as printed in the Blytheville Courier News on Thursday, June 4, 2015
By TOM HENRY
Last Friday, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson-R signed SB-8, sponsored by Sen. Gary Stubblefield, R-Brach, which moves primary and nonpartisan judicial selections from May 20 to March 1 next year. This allows Arkansas to join a bloc of southern states in what is being called the “SEC Primary”. This moniker, of course, alludes to the Southeastern Conference.Historically, Arkansas has been too often relegated to the status of mere “fly over” territory in relation to presidential elections. The New Hampshire and South Carolina primaries and the Iowa caucuses have received the lion’s share of media and candidate attention. This left very little political clout remaining for other states in the South, such as Arkansas. Typically, by the time Arkansas held its primaries in May, party nominees had already, in essence, been decided. The 2016 election cycle is lining up to be a little different though. Already, Arkansas can boast of having substantial ties with two announced top-tier presidential candidates, and therefore local solons are attempting to increase our state’s impact upon the national race.
Clearly, party nominees must accumulate early primary wins in order to gain momentum, financing, media attention and the essential appearance of inevitability. All of these are necessary in order to successfully survive the long, arduous national primary gauntlet. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee-R and former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton-D are no exceptions to this rule. Therefore, plans have been executed to, perhaps, give them an early primary win in Arkansas.
The South has attempted a bloc effort before in the former overwhelmingly southern “Super Tuesday”. Initially, “Super Tuesday” was a boon to southern candidates, however, with more non-southern states setting their primaries for the same date, the effect has been somewhat diluted.
Not all legislators have been excited about Arkansas’ earlier primary. House Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs Chairman Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena announced this week that he was leaving the Republican Party and will be identified as an independent, partly as a result of this vote.
Other arguments against the move include that it will shorten the primary season while at the same time extending the general election cycle. Bell insists that this break with tradition will be “family unfriendly” to candidates and their loved ones, due to increased and sustained political attacks.
Make no mistake about it, media attention and increased political clout come with a price – increased campaign spending and additional political advertising. I am, however, supportive if it helps Arkansas become relevant nationally by forcing candidates and national media to spend time in this state addressing issues important to the “Natural State”.
Additionally, the net effect of the earlier primary may not have the desired effect that good ol’ boy politicians intend however. Certainly both Huckabee and Clinton need early wins if they are to win their party’s nominations, however Arkansas only leaves room for them to receive losses in the “expectation game”. Everyone expects them to win their “home state” and media attention will only be given if they lose. Also, with a half dozen announced candidates from the South and a handful more anticipated to enter the field in 2016, the “SEC Primary” might fail anyway.