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Jobs bill impasse in legislature could stall change of primary date

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The current impasse over the Missouri jobs bill could keep the state's Republican voters from having a say in next year's presidential primary.

GOP leaders in the Senate say the upper chamber will not take up a bill to push back the date of the state's presidential primary until a deal has been reached with the House over the economic development and tax credit reform bill at the center of the current special session.

"I think we've made it pretty clear that we aren't going to take up any other piece of legislation until we see movement on the jobs bill in the House," said Sen. Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

"The most pressing matter is the economic development/tax credit reform bill."

After negotiations over the jobs package last week failed to produce any resolution between the House and the Senate, the two chambers have taken a week off before talks resume.

It's the latest setback for a bill that has proved more difficult to pass than first imagined. Since the March, the legislature has moved several times to push back the primary date. Overcoming the objections of senators who felt the move by the national parties to space out the nominating contests would diminish Missouri's relevance, the provision was ultimately folded into a larger piece of legislation that was vetoed by the governor.

Lawmakers had hoped to pass the provision by itself during the legislative session, but Dempsey said that without the economic development bill, other pieces of legislation would not be taken up, leaving the presidential primary bill to be dealt with during the regular session in January-- less than a month before the currently scheduled primary.

Dempsey brushed aside concerns that the Republican National Committee may choose to carry out their threat to not seat Missouri delegates, noting how they handled Florida in 2008. In that year, the RNC said it would not seat any of Florida's delegates after they refused to get in line with the national order; however the RNC ultimately let half the state's delegates vote at the convention.

But even if the legislature is able to come to an agreement on the jobs bill and allow other pieces of legislation to move forward, it could still be an uphill battle in the Senate to move the primary date. The proposal has consistently faced opposition from members of both parties who say that Missouri will become irrelevant if it moves back so far in the primary season.

Dempsey said he understands those concerns.

"Citizens of the state of Missouri want our presidential candidates to come and campaign in Missouri-- all parts of Missouri," he said. "And the reason we moved our primary date up early in the first place was so that they would have that opportunity."

The proposal to move Missouri's primary from February to March, comes at the behest of both national parties which are seeking to spread out the various presidential nominating contests. In recent election cycles, more and more states have moved their primary elections closer to the beginning of the year when there are more candidates still in the race so that its citizens' votes can have greater influence.

But with President Barack Obama not facing any primary challengers for the Democratic nomination, it's an issue that most immediately would affect Missouri Republicans.

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