By Jim Galloway
House Speaker David Ralston and Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle were at the Georgia World Congress Center on Monday to welcome the National Conference of State Legislatures to their four-day gathering in Atlanta.
Before and after, the two state Capitol leaders discussed the possibility of moving the 2014 primary to May 20 – the earliest date in Georgia history. Cagle declared himself “fairly neutral.” Ralston was less so.
Neither man ascribed the change to concern over the Republican outcome in next year’s U.S. Senate race, or the presence of Michelle Nunn, who has been endorsed by Washington Democrats with open wallets.
Cagle noted that a federal judge has already ordered the contest moved to June 3. Georgia’s traditional mid-July date, followed by a runoff three weeks later, failed to comply with a 45-day cushion between the two votes mandated by federal law -- out of concern for ballots cast overseas by military personnel.
“Any date change would have to be cleared with the judge, and there’s still a legal process ensuing. But an earlier day toward the end of May – with school still being in – could be very beneficial,” Cagle said.
Ralston offered a more direct endorsement. “I think the idea has merit. I think it makes a lot of sense,” he said, noting that the date selected by the judge was the first day following the Memorial Day
“I live close to states that have primaries earlier than that – Tennesee and North Carolina. This is not a novel idea. It may be a little different for Georgia. We’re going to give it a thorough looking into,” the House speaker said.
While a federal judge has seized control of next year’s calendar for federal elections, the state Legislature would have to approve any move to align state elections, for governor on down, with those for Congress.
But that would move qualifying for those races to March 3 – during the middle of the General Assembly’s annual meeting.
State Rep. Ed Rynders, R-Albany, was one of dozens of Georgia lawmakers at the NCSL gathering. He said legislators might extract a price for moving the primary to May 20.
State lawmakers are banned from raising campaign contributions while in session, which often doesn’t end until April. This spring, an attempt was made – then abandoned – to extend that fundraising ban to any challengers they might face. With an election so quick on the heels of adjournment, Rynders said that effort might be revived.
“Opponents could be coerced into taking cash if they come out against a bill,” the Albany lawmaker said.
Ralston said the idea required some thought. “That may come back up for discussion. It will certainly be in a different context now. The question now is, does the dynamic change enough – moving the date up that much? We’re open to talking about it,” he said.