Archive for Sunday, July 30, 2000

Kansans want to overhaul system of GOP primaries

July 30, 2000


— Declaring victory in the Kansas primary seemed a natural thing for George W. Bush's presidential campaign to do. Bush was the presumed Republican nominee and had endorsements of the state's GOP establishment.

But he didn't win, because no one voted. Legislators canceled the April 4 election, not wanting to spend the $1.5 million needed for it.

Total Number: 35, out of 2,066.Men: 23.Women: 12.Average age: 54.7Delegates under 40: 3.Delegates over 65: 7.Youngest delegate: Trent LeDoux of Holton.Oldest delegate: Wanda Konald of Pratt.Married delegates: 30.White delegates: 34.Black delegates: 1.First-time delegates: 21.

The decision had as much to do with the insignificance of Kansas in the presidential nominating process as it did money. As weeks passed, many Kansas Republicans hoped their party's national convention would result in a better national schedule of presidential primaries and caucuses.

Kansas delegates who arrived Saturday in Philadelphia for the Republican National Convention reviewed what for many was disappointing news, that the convention's Rules Committee had failed to adopt a plan for overhauling the primary and caucus system. The four-day national convention begins Monday.

"I am sorry we couldn't come to a consensus," said state Sen. Alicia Salisbury, a delegate from Topeka who serves on the Rules Committee. "I think we need to change our primary system."

Many Kansas Republicans -- and Democrats, too -- complain about the current schedule of states' primaries and caucuses. For them, the presidential nominating process starts too early, ends too quickly, requires that candidates raise too much money and prevents voters in a lot of states from having any real say in picking the major parties' nominees.

Bush's campaign had the luxury of assuming a victory in Kansas in April because his main rival, Arizona Sen. John McCain had been out of the race for several weeks.

"I don't think the primary system works at all," said State Treasurer Tim Shallenburger, another delegate. "The whole thing's just kind of grown up like weeds in a field."

Changes in order

Public officials aren't the only ones complaining.

During a recent lunch hour at the High Noon Saloon in Leavenworth, several customers said the races for the presidential nominations begin too early. By the time Bush became the apparent nominee in mid-March, he'd been campaigning for months.

"It takes forever," said Lori Kueker, an electronics equipment saleswoman from Overland Park. "It's been this way so long, I've never thought about how it could be changed."

Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh supports a proposal drafted by the National Association of Secretaries of States. It would divide the states into four regions, and one region would have primaries or caucuses each month, starting in February of a presidential election year.

The proposal gained bipartisan support, and some Democrats had hoped that if the Republican convention endorsed it, theirs would follow suit.

But the plan Thornburgh advocated ran into rival plans that made agreement among the Rules Committee difficult. Another proposal, known as the Delaware Plan after its state of origin, grouped states by size, letting less populated states go first.

Thornburgh and other critics noted that the small states are scattered and said candidates still would have to amass a large amount of money to compete.

Others don't see it as a significant problem for candidates.

"They all have planes," Shallenburger said.

However, Thornburgh said the Delaware Plan probably couldn't win the convention's approval, because more than half of the 2,066 delegates are from only 14 states. Thornburgh isn't a delegate because his office is overseeing primaries for congressional and state offices Tuesday.

Bush's home state, Texas, has the second-largest contingent at the convention, with 124 delegates, behind only California's 162-person group.

"There's no way the nine or 10 largest states are going to confine themselves to the back of the process for all eternity," Thornburgh said.

Rush to judgment

When the state Legislature canceled the April 4 primary, many of its members said it was scheduled too late to have any effect on the outcome of the race for either the Republican or Democratic nomination. They viewed spending $1.5 million as a waste.

Some legislators have suggested scheduling the Kansas primary earlier. However, they believe other states might follow suit, making races for the Democratic and Republican presidential nominations end even earlier.

"Democracy is meant to be a slow and deliberative process," Thornburgh said. "The rush to judgment is what the campaigns want, but I'm not sure that's good for democracy."

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