Sponsor of NH Presidential Primary Law Comments On Democratic Rules Committee Vote

News Release
Saturday, March 11, 2006
Contact: 
Jim Splaine
NH State Representative
Portsmouth & Newington

201 Oriental Gardens
Portsmouth, NH 03801
Telephone & FAX: (603) 436-0718

E-Mail: JimSplaine@aol.com

Sponsor of NH Presidential Primary Law
Comments On Democratic Rules Committee Vote
State Representative Jim Splaine (D-Portsmouth) sponsored the first law protecting New Hampshire's lead-off Presidential Primary status in 1975.  That law has been the stumbling block for other states and national parties in efforts to eliminate New Hampshire's role in the presidential election calendar.  He is sponsoring another update to the law this year which passed the House last month and is currently awaiting action in the Senate.
(NH law mandates that the presidential primary be held "...on a Tuesday selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election..."*)
In reacting to the vote this weekend by the Democratic National Party Rules Committee, Splaine says, "The 2008 New Hampshire Presidential Primary will be first before any other election, and our state law will continue to protect our lead-off status, as it has for the past 30 years."   
"In light of the action of the Democratic Rules Committee setting up more election events before New Hampshire, it is even more timely for our Legislature to pass the bill I am sponsoring this year to allow the Secretary of State to adjust the filing period for candidates running in 2008.  That bill will even further preserve our status." 
Splaine said, "Unlike what some Democrats and Republicans from other states are upset about, our primary does not exclude anyone from being fully involved in the election process.  There are already many events in other states leading up to the NH Primary.  Statewide or regional party conventions, conferences, candidate debates, forums, endorsements, and straw polls can continue to take place without triggering the NH Primary law.  All those events include diverse populations throughout our country.  We don't need additional caucuses before the New Hampshire Primary in order to be inclusive."
"With our current First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary Law that we have had since 1975, along with the new proposed bill that will allow the Secretary of State to accept earlier candidate filings for our next primary, we will be sure New Hampshire has the first major event for 2008.  It will allow him to move our date ahead of any new caucuses if necessary.  The national parties and political activists in other states should accept New Hampshire's lead-off status and stop trying to change the rules while the process is already underway." 
-30-
-----------------------------------------------------------------
*Background Explanation:  In 1999, the bill I sponsored, signed by then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen, gave additional flexibility to the Secretary of State to move the NH Presidential Primary date "...one week or more..." ahead of any other state, thus allowing the trigger to be used to move ahead of any caucus or other threat, if necessary.  The original law I sponsored in 1975 provided for "...one week before..."  For additional references, see "Why New Hampshire?" written by Former Governor Hugh Gregg and Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
From 1916 through the early 1970s, New Hampshire had a primary that came first because no other state tried to set theirs ahead of ours.  With the passage of my legislation  in 1975, signed into law by then-Governor Meldrim Thompson, we made it clear as part of our statutes that we would continue to be first, but we did not take anything away from any other state by doing so.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Following is my testimony for the State Senate in favor of House Bill 1125.  The bill had a pubic hearing in the House Election Law Committee on January 12th, and I spoke on the House floor in favor of passage on February 15th.  It passed on that date and is currently referred to the Senate Internal Affairs Committee.
Testimony In Favor Of
House Bill 1125

