JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri's 2012 presidential primary would take place on March 6 instead of the currently scheduled Feb. 7, under legislation sent Friday to the governor.
The legislation would allow Missouri to stay in compliance with rules set by the national Democratic and Republican parties. Under those rules, the Democrats might allow Missouri to seat more delegates if the state has a March primary. The Republicans would have withheld a portion of Missouri's delegates at their convention if the state did not schedule a primary after March 1.
The House gave the measure final approval by a vote of 137-11, sending it to Gov. Jay Nixon. The Senate passed it 31-2 earlier this week.
Sponsoring Rep. Tony Dugger, R-Hartville, said changing the date was important so that Missouri would be able to influence each party's nominations.
"We want to make sure Missouri got all of its delegates to the convention," he said. "Even if they (the parties) weren't going to take delegates, we didn't want to risk it."
Sen. Kurt Schaefer called the idea of withholding delegates a "hollow threat," noting that Florida faced the same punishment for holding an early primary in 2008, only to have the parties eventually relent. Schaefer, R-Columbia, was one of several senators who said Missouri's primary date should have been linked to that of New Hampshire, which occurs earlier in the year. He said an earlier date would have given Missouri more influence in the nomination process.
"It's better to make Missouri relevant so that we actually get attention from presidential candidates," he said. "I think this lessens Missouri's voice in the presidential primary."
The legislation would also require a special election if there are vacancies in the office of lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, auditor or treasurer. Currently, the governor is allowed to appoint someone to fill those positions if they become vacant.
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, said he pushed for the legislation after Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich was accused of trying to trade an appointment for a vacant U.S. Senate seat for political favors. He noted that Missouri already holds special elections to fill spots left open by state lawmakers and members of Congress.
"The people are the ones who get to decide who represents them, and that's how it should always be," he said.