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By Mark D. Hughes
«RM75»«FC»COL15.MDH - Missouri Matters In Presidential Primary
Missouri voters on March 15 will cast ballots in a presidential preference primary that for the first time may really matter.
Because none of the presidential contenders in either major party has secured enough delegates to clinch a nomination prior to Missouri's primary, this year's contest may play a greater role than any the state has experienced to date.
Missouri first established a primary system for selecting candidates to state and local offices when the 44th Missouri General Assembly adopted SB 19, Missouri's Primary Election Law, in 1907. This law set primary elections in August for local and state officials. It also set primaries for U.S. Senate candidates, and bound all members of the candidates' respective parties to vote for those candidates. In those days, prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, the Legislature, not the voters, selected the U.S. senators for the state.
This was a period of great change in how electors chose the elected. In April 1919, Gov. Frederick Gardner signed a law allowing Missouri women to vote for president. In July, just three months later, Missouri became the 11th state to ratify the 19th Amendment granting suffrage to women. That amendment was finally ratified by enough states to become law in August. A year later, on Aug. 31, 1920, Mary Byrum became the first woman in Missouri history to vote in an election.
In just a seven-year period, two constitutional amendments were ratified putting the election of members of the U.S. Senate to a popular vote and giving women the right to vote in all elections. But establishing a presidential primary in Missouri would take a bit longer.
In 1984, as a very inexperienced reporter for a small weekly, I was sent to cover county caucuses -- the method political parties had used since statehood to select their nominees for president. These process was remarkably informal..
In the Republican caucuses, President Ronald Reagan was seeking re-election. It took that caucus took about 5 minutes to formalize their delegates by acclamation. The Democrats, on the other hand, split. Walter Mondale had enough voters to secure delegates. Gary Hart was one short. Until I was persuaded to step across the line, not realizing it was horrible breach of journalistic ethics.
I'd soon learn better. Hart's aspirations sank in mischief on a boat called The Monkey Business. And I missed a national news story when I let the fact that Mondale's own brother lost an election for delegates to the state convention get by me -- perhaps foreshadowing Mondale's own shellacking at the hands of Reagan in the general election.
In 1988, following actions by the General Assembly, Missouri held its first presidential preference primary on a one-time basis. Based on my experience with the caucuses just four year before, it seemed a great idea. Letting a handful of people who showed up for caucuses decide candidates for the entire county seemed less-than-representative. But the real reason was to simply show favorite-son support for a St. Louis-area congressman, Dick Gephardt, who was running for president.
Gephardt lost to Dukakis, Dukakis lost to George H. Bush and Missouri reverted to a caucus system.
Debate continued however over restoring a primary and it's timing. Some argued for Super Tuesday. Others argued it should be sooner, lest the importance be lost among other Super Tuesday states. Presidential primaries in Missouri were held in February in 2000, 2004 and 2008.
Before the 2012 election, the national Republican party passed rules forcing most states to delay primaries until after March 6. Unfortunately, Missouri's was still set for February. A compromise was struck: the primary would be held, but delegates would be selected by caucuses held later. The primary was held, but was meaningless.
In 2014, a bill was passed and signed that sets this year's primary for March 15. And this year, with no candidate having enough delegates to clinch the nomination, Missouri's presidential primary could have real meaning... at last.
[After a career in journalism, Mark Hughes became a top, non-partisan policy analyst for Missouri government including the state Senate, state Treasurer's Office and the utility-regulating PSC. He has been an observer and analyst of state government since the administration of Gov. Kit Bond.]
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