- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 12, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A special legislative session planned later this month is raising hopes among some Arkansas Republican lawmakers that they’ll get another chance to move up the state’s presidential primary as part of a southeastern regional nominating contest.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson told reporters the session he plans to convene May 26 could include the proposal to move up the presidential primary from May to March. Legislative leaders are also gauging support for a proposal to move up all of the state’s primaries and reschedule its legislative session that year.

The proposal to move up the presidential primary was approved by the state Senate, but never advanced beyond a House committee during the session that adjourned last month. The bill’s sponsor said he hopes Hutchinson will include the proposal on the call for a special session being convened to take up economic incentives to lure a major defense contract to the state.

“I just think it at least gives us a say in who the presidential primary candidate is going to be,” Sen Gary Stubblefield, a Republican from Branch, said. “Right now we really have no say at all.”

State officials have estimated the move would cost Arkansas an additional $1.5 million.

The move is part of an effort among several southeastern states to create a regional nominating contest that supporters have dubbed the “SEC primary,” after college sports’ Southeastern Conference. Arkansas officials have said the move would cost the state $1.5 million.

The proposal has the backing of state GOP Chairman Doyle Webb, who said he believed Arkansas would be likely to attract more presidential hopefuls if it’s earlier on the calendar. State Democratic Party Chairman Vince Insalaco has questioned whether the move is worth the cost.

In an effort to address concerns about cost, Senate President Jonathan Dismang said