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Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Governor backs Kansas’ return to presidential caucus system

Sebelius studying bill delaying presidential primary until 2008

April 16, 2003

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— As she studies a bill to scrap next year's presidential primary, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius suggested Tuesday that Kansas return permanently to using party caucuses to pick delegates for the national conventions.

Tight budgets and the expectation that President Bush will be unopposed for the GOP nomination have led several states to call off 2004 primaries.

Sebelius has until Monday to decide whether to sign a bill that sets 2008 as Kansas' next presidential primary year. The bill specifies that the vote be held on the same day as at least five other state primaries or caucuses or, if that is not possible, that it be held in April 2008.

Kansas would spend $1.75 million to hold the primary set for April 6, 2004 -- money that Sebelius omitted from her proposed budget for next year. She said Tuesday that calling off the 2004 primary is a good idea given the unlikelihood of a contested Republican race.

"We don't think it's likely that there'll be a Republican primary, so this seemed an appropriate time to save the million-and-a-half dollars and encourage people to participate in their caucus process," she said at a news conference.

Kansas' Democratic and Republican parties have traditionally held local, regional and state caucuses to pick delegates to their nominating conventions. The state held a 1980 primary as an experiment and adopted a law a decade later requiring that a primary be held every four years, starting in 1992.

But the 1996 primary was canceled, with President Clinton seeking re-election and Kansas' Bob Dole expected to win the GOP nomination. The 2000 primary was called off to save money, with some legislators saying an April vote came too late in the campaign season to have much influence.

Senate President Dave Kerr said most legislators want Kansas to hold a primary but that "we haven't found a way to make it meaningful."

Sebelius suggested legislators consider repealing the primary law altogether. She said voter turnout in an April primary is likely to be relatively low because Republicans and Democrats usually have decided who their nominees will be by then. Caucuses are "a good way to encourage grass-roots support" for presidential candidates, she said.

"It's a great idea, to encourage participation in those local caucus areas, which are really kind of back to the old town-meeting form of doing government and kind of fun," she said.

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