Presidential primary issue resolved: Just don’t hold one

You know the quadrennial quandary in this state over how to make the presidential primary meaningful?

There’s an answer for 2016: It won’t be, so it’s going to be canceled.

That will mean the vast majority of Washington’s 3.9 million registered voters won’t have a hand in narrowing the field of presidential candidates. On the bright side, canceling the primary will save taxpayers $11.5 million.

You can thank the state Democratic Party for clarifying the options and freeing up those millions of dollars for other uses.

On April 18, its leaders gathered in Pasco and decided to rely solely on precinct caucuses to apportion delegates to the national convention, where the party’s nominee for the Oval Office will be chosen.

That’s no surprise. Democrats cherish the caucus process to bring their truly faithful together.

“It encourages more active participation, with Democrats across the state showing up to caucuses and talking with their friends and neighbors about our presidential candidates,” state party chairman Jaxon Ravens said in a statement.

Secretary of State Kim Wyman did try to persuade them otherwise.

Wyman, the state’s chief election officer, wrote party members April 15 asking them to allot a portion of delegates based on primary results, a Democratic Party practice in more than 30 other states.

She said that if Democrats found a way to do that, she’d get lawmakers to move up the date of the primary and make sure both parties got the names of every one who voted for their respective candidates.

“Our goals with this proposal are to engage as many voters across the state in the selection of the presidential nominees as possible, make the results of a presidential primary meaningful, and respect the political parties’ rights of association in the process,” she wrote.

Wyman, a Republican, made the same pitch to her own party, but it wasn’t a hard sell. The GOP had already pledged to allocate half its delegates in that manner.

In getting Democrats on board, Wyman wanted to give meaning to a primary inspired by voters and created by lawmakers in 1989. The problem is the political parties aren’t bound by primary results, making it an expensive poll — one that was canceled in 2004 and 2012.

This year, Wyman crafted legislation that covered the offer she made to the two parties. And she said that absent their agreement, there’s no point in holding a presidential primary.

“I can’t support $11.5 million being spent on a beauty contest that means nothing to the parties,” Wyman said Monday in a public hearing on the bill in front of the House Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, the committee chairman, proposed changes Monday to require that both parties allot at least 75 percent of their delegates based on the primary results. It was a somewhat cynical move, given his party’s decision days earlier.

“I would like to hold out hope they would come to the decision that people who are disenfranchised by the caucus, who work on Saturdays, people who have children and cannot make the caucus, should still be able to vote and help select the most important person in the known universe,” Hunter said.

Lawmakers must still pass a bill to formally cancel the 2016 primary. Then it will be another four years before they face this quandary again.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com/thepetridish. Contact him at 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com and on Twitter at @dospueblos.

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