Government

Attempt to abbreviate Iowa campaigns falls short

The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The State Capitol dome is illuminated by the sunset in Des Moines on Thursday, Feb. 16, 2017. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — A lawmaker’s idea to “shorten the agony” of political campaigns had a brief life in the Iowa Legislature.

Campaigns are “too long, too expensive and too unpleasant,” Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, said Monday during a subcommittee hearing on his bill, House File 55.

His plan was appreciated by fellow subcommittee members but seen as unworkable and unlikely to stop campaigning McKean said “goes on ad nauseam.”

“When I bring it up at forums I get a positive reaction,” he said, adding that he doubts it would be universally embraced.

McKean’s bill would move the primary election from the first Tuesday after the first Monday in June to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in September during even-numbered years.

McKean believes moving the primary date three months later into the year and three months closer to the general election means campaigns won’t have to start so early, sometime in February or March.

“People are tired of how long they drag on,” McKean said about campaigns that start as early as February.

But Rep. Mike Sexton, R-Rockwell City, thought it might have the opposite effect. Now, only the winners of the June primary are campaigning through the summer. Under McKean’s plan, Sexton said, the whole slate of primary and general election candidates would be campaigning through the summer.

“I appreciate what you’re trying to do,” Iowa City Democratic Rep. Vicki Lensing said. “I think the fall would be a nightmare. If you move everything back I think it will be a mess.”

County auditors and the Secretary of State’s Office opposed the change, telling McKean that it could create a problem for absentee voting and certifying general election candidates in time for auditors to mail ballots to overseas and military voters 45 days before the November election, as required by federal law.

“I kind of sense that we’re not at a point to move forward,” McKean said after hearing the discussion.

In response to McKean, Heidi Burhans, state administrator of elections, said the Secretary of State’s Office might be willing to consider moving the primary from spring to summer, but not as late as September.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 17 states have June primaries, 13 in August, eight in May and seven — Delaware, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and South Carolina — have September primaries.

McKean also has bills to make county offices non-partisan, limit campaign contributions and address civility in campaign communications.

l Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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