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Sec. of State Pushes for Presidential Primary

February 02, 1998
By: Margaret Murphy
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The race for president in Missouri would look different in 2000 if a bill supported by Secretary of State Bekki Cook passes the Legislature.

"Overwhelmingly, the people of Missouri want a presidential primary system," Cook told the Senate Elections, Pensions and Veterans' Affairs Committee on Monday.

Cook threw her support behind a bill introduced by the committee's chairman, Ronnie DePasco, D-Kansas City, to switch Missouri from its current caucus system to a presidential primary that would be held in April. Missouri last held a presidential primary in 1988, a move designed to benefit Rep. Dick Gephardt's campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Cook said the move would increase voter participation and heighten interest in local elections, typically held in April.

But one of the committee's members, Larry Rohrbach, R-California, said the caucus system is working fine.

"A lot of people don't realize how wide open the caucus system is," Rohrbach said. "It's kind of town hall democracy at its very best."

Rohrbach said that the primary could become a "like a cattle show" for the candidates.

DePasco sees that as one of the pluses of the bill.

"It's time we got out of the 20th century and into the 21st century, and bring money and presidential candidates into Missouri," DePasco said.

Some supporters of a presidential primary in Missouri say the state should make the date earlier during the primary season, in order to ensure a candidate hasn't already effectively wrapped up the nomination before an April election. They say Missouri should schedule the primary for Super Tuesday in March, a date when many southern states traditionally hold their primaries.

This would mean that the presidential primary would be the only race on the ballot, though. Cook said voters have been telling her they want fewer, not more, elections.

Cook said the bill also makes it clear that candidates from Missouri may run simultaneously for president and another elected office, instead of having to choose between the two. Such a provision, which does not change current law, would benefit Sen. John Ashcroft, a Republican, and Rep. Dick Gephardt, a Democrat, both of whom are exploring a run for the White House.

Wendy Noren, Boone County Clerk, said she is taking no official position on whether the state should switch to a primary election. However, she told committee members that if such a change is approved, the election should be held in conjunction with other elections, and the state needs to ensure it pays its fair share of the election costs.