By John R. Schirmer
Last week’s three-day special session of the Arkansas Legislature was marked by controversy over changing the date for the state’s 2016 preferential primary, according to Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville.
The proposal called for the primary to be moved from May 17 to March 1 in order to gain more attention, Teague said. Other Southern states are holding their primaries on the same date in what’s been dubbed the “SEC primary” among states with universities in the Southeastern Conference.
Although the plan eventually passed, the process was difficult, Teague said. “On Wednesday, it looked as if we wouldn’t be done in three days.”
A bill to move the primary “couldn’t get out of the Senate committee,” Teague said. At that point, backers took the unusual step of pulling it out of committee with 18 votes. In order to consider it the same day, legislators “had to suspend the rules” governing a final vote for passage. Otherwise, they would have been required to stay until Saturday.
“I didn’t support moving it,” Teague said. “We did it in 1998 and then moved back to May.”
The change means that candidates who run for office in 2016 must file in November 2015 for the March 1 primary, Teague said. “They will have to run during Thanksgiving and Christmas. If they have a general election opponent, they will have to run the whole year.”
Teague said the process of changing the date was a divisive issue among legislators. “By 2 p.m. Wednesday [May 27], everybody was mad at everybody. Everybody was trying to figure out how to get done.”
Eventually, the decision was made to “sunset it. This will be only for the 2016 election. It’s a compromise that everybody to vote on the bill,” Teague said.
As a result of changing the primary date to March 1, the fiscal session of the legislature will be moved from February to April in 2016, Teague said. The new date means that the session will run close to the beginning of the state’s new fiscal year in July 2016.
Despite the contention over the primary, legislators “got it done,” Teague said of the session. “We got over our frustration. One of my main priorities is for everybody to get along. I don’t want us to get like Washington, D.C.”
Arkansas legislators have always been able to discuss, and perhaps argue, about issues on the floor of the Capitol but joke and laugh later in the day, Teague said.
In other business in last week’s session, Legislators passed Hutchinson’s request to issue $87 million in bonds. Of that amount, $83 million would be used to support Lockheed Martin’s plan to construct military support vehicles in Camden. The remainder will go to SAU Tech for training.