Monday, August 20, 2007

COMMENTARY: Arizona is outside looking in -- Napolitano has power to move state’s primary date forward

By Farrell Quinlan

The ground under the 2008 presidential primary and caucus calendar continued to shift last week as South Carolina Republicans moved forward the date of their presidential primary to Jan. 19, 2008. This change has set in motion a series of counter moves by other states to reaffirm their traditional positions in the United States’ quadrennial presidential selection rites.

The action also highlights a limited window of opportunity Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano has to push issues important to the West to the top of the national agenda for both parties. The clock is literally ticking on her power to move the Arizona primary forward.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. How did we get to this place?

Interlocking and sometimes contradictory state laws require New Hampshire to hold the nation’s first primary a certain number of days before any other. The Iowa Caucuses’ status as first-in-the-nation delegate selection contest is also protected by state law and pivots relative to New Hampshire’s primary date.

In the aftermath of South Carolina’s action, the most likely scenario has New Hampshire moving its primary to Tuesday, Jan. 8. If this occurs, current Iowa law says its caucuses must move to Dec. 31, 2007, or earlier.

Iowa’s governor announced last week that he wants to change their law to keep the caucuses in 2008 and away from holiday distractions. Regardless, we are about 140 days from the first opportunity for actual voters to cast votes for president.

Someone wake up Fred Thompson already.

This jockeying among the states didn’t start with South Carolina. Earlier this year, the Florida Legislature brazenly moved its primary to Jan. 29, the same day the erstwhile “first in the South” South Carolina primary was scheduled.

To forestall further marginalization, a series of large states then moved their presidential selection contests to Feb. 5. This “Super-Duper Tuesday” or “Tsunami Tuesday” features primaries or caucuses in at least 20 states, including delegate-rich states like California, Illinois, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey and New York.

Where does Arizona fit in all this?

Right now, we’re on the outside looking in. Our primary is scheduled for Feb. 26, three weeks after “Super-Duper Tuesday” and after more than 30 states will have voted.

However, with a simple stroke of Gov. Napolitano’s pen, that can and should be changed.

Arizona law provides that “the governor may issue a proclamation moving the Presidential Preference Election to a date earlier than the fourth Tuesday in February. This proclamation shall be issued no later than 150 days before the date of the election set forth in the proclamation.”

Gov. Napolitano has until Sept. 1, 2007, to move our primary to Jan. 29, 2008, the same day as the Florida primary. She has until Sept. 8, 2007, to join “Super-Duper Tuesday” on Feb. 5, 2008.

Without her intervention, Arizona’s perspective on presidential politics will be ignored. Instead of requiring Republican and Democratic candidates to nod to dairy price supports (New Hampshire) and excessive ethanol pandering (Iowa), a Jan. 29 Arizona primary would make our issues like the border, water, transportation and natural resources more prominent.

Moreover, Arizona’s economic dynamism and racial diversity contrast nicely with Iowa and New Hampshire, states that are the two least demographically diverse in the nation.

Arizona law provides Governor Napolitano with a tremendous opportunity to promote Arizona and Western issues in the presidential nomination contests of both parties. But time is running short for her to act.

By waiting until the end of February to hold the Arizona primary, we will be effectively taking a pass on influencing the Democratic and Republican nominating process.

Governor Napolitano should exercise her power to change Arizona’s primary date to Jan. 29, 2008. By doing this, she will be doing a great service to her constituents and the nation.

Farrell Quinlan is president of In the Arena Public Affairs, a Phoenix-based government affairs and political consulting firm. He can be reached at

Printed in the August 17, 2007 editions of the Arizona Capitol Times and the Phoenix Business Journal

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