AN ACT relative to the filing period for candidates at the presidential primary.
The analysis of this legislation states that this bill permits the Secretary of State to change the filing period for the NH Presidential Primary.  That it does, but it does much more.
Currently, the filing period for candidates running in the New Hampshire Presidential Primary is set in law as between the first Monday in November, and the third Friday of that month.  That provision has served well through the years. 
House Bill 1125 reads:
1 Presidential Nominations; Declaration of Candidacy; Filing Period. Amend RSA 655:47, II to read as follows:
II. Declarations of candidacy shall be filed between the first Monday in November and the third Friday in November, or during such other time period as the secretary of state shall announce. 
??or during such other time period as the secretary of state shall announce.?  is the new language to be added to current law.
First, a little history.  New Hampshire has had a Presidential Primary that has been first in this nation since 1916.  But it wasn?t until 1975 that a law was passed creating the ?New Hampshire First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary.?  Up until then, we had a Primary that came first by default - - no other state had an earlier one.  Since 1975, we have had in our statute a process, applied and administered every four years by the Secretary of State, which keeps New Hampshire first.  In fact, without passage of that law in 1975, I and others think we would have lost our lead-off status beginning in 1976. 
The legislation in 1975 was necessary, and I think it has proved itself through time.  Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, our nation and its national politics was in upheaval.  In 1968, New Hampshire Democrats and Republicans experienced a very divisive election season, especially in the Democratic Party where Senator Eugene McCarthy was contesting in New Hampshire against incumbent President Lyndon Johnson.  President Johnson wasn?t on the New Hampshire ballot but the organizational structure of the NH Democratic Party was mostly supporting his reelection through a write-in campaign.  Senator McCarthy exceeded all expectations, and we all know the results of that election on national politics.
In 1972, the Democrats continued to be a divided party, nationally and in-state.  Competing in New Hampshire were Senators Edmund Muskie of Maine and George McGovern.  McGovern did very well here against a ?neighbor? who had much of the statewide Democratic establishment behind him. 
With the continued national problems that Vietnam brought, plus the Watergate situation in 1973 and 1974, many New Hampshire Democrats and Republicans wanted to forego another divisive in-state battle, and there wasn?t the kind of unified ?let?s-be-first? attitude about our lead-off status.  In fact, many New Hampshire Democrats were hoping that Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts would run in 1976, so there was considerable thrust for a regional primary that would include at least Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine.  
Passage of the 1975 law, which overcame considerable debate that year (and for which I was the only speaker in either the House or Senate public hearings), came as a result of minds coming together toward the end of the Session, with leadership in large part from then-Governor Meldrim Thomson and State Senator Bob Monier.  The unique ?one-call? part of the law, which assigns the final determination of the date of the Primary to the Secretary of State alone and by no one else (the Secretary is not required to consult with any party officials about formally setting the date of the Primary, in or out of the state, or with any other elected officials), has made it especially difficult for any other state to piggyback on New Hampshire, or to pre-date us.  That provision came out of a long discussion I had with Mel Thomson, who thought that any ?committee? in the process would just bring politics into the setting of the date.  Most good ideas are collaborative, and Mel Thomson had a sharp political mind, and though I disagreed with him on many issues I appreciated his input on this matter.
What we do know is that since 1975, when I sponsored that first law setting our Presidential Primary a week before other states, no other state and no political party has been able to figure out how to either piggyback on us, or pre-date us.  When you think about it, if another state had beaten us to the punch and put it in their law that they would be first by a week, it would have been difficult for us to have the ?first? status.  Add to that our tradition of having a Primary that has come first since 1916, and it?s clear that New Hampshire is now hard to beat. 
We have retain our lead-off status through many years of threats, however, not just because of our law but because of the way it is administered by the Secretary of State.  The law gives the Secretary the ?tools? to do the job - - the hammer and the nails.  But Bill Gardner, though the years, has used those tools well. 
My contention for decades has been that we have successfully maintained our lead-off status against any and all challenges through the years because of the unpredictability of the NH Presidential Primary date.  No one knows for sure when our date will be until a short time before it is set.  In fact, the Secretary of State CANNOT make an early agreement with anyone about when the date will be - - it is his job, under the statute, to wait until all the other states have set their dates for the election events.  It doesn?t matter what the national parties may say, the NH Primary is not a ?gift? from them.  The Secretary must wait until late in the Fall of the year preceding the selection of President, then look at the schedule in all the other states, then apply the law?s requirements.
Our state law mandates - - requires - - our Secretary of State to set the date of the NH Presidential Primary ??7 days or more??*  before any other similar election.  Originally, in 1975 I had written the bill to be one week ahead of other similar elections, but in 1999 I sponsored a bill, signed by then-Governor Jeanne Shaheen, to add the words ??or more??*  thus giving the Secretary of State full flexibility to set the date ahead of any other ?similar election? OR any other election.  For example, even if the only other primary in the nation was held in June of a Presidential Election Year, and all other states had caucuses or other events not called ?primaries,? the Secretary of State would be empowered by our current state law to set the date of New Hampshire?s Primary before any of those caucuses.  That?s a subtlety in the current law sometimes missed by the leaders and schedulers of the national parties and other states, but it is an important part of our statute that guarantees our ?first? status.
What that mandate requiring the Secretary of State to set the date for New Hampshire?s Primary ??7 days or more??*  actually means is that the Secretary has no choice but to wait until late Fall of 2007, in the case of the next Presidential election, before setting the date.  
It?s not what the national parties schedule as events that matters, it?s what the other states do to their own election schedules that matter.  The actual wording of the New Hampshire First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary Law states that:  ?The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a Tuesday selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous.?*
House Bill 1125 will allow the last element of flexibility for the Secretary of State in the setting of the date of the Presidential Primary.  By passing this bill, we considerably enhance our First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary Law and make it even more difficult for either of the national political parties, or any of the other states, to reduce the importance, relevance, or status of our lead-off position.
Through my years of studying how our New Hampshire Primary remains first, and how other states could eventually end it, I?ve come to believe that there are only three ways we can lose it:
  • (1)  The Congress could act.  It could create a national Presidential Election system.  However, the states? rights arguments that always arise when that is considered will, I believe, always prevent that.  Each Senator and Congressperson comes from a state, and all politics is local, so they won?t take their state?s rights away.
  • (2)  Both major political parties could somehow team up and effectively boycott New Hampshire, discouraging any candidates from running in our state.  I don?t ever see both parties teaming up because one or the other will always want to be sure to win New Hampshire in November.  Candidates come here not for convention delegates, but for Wednesday?s headlines.
  • (3)  Front-running and up-start candidates will just stop coming to New Hampshire.  This too, I don?t think will happen as long as we, as voters, remain as active as we are in the process, and never give candidates of diverse political philosophies reason not to run here.  To continue to be relevant to the Presidential selection process, however, we must maintain our interest.  I think we will.  AND, those Wednesday headlines can be powerful political tools.
With that in mind, House Bill 1125 does more than just giving the Secretary of State more flexibility.  Essentially, this change will allow candidates to avoid the pressures of other states, or the national parties, from boycotting or not participating in New Hampshire, because well before the date of the NH Primary is actually set, the Secretary of State can accept filings.
For example, instead of having to wait until the first Monday of November preceding the year during which the President is elected, the Secretary of State can set the filing date for, say, May 15th through September 15th.   All the likely Presidential candidates will have ample time to file in New Hampshire during that time period, and by September 15th the ballot would be set, although the firm date for the NH Primary may not have yet been announced by the Secretary of State, following our statute.  Essentially, candidates will have signed up and made the obligation to run in New Hampshire, no matter when the date is.  Any party rule or ?pledge? in another state designed to encourage candidates not to run in New Hampshire if the New Hampshire Primary date is set too early or out of party ?windows? or ?schedules ? will effectively be negated by the earlier filing commitment of the candidates. 
It will also allow the Secretary of State to set a date for our Presidential Primary, if absolutely necessary, prior to any caucus, including Iowa.  That is not something the Secretary of State would likely do lightly, and I cannot speak to what the Secretary may or may not do, but if it is necessary in order to preserve the tradition and role of our First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary, our law - -with this proposed legislation - - could allow a date for our Primary to be set that could precede all caucuses, because candidates would have already filed in New Hampshire and made that commitment to be on the ballot.  That realization should help discourage any of the political parties, or the political activists of other states, from trying to create earlier and earlier schedules or election events. 
Unlike what some Democrats and Republicans from other states are upset about, our primary does not exclude anyone from being fully involved in the election process.  There are already many events in other states leading up to the NH Primary.  Statewide or regional party conventions, conferences, candidate debates, forums, endorsements, and straw polls can continue to take place without triggering the NH Primary law.  All those events include diverse populations throughout our country.  We don't need additional caucuses before the New Hampshire Primary in order to be inclusive.
New Hampshire?s First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary has been a tradition in this country since 1916.  Until 1975 we had a Primary that came first by default because no other state and none of the political parties tried to pre-date our Primary.  Since 1975, when we became the first state to put into our statute our ?first? status, no other state and neither of the political parties has been able to figure out a way around our state law.  We saw the dilemma that the National Democratic Commission on Scheduling found itself in this past December, and we?ve seen the National Republican Party have to deal with this dilemma before.  While many of the political activists of both parties and most of the other states outside of New Hampshire might not like the lead-off status of New Hampshire, our 1975 law, updated in 1999, is very difficult to maneuver around and negate.
House Bill 1125 will preserve our First-In-The-Nation status, as well as the relevance and importance of our Primary, in 2008, 2012, 2016 and beyond.  The Secretary of State is joining me in support of this legislation.
Thank You,
Jim Splaine

------------------------------------------------------------------------
*The NH First-In-The-Nation Presidential Primary Law:
*TITLE LXIII - ELECTIONS
CHAPTER 653
ELECTION OF OFFICERS AND DELEGATES
Election Dates - Section 653:9
653:9 Presidential Primary Election. ? The presidential primary election shall be held on the second Tuesday in March or on a Tuesday selected by the secretary of state which is 7 days or more immediately preceding the date on which any other state shall hold a similar election, whichever is earlier, of each year when a president of the United States is to be elected or the year previous. Said primary shall be held in connection with the regular March town meeting or election or, if held on any other day, at a special election called by the secretary of state for that purpose.
Source. 1979 (recodification of previous statutes), 436:1. 1995, 289:1, eff. June 21, 1995. 1999, 161:2, eff. June 29, 1999.
House Bill 1125
2006 SESSION - 06-2942 - 03/10

AN ACT relative to the filing period for candidates at the presidential primary.
SPONSORS:  Rep. Jim Splaine, Rockingham 16
REFERRED TO:  Senate Committee On Internal Affairs

ANALYSIS
This bill permits the secretary of state to change the filing period for
 candidates at the presidential primary.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Explanation: Matter added to current law appears in bold italics.
Matter removed from current law appears [in brackets and struckthrough.]
Matter which is either (a) all new or (b) repealed and reenacted appears in regular type.
06-2942 - 03/10

STATE OF NEW HAMPSHIRE
In the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand Six
AN ACT relative to the filing period for candidates at the presidential primary.

Be it Enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Court convened:
1 Presidential Nominations; Declaration of Candidacy; Filing Period. Amend RSA 655:47, II to read as follows:
II. Declarations of candidacy shall be filed between the first Monday in November and the third Friday in November, or during such other time period as the secretary of state shall
announce.
2 Effective Date. This act shall take effect 60 days after its passage
.