SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian said Tuesday that he has changed his mind and no longer flatly opposes proposals that would move up the date of California's presidential primary so the state can play a more important role in choosing a President.
Deukmejian, in a rare public shift of position, told reporters he would "be happy" to take another look at legislation he opposed only months ago that would have moved the presidential primary from June to as early as February.
The Republican governor also said he plans to work "very vigorously" to persuade Congress to pass a law that would create uniform voting hours across the country. Deukmejian said he wants to ensure that Californians do not hear presidential election results from other states before they have a chance to cast their own ballots.
Bill Died in Senate
In part because of Deukmejian's opposition to an early primary, an Assembly-approved bill that would have allowed voting in February died in the Senate despite having Republican and Democratic support.
Supporters of an earlier primary have long argued that Californians are being left out of the presidential nominating process because the primary here often comes long after Republican and Democratic voters in other states have decided the issue.
But Deukmejian insisted earlier this year that supporters of the early primary had not made compelling arguments to justify the substantial cost of holding an extra election. Plans were to continue to hold the state primary election on the second Tuesday of June to decide state and local offices. Cost estimates of holding a separate presidential primary ranged from $20 million to $39 million.
Explaining his new stance, Deukmejian said he "sensed" that "a very large percentage" of voters and political leaders favor a change.
"There seems to be a large segment of the population that wants to consider moving up the primary dates so I would be happy to look at that," Deukmejian told reporters during a question-and-answer session after a luncheon speech to an anti-crime group.
Invitation to Lawmakers
The Republican chief executive did not say what kind of legislation he would support--or even if he ultimately would support such legislation. But his comments represent a clear invitation to lawmakers to reintroduce legislation to move up the presidential primary.
Assemblyman Jim Costa (D-Fresno), who said he has introduced or supported an early-primary bill each year for the last eight years only to see one bill after another die, said plans are in the works for another bill.
"The governor's comment was heartening, and hopefully we will be able to work on this together," said Costa, who will carry the new bill with the blessing of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). "California has over 10% of the nation's population, yet we are now having very little impact on the presidential process."
The Democratic proposal has yet to take shape. Costa said the proposal might be for a primary in March, or even earlier. The Speaker is saying efforts might be made to coordinate California's primary with those of other states to create a regional election.
A spokesman for Assembly Republican Leader Ross Johnson of La Habra, who carried this year's bill, said he probably will reintroduce the measure next year.