Kiffmeyer champions new primary system

by Josh Verges

Minnesotans have less than a month before they will vote on their favorite Democratic presidential candidate.

Nine states have already held their primaries and caucuses, and as the candidates gear up to tackle Minnesota and 10 other states March 2, some critics question whether voters here are getting what they deserve.

Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer is promoting a plan to get more citizens involved in the presidential nomination process.

During the past three elections, states have moved their primary nominations earlier in a practice called frontloading, in which a small group of states determine the country’s candidate for the general election.

In mid-March 1992, 10 percent of the Democrats’ and Republicans’ national delegates had been decided, Kiffmeyer said. At the same time this year, nearly 60 percent will have been chosen before 15 states assign their delegates, Kiffmeyer said.

To stop frontloading, Kiffmeyer supports a plan to divide the country into four regions.

Under the “rotating regional primaries” plan, the Midwestern region – made up of Minnesota and 10 other states – would hold its primary nominations in May for the 2008 election. For the following election year, primaries would be held in April, then March and June in succeeding elections.

New Hampshire and Iowa would still hold their respective primaries and caucuses first. Caucuses are private meetings of party members; primary elections involve statewide voting.

This year, Minnesota will hold its caucuses on Super Tuesday, March 2, the same day 10 other states – including California and New York – run their presidential primary nominations.

Bill Amberg, state DFL communications and research director, said he expects the candidates will not overlook Minnesota.

“(Minnesota is a) swing state with a strong independent populist streak,” he said.

Amberg said University students can call their county auditors to get involved with their local party precinct caucuses any time after Feb. 11. Caucus locations will be announced later this week.

University political science professor Bill Flanigan criticized this and past regional primary plans and said they have never had much support. In giving a region a significant elective role only every 16 years, the system “would pass some careers by,” he said. “It strikes politicians as horrible.”

Gary DeCramer, a senior lecturer at the Humphrey Center, said he had no problems with frontloading but thought Minnesota should jump in earlier in the process.

“This is a state that’s proud of its people that have worked really hard to be part of the national debate,” he said.

Kiffmeyer said benefits such as getting more citizens involved and restoring order to candidates’ travel schedules make her plan worth pursuing. And because the plan has the support of all 50 secretaries of state, she said, it should be clear that frontloading is a problem.

“There’s no system that’s perfect,” she said. “But just by making a discussion of this, maybe somebody will find a solution we’ve never thought of.”