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Florida to Unveil New Presidential Primary Date?

By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Tallahassee, FL - House Republicans unveiled a new attempt Wednesday to defuse a standoff with the national party over the state’s presidential primary, promising to hand over power to set the voting date to a commission that wouldn’t have to schedule it until Oct. 1.

The panel would include 10 appointees --- the secretary of state and members of both parties tapped by the governor, House speaker and Senate president --- and could put the primary anywhere between the first Tuesday in January and the first Tuesday in March.

“It creates a window that preserves our priority but doesn’t tie us down to a certain date,” House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, told reporters during a conference call.

The date now set for the Florida presidential primary in 2012 is Jan. 31 --- something that would vault the state ahead of every other state under a new calendar approved by the Republican National Committee. Only Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina are supposed to have primaries or caucuses before the first week of March.

Fearing a breakdown of a carefully crafted plan to try to avoid another frontloaded primary schedule, the national party has threatened to punish Florida by taking away delegates if the state doesn’t fall in line.

“I think ultimately Florida is going to be outside the window (for being penalized), I would hope so,” RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told Politico last week. “I think we have rules for a reason and the Florida delegates [to the RNC] supported the primary calendar as it’s currently adopted by the Republican national Committee.”

Republican leaders in Florida have countered that they deserve to be near the front of the line because of the state’s size and its decisive role in recent presidential elections.

“As the fourth most-populous state in the union and by far the most populous swing state . . . Florida should be early in the national conversation about who our next president is,” Cannon said.

Cannon brushed aside the idea that the state was backing down in the face of pressure from the national party, noting that the proposal would technically also allow the state to move the primary date early.
It wasn’t clear how the Florida Senate or legislative Democrats might react to the proposal. The House plan is set to be offered Thursday by Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, as an amendment to a bill (HB 1355) that passed the House Government Operations Subcommittee on a party-line vote.

The bill, which the House State Affairs Committee is scheduled to consider, would impose new regulations on voter-registration groups and shorten how long signatures are valid for citizen initiatives.

But in a statement issued shortly after Cannon’s proposal was unveiled, Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Scott Arceneaux slammed the idea.

“Rather than creating a new bureaucracy for the Republicans to punt this issue to, wasting money on a phony commission, and leaving Florida voters in limbo as to the date of the President Primary, the Republican Legislature should pass the legislation now pending and set the primary date for March,” Arceneaux said.


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