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Missouri still will have February primary after Senate kills alternatives

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 18, 2011 - The Missouri Senate has failed to approve proposals to move the state's presidential primary to March -- or to kill it off altogether.

The result: Missouri's presidential primary appears to still be on tap for Feb. 7, 2012, as originally scheduled.

The Senate's action came after lawmakers haggled for over two hours over whether killing the primary was a blow to democracy or a boost to the state's troubled budget.

State Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Glendale, said he thought it was "a terrible idea'' for the state to shift once again to party caucuses to decide when presidential candidates get the support of the state's delegates. Such a move amounted to taking a "pick ax'' to the voters' rights, Schmitt asserted.

The state Republican Party made such a move weeks ago after the Senate failed to act before Oct. 1 to approve a bill -- already approved by the House -- to move Missouri's primary to March, as mandated by both major parties. (Legislators did pass a bill last spring moving the primary to March, but that bill was vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon because of other provisions.)

The state GOP's leadership decided in late September to use the party's existing caucuses, which begin in March, to decide which presidential candidates will win the support of the state's delegates. The caucuses now are used only to choose who the delegates will be.

The state Democratic Party had taken no action on the primary issues since President Barack Obama is expected to have no primary opposition.

State House Majority Leader Tim Jones, R-Eureka, told the Beacon in an interview that he expected the House to vote later this week to get rid of the presidential primary altogether. He said it was a waste of taxpayers' money, especially if the primary vote wasn't going to have any role in allotting delegates.

State Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington, cited the primary's projected cost of $8 million. "If we're going to have a [primary] that's going to cost $6 million to $8 million to the taxpayers while ... cutting things like early childhood education and mental health, (it) seems to makes no sense now," Engler said.

Schmitt declared that it was worth the money to make sure the public has a political voice. "If we were sending folks to other countries to teach them how to build a democracy, under no circumstances would we tell them it's OK to get a group of party activists and elites in a closed room and decide who we want to be president of the United States of America," Schmitt said.

To make the idea more palatable, Engler made an unsuccessful bid Monday to win approval of a substitute proposal that would get rid of Missouri's primary in 2012 and then restore it in 2016. 

Engler's proposal died on a tie vote, 16-16.

After the Senate voted down all the proposals, Engler declared that the lack of action the primary once again underscored "the ineffectiveness of this body."

"Don't ever tell the public we do good work in here," Engler concluded.

Jason Rosenbaum, a freelance journalist in St. Louis, covers state government and politics.

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.

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