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Bills to move back presidential primaries zoom through committee

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Two proposed committee bills to move back the date of Florida’s presidential primaries have sailed through legislative committees in as many days.

The House version of the proposal, PCB RCEC 15-05, was introduced and approved in the House Rules Calendar & Ethics Committee without questions or debate in under three minutes on Monday, resulting in one of the fastest gavel-to-gavel hearings this observer has ever seen.

In Senate Ethics & Elections, there was slightly more discussion, but not much. SPB 7036 was briefly presented by the Senate’s Chief Attorney Jonathan Fox.

Former Senate Democratic Leader Sen. Chris Smith asked the lone substantive question on the bill which was simply, “Do these dates affect the Democratic Party in any way?”

Fox’s response: “The Democratic Party, since the 1980s, has gone with some form of a proportional primary. So this would have no direct impact…. Under the Democratic Party rules Florida could hold its Democratic primary on March 1st” because the party has already arranged for a proportional primary and presumably has no plans to change that, notwithstanding the March 15 date established by the proposal.

Sen. John Legg then jumped in with an Ides of March quip that I’d like to think the Senator borrowed from me, but was more likely just present in the collective ether.

“I’d like to just question the wisdom of holding the primary on the Ides [pronouncing it EYE-dees, for the record] of March.”

Smith was quick to correct him: “Mr. Chair, it’s actually the Ides [as in eyeds].” He also pointed out that March 15 is the birthdate of Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville, former Senate President Mike Haridopolis and — himself.

And that was about it. But beneath the swift and jocular process, there’s a pretty significant political maneuver beneath these bills.

Moving the dates back would allow Florida Republicans to apportion their delegates in a winner-takes-all fashion, rather than proportionately according to the share of the vote each candidate receives. That would make the state’s primary a huge prize for either Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio, who would be heavily favored to win their home state and take home Florida’s hundreds of delegates all at once.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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