Louisiana's presidential preference primaries were never a very big deal, but state Republican officials are happy that state lawmakers pushed back the date of both party primaries from late February to late March 2012. Had legislators not mandated the later date, the state's delegation to the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla., next August could have been cut in half.
The new primary dates were set by lawmakers in House Bill 509 by state Rep. Nita Hutter, R-Chalmette, which Gov. Bobby Jindal signed into law as Act 293 of the 2011 Regular Session. The law mandates that presidential preference primaries (along with certain other local and municipal elections) be held on the "third Saturday after the first Tuesday in March" starting in 2012. That puts Louisiana's next primaries on March 24, 2012.
In 2010, both national political parties took steps to impose order on their respective primary calendars. Those steps came in response to attempts by many states — including Louisiana — to one-up each other by scheduling their primaries earlier and earlier in the election year, hoping to garner more attention from candidates and the media.
Traditionally, the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary kick off the presidential campaign season, followed closely by the Nevada caucuses and the South Carolina primary. In an attempt to maintain those states' traditional edge — and head off the trend of front-loaded primaries and caucuses — both parties' national committees agreed to start the primary season in February, reserving the earliest dates for the four traditional leadoff states.
Under the new rules, all other states must wait until March 6, 2012 or later to hold delegate selection caucuses or primaries. The GOP put some teeth into the new rule by threatening to downsize convention delegations from states that don't comply. (The Democrats have the same rule, but many felt it would not be followed in 2012 because President Barack Obama is the presumptive nominee anyway.) Louisiana had previously set its presidential primaries for late February, putting the state GOP afoul of the new rule.
Hutter introduced the measure at the request of GOP officials who wanted to avoid losing half the state's delegation next year. The measure sailed through the House but had a bumpy ride in the Senate. It was initially sidetracked in the Senate and Governmental Affairs Committee when Democratic senators, joined by two of their GOP colleagues, voted to "defer" the bill.
After an outcry from GOP officials (and some sharply worded emails to the GOP senators who voted initially to kill the bill), the Senate committee reconsidered the measure at a special meeting two days later. In a 5-4 vote along party lines, the bill was reported out of committee. It then passed the Senate by a vote of 27-9 — with three Republican senators voting against it and most Senate Democrats voting for it. The House unanimously concurred in several Senate amendments, and Jindal signed the bill into law on June 28.
"Both national parties had agreed to this new process," said state GOP Chairman Roger Villere Jr. of Metairie. "The new law is the right thing to do because it agrees with our national party's position." — Clancy DuBos