Exaggerating as so many readers do, Rusty DePass (who probably agrees with editors far more often than he thinks) expressed shocked pleasure that he actually agreed with something in an editorial in The State on Sunday.
He was referring to this passage in an edit about the issue of all those candidates disqualified from running in the June primaries:
The Legislature has to fix this problem.
That won’t be easy, but it must be done. And with the primaries just five weeks away, it must be done immediately. It would be difficult to keep the elections on schedule even if every member of the Legislature agreed to a solution. That won’t happen, so part of the solution needs to be delaying the primaries, which we shouldn’t hold until August to begin with…
I assured Rusty that advocating August primaries is a long-standing position of the editorial board. It certainly is of mine.
And it is of Rusty’s. Rusty takes credit for the one time state primaries were held at a rational time in all the years since I moved home to South Carolina — 1992, when a lawsuit over reapportionment delayed the vote.
Rusty tells the story this way: As head of the state election commission (or was the past chairman at this point? I forget now), he wrote to the judge in the remap case asking that the primaries be delayed on account of the legal action. He recalls with satisfaction that all the lawyers he knew were shocked and appalled that he would so address such a view to the judge in the midst of a lawsuit. But the judge read the letter aloud from the bench and said, that’s just what we’ll do.
I had forgotten that part of the story, but I remember how gratifying it was to have the primaries thus separated from the legislative session for once.
Even back when we had loads of reporters and other resources, June primaries were extremely difficult for the newspaper — and other news organizations — to cover adequately. The people who covered legislative and other state elections were the very same people who covered the Legislature. The legislative session didn’t end until the first week in June, and didn’t really, really end until the sine die return session a couple of weeks later.
That lack of coverage, of course, benefited incumbents enormously, because there were fewer opportunities for lesser-known challengers to get their names in the paper. And name recognition is a huge part of the battle.
But the timing benefits incumbents in other, more direct, ways. The reason reporters are so extremely busy in those last weeks of the legislative session is because that’s when almost everything of consequence in the session happens. And those weeks happen to be after the filing deadline for the primaries.
So it is impossible for anyone to decide to run against an incumbent (except as that long shot of long shots, a write-in) on the basis of how that incumbent votes on the most important votes of the session. Aside from the fact that even if the challenger had already filed, he or she will get little coverage.
It’s an absolutely ridiculous problem, which would be completely fixed by always holding the primaries in August, as some other states do (including Tennessee, the “other state” whose politics I have the most experience with).