Hearing Set On D.C. Primary

D.C. Council United, But Critics Doubtful

Posted January 31, 2003 at 6:25pm

Even with the D.C. City Council united behind the measure and scheduling a hearing on it for later this month, it remains far from a sure thing that the District’s presidential primary will become the first in the nation next year.

“It ain’t going to happen,” Democratic strategist Donna Brazile said. Given the small number of delegates the District will send to the 2004 convention, she added, “I don’t believe that presidential candidates will spend time and resources in the District.”

Not only is the District — with its 11-1 Democratic-to-Republican voter registration — not considered a representative sample of voters, but moving the primary ahead of New Hampshire’s and the Iowa caucuses would violate both parties’ rules.

Nonetheless, Let’s Free DC, a grassroots voting-rights organization, launched a petition drive Friday on its Web site to garner citywide support for the initiative. The online petition will be delivered to the mayor, the council and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D) at the end of February.

Last week Ward 2 City Councilman Jack Evans (D) introduced a bill that would move the District’s primary to Jan. 10, 2004. The hearing on the measure is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 19 in the Wilson Building.

At the beginning of almost every presidential election cycle at least one state tries — and ultimately fails — to move its primary ahead of New Hampshire’s. But D.C., of course, is not a state, which is exactly the factor proponents are seeking to highlight.

New Hampshire law mandates that its primary be ahead of all other states, but early last week New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D) said that he would not move the Granite State’s primary ahead of the District’s if the city succeeds in placing its primary first.

Instead of the raw political clout most states seek in trying to move their primaries up, D.C.’s organizers want to focus national attention on the fact that District residents do not have voting representation in the House or Senate.

Brazile said her opposition to the proposal is from a logistical standpoint and not because she doesn’t believe in the cause the organizers are advocating.

“The goal is great,” she said. But “it would be a violation of the [party] rules. As a member of the [Democratic National Committee’s] rules committee, I don’t know where they would get the support.

“It’s not doable given the time constraints. Let’s start talking about 2008,” Brazile added.

If the primary was moved, it would also move up Norton’s primary in presidential election years. In nonpresidential election years, her primary would remain in September, along with the D.C. City Council’s. The District’s presidential primary is currently held in May.

Norton could not be reached for comment.