The Sidebar: Utah House Approves Moving Primary Ahead Of New Hampshire's

Mar 10, 2014

Utah's Statehouse in Salt Lake City
Credit Jimmy Wayne via Flickr CC

Utah lawmakers have advanced a bill that would move the state’s presidential primary ahead of New Hampshire’s.

Legislation approved by the House Monday gives lawmakers the option of holding an online election, provided it is “held before any other caucus, primary, or other event selecting a nominee in the nation.”

If approved by the Senate and signed by Gov. Gary Herbert, the bill, HB 410, would require the state to fund the Western State Primary, at an estimated cost of $1.6 million.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner is already on the case, urging Utah lawmakers to reject the bill.

"We’ve had it 100 years, why would we say, ‘OK, just take it from us?’" Gardner said, adding that every state has its own long-established culture. New Hampshire’s happens to be politics.

"What if Maryland or Louisiana said, ‘It’s not fair that the Statue of Liberty is always in New York. Why can’t we tow it down to Baltimore or to New Orleans?’ There’s an historical reason why [the first primary] got to be where it is. There’s an historic reason why the Kentucky Derby is in Kentucky.

Under state law, Gardner can decide when to schedule the New Hampshire primary, and he has been an energetic defender of the state’s first-in-the-nation status. Gardner threatened to move the 2012 primary to December 2011 after Nevada Republicans made plans to shift the state’s presidential caucus ahead of the Granite State's vote.

Faced with boycotts from several presidential campaigns, Nevada officials backed down  and set the caucus for Feb. 4, some three weeks after the New Hampshire primary.

The Republican National Committee boosted the Granite State’s primary status in January, when committee members voted to shorten the GOP's primary season and allow four states - New Hampshire, Iowa, Nevada and South Carolina - to hold a primary or caucus in February 2016. States that insist on moving ahead on the calendar would lose delegates.

But the chief sponsor of the Utah bill said it doesn’t make sense that New Hampshire, which has 12 Republican delegates, is more influential in choosing the party’s nominee than Utah, which has 40.

"We’ve created a system that is blatantly discriminatory. It creates second-class states," said Rep. Jon Cox, R-Ephraim. “Our influence is minimal, if at all.”