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Legislators OK measure to move primary

The bill, expected to be signed by the governor, would switch the state's vote on presidential candidates from June to Feb. 5.

March 07, 2007|Nancy Vogel | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Californians will choose presidential candidates in February, not June, under a proposal that cleared the Legislature on Tuesday and that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign.

Legislative leaders say an earlier primary will give California some influence in selecting the next president and force candidates to address issues such as immigration that don't resonate in Iowa and New Hampshire, where voting will take place in January.

Whether five states or 20 hold their primaries Feb. 5, "we will be a big fish in that pond," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles).

The Assembly passed the bill, SB 113 by Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), 46 to 29. Republicans refused to vote for it because, they said, it did not include explicit language to require the state to reimburse counties for the $48-million to $80-million cost of holding the extra election.

Primary elections for state offices will still be held in June 2008.

"Counties should not be left holding the bag or wondering when they will be reimbursed," said Assemblyman Anthony Adams (R-Hesperia).

Nunez promised that counties would be paid back once the true cost of the election is known.

After California's special election in November 2005, the state reimbursed counties $38.8 million.

Several other large states may follow California's move, making it possible that states with more than half the country's population will vote Feb. 5 or sooner for Democratic and Republican presidential candidates. The rush to reschedule primary elections could compress into several weeks a campaign season that has traditionally stretched for several months.

Bills to shift the presidential primary election to Feb. 5 are also pending in Illinois, Texas, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Kansas and New Jersey, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. At least eight states have already tentatively scheduled their presidential primary elections for the same day.

Lawmakers plan to use the early primary ballot to ask voters to change the way California's term limits are applied, and allow sitting legislators to serve longer. If the proposal passed, current lawmakers could run again the following June.

Such an initiative was submitted to the attorney general's office last month by a political consultant who works for Nunez. The measure would allow Nunez, who would otherwise be forced from the Legislature next year, to stay an additional six years.

The proposal would also cut the total amount of time that newly elected lawmakers could serve in the Legislature from 14 to 12 years, but allow them to spend all of those years in a single house.

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nancy.vogel@latimes.com

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