PHOENIX - A Republican state lawmaker wants to be sure Arizonans have a real voice in deciding who will run for president in 2016.
Legislation offered by Rep. Phil Lovas of Peoria would automatically set the date for the Arizona presidential preference primary on the same day as the Iowa political caucus, forcing the Hawkeye State to share its current billing as the first political event of the season.
If Iowa changes its date in a bid to remain first, HB 2017 would have Arizona automatically follow suit.
Lovas pointed out that the Republican Party started off with nine contenders in Iowa's caucus exactly a year ago today.
By the time of Arizona's Feb. 28 primary, not only had Iowa weighed in but so had voters in New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, Minnesota, Missouri and Maine. And the field had been pared to just four.
Four years earlier, by the time Arizona had its primary, Republicans were essentially left with a two-way race between Mitt Romney and eventual nominee John McCain, with a nominal showing by Mike Huckabee. Democrats, with an open primary in 2008, got to choose between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, with a few votes for John Edwards.
"Quite frankly, for 40-plus years Iowa and New Hampshire have helped essentially determine who is or who is not the nominee for both parties," Lovas said Wednesday. "And I feel as though Arizona voters are being disenfranchised."
Lovas said he's not being a sore loser. He said he was a supporter of Romney, the GOP's eventual 2012 nominee.
"But I would have liked to see a lot more of Tim Pawlenty," he said.
There already is some flexibility in Arizona law to do what Lovas wants without legislative action.
The law sets Arizona's election for the fourth Tuesday in February. But it gives the governor permission to schedule an earlier primary as long as she sets the date at least 150 days ahead of time.
Gov. Jan Brewer made some noise about doing just that last year, proposing a Jan. 31 vote. But that started a national ripple effect.
The chairman of the South Carolina Republican Party, the first state after Iowa and New Hampshire, said he has the unilateral power to set his state's GOP primary. And he said there was no way he was going to allow Arizona to get ahead - or even vote on the same day.
New Hampshire law requires its presidential primary be at least a week before any other similar election. And Iowa started making noise that its party caucuses - a different process from a primary, set by party rules - require it to be ahead of New Hampshire.
In the end, Brewer backed down. And the Republican Party, in what officials insisted was not a payoff to Brewer for defusing a fight, agreed to have one of its debates in Arizona.
But there are ways for political parties to exert their will on Arizona and protect Iowa and New Hampshire: States that violate the rules can lose half the delegates to the national convention, which is what happened to Arizona last year. After going ahead with the primary even on Feb. 28, the state's delegate allocation was slashed to 29.
Lovas said he's not concerned.
"I don't think they're going to want to risk alienating Arizona," he said, adding that the state is becoming far more representative of what both parties see as their future.
"Democrats want to turn this state a little bit more purple," he said, cutting into the edge Republicans have had for decades. "For Republicans, it's important to speak to Latino voters," Lovas continued, echoing a theme some GOP officials have stated since Romney's loss in November.
So even if the number of delegates is slashed, Lovas said, winning Arizona will still be a plum that early contenders will want to pocket.
"We will get the candidates," he said.
Politics aside, Lovas said there's an economic benefit to an early primary: More candidates mean more candidate visits, complete with meals and lodging for their staffs. There also would be more advertising and even more reporters coming here to spend money.
A study done last year by a researcher at the University of New Hampshire, just ahead of that state's primary, put the economic impact of the 2000 race there at about $260 million, though much of that was in media buys.
Lovas said he's willing to back down if the national parties come up with something more fair, perhaps on the order of regional primaries. That would mean one year the Northeast states would have their primaries first, then another year led by Southwest states and another where those in the South or Midwest go first.
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