals. Over the extended general-election campaign from February to November, if either of the chosen ones is found to have feet of clay, or stumbles badly along the way and buyer's remorse sets in, the country will be stuck with the limited choice.”
    Witcover suggests a system that would stretch out the voting for candidates and party convention delegates so that smaller states would vote first and larger states would weigh in later in the spring. “That approach would at least leave the possibility of no candidate's clinching the nomination until the larger states had voted, or even into the convention itself.”
     If we tried to imagine the worst possible way to pick presidential candidates, we would design a system that looks very much like what California has given us. Rokita, Lanane and others must continue to speak out and try to stop this train wreck before the 2008 elections.

Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar and columnist with Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Contact her at aneal@inpolicy.or.


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