Under the Dome

NC legislature sets all 2016 primaries for March 15

Voters cast their ballots at Clayton Fire Station, Johnston Co. Precinct 10A, on West Horne St. in downtown Clayton NC on May 6, 2014. Next year’s primary will take place in March.
Voters cast their ballots at Clayton Fire Station, Johnston Co. Precinct 10A, on West Horne St. in downtown Clayton NC on May 6, 2014. Next year’s primary will take place in March. cseward@newsobserver.com

North Carolinians will likely see all the presidential and statewide race candidates on one combined primary election ballot on March 15.

The state Senate and House cast the final votes approving the new combined primary date Thursday. Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature is all that’s needed.

However, the bill passed after much debate in both chambers over a provision added to the compromised plan to allow what lawmakers are calling “affiliate party committees” in the General Assembly.

The committees would allow the House and Senate majority and minority caucuses to raise money to support candidates without going through the state political parties.

The N.C. Republican Party is calling the new provision a “surprise poison pill” in an email to its members. These caucus committees would compete against the state parties and channel money to candidates that would typically receive it through the state parties, making them irrelevant, according to the NCGOP.

“Caucus leadership will be able to spend this money however they see fit, unbound by the party rules traditional party leaders are constrained by,” the email reads. “They will be able to insert themselves into primary contests. These committees will enjoy the right to use the names, abbreviations and symbols of the state parties and generally exercise trademark rights.”

Kimberly Reynolds, executive director of N.C. Democratic Party, said Thursday that the Republican-led effort seems intended to impact issues at the Republican Party headquarters, and the NCDP doesn’t “anticipate any changes.”

This provision was first aired in the Senate Rules Committee Wednesday, and many House members were upset that it was included at the last minute without going through the typical legislative process. The House barely passed the plan in a 52-49 vote.

Nineteen Republicans joined 30 Democrats in opposing the primary plan.

Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican, was first to say he had never heard of the provision before Wednesday and didn’t like the idea of new matters in a conference report. He didn’t see the reason to rush and said it’s an example of the “political class looking out for themselves.”

“When their money is at stake, they can move at lightening pace. There is a reason we are at 22 percent approval,” he said. “I would like to win some confidence back.”

Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican, defended the change to add these legislative political committees saying that would increase transparency because every donation and expenditure would be reported.

Rep. Jonathan Jordan, a Jefferson Republican, suggested that the Senate was backing House members into a corner because time is running out for the legislature to change the primary to a day that’s acceptable under national Republican Party rules. The primary schedule must be set by Oct. 1, and the legislative session is set to adjourn for the year on Tuesday.

Initially, lawmakers wanted to hold North Carolina’s primary at the end of February to immediately follow South Carolina, but Republican National Committee leadership said it would penalize the state for breaking party rules. That move would have cost the state Republicans 60 of their 72 delegates to the national convention. The RNC only allows four states to hold primaries as early as February. South Carolina is one of them.

Jordan said he felt forced to vote for the bill or risk losing 60 delegates.

Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, urged his colleagues to vote against the plan, saying the Senate wouldn’t allow the Republicans to be penalized by the national party but would fix the bill on Monday.

“Let’s not do it in the 11th hour,” Speciale said. “This will not be the last bill over the next couple days that we will feel backed into a corner.”

The Senate voted to 30-13 to approve the plan, but only after its Democrats rehashed their concerns.

Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said it’s an incumbent protection bill because combining all the statewide race primaries from May to March gives potential candidates less time to pull the campaigns and resources together.

It also gives voters less time adjust to the election law changes, such as needing an ID to vote, he added.

Taylor Knopf: 919-829-8955, @TayKnopf