Lawmakers weighed arguments Wednesday on whether Washington state should suspend the 2012 presidential primary to save money and opt instead for a caucusonly system that would appoint party delegates to national conventions.
The proposal from Gov. Chris Gregoire would save the state $10 million in the next two-year budget, but it comes as Democrats say the state party is considering moving away from the caucus system it has operated under for decades.
Democratic representatives asked lawmakers at the hearing to delay the suspension of the primary until the party decides what it’s doing in 2012.
“I am a strong advocate of the presidential primary,” said Secretary of State Sam Reed, who oversees the state’s elections. “I’m against using caucuses, but our state is in such a fiscal crisis that to spend $10 million, particularly when the parties, particularly Democrats, haven’t really used (the primaries), it’d be wasteful.”
Currently, Washington has both a presidential primary and a caucus system. The cut would not affect the top-two primary for other races.
A statewide presidential primary had been established in 1989 after voters approved an initiative, but the state’s political parties, especially the Democrats, have largely ignored it, preferring to choose their candidates in caucuses of the party faithful.
While comparably small to others, the $10 million cut from the Secretary of State’s office is part of the governor’s all-cuts budget to tackle a projected deficit of $5 billion in the next two-year budget. The primary has been suspended in the past, in 2004.
Reed, a Republican, said his office has lost 28 percent of its budget.
The proposal, though, spurred some concerns from the Democratic and Republican parties. Both parties are lobbying lawmakers to delay the decision of the suspension until after April, saying the state would not lose any money by delaying it until then.
“Right now, we’re re-evaluating whether we’re going to elect delegates via the caucus process or not,” said Cody Arledge of the Democratic party, adding that there were many complaints in 2008 with the system.