State Senator Says "Assured" By Governor 2016 Presidential Primary A Special Session Item

May 19, 2015

Arkansas State Capitol building.
Credit Chris Hickey / KUAR News

An Arkansas legislator behind an effort to move up the state’s 2016 presidential primary from May to March says Governor Asa Hutchinson has “assured” him an opportunity to do so in "a" special session. State Senator Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) on Monday said he was still waiting for the governor's official call adding the primary move up to a special session convening May 26 to consider an economic development super project.

"I'll tell you what, Governor Hutchinson has always been a man of his word and he assured me that he would bring this back up during one of the special sessions. I did not know that we were going to have a special session this early but I think it's good that we do it."

A special session is also a likely in the future to address recommendations of a task force looking into the state's healthcare system and Medicaid expansion.

Stubblefield said it might differ from legislation he presented in the regular session by moving all primaries up, and not just the presidential primary. During the session he sponsored a more limited bill that separated the presidential primary from other primary contests. The bill to move only the presidential primary from the third Tuesday in May to the first Tuesday in March passed in the Senate but died in a House committee. 

The Republican from rural west Arkansas contends the change in date could increase Arkansas’s influence in national politics by grouping the state in an earlier month with other Southern states in a so-called SEC Primary – referencing the college sports conference.

"We've always been really irrelevant. Arkansas has been and so have many of the other Southeastern Conference states. I think this will bring us back to relevancy. I just got back from Savannah, Georgia and I've talked to some guys from Florida too and they've moved their primary forward just for this."

Sutbblefield noted that it's a particularly interesting idea since two presidential candidates have called the Governor's Mansion home, Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee.

The shift in date would move Arkansas’s primary from near last to a growing mass of states considering a March 1st 2016 presidential primary. That date is the earliest the Republican National Committee allows after the first four contests in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada. Georgia, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas are among those in the new Southern primary bloc. Alabama may also make the shift.

Governor Hutchinson announced on May 11th at a meeting of the Political Animals Club that he would call a special session to convene May 26th. Its primary focus is passing an incentives package to help Lockheed Martin secure a multi-billion dollar military contract for operations in Camden.

Hutchinson’s spokesman J.R. Davis said in an e-mail to KUAR that, “the Governor will make an announcement regarding agenda items on Wednesday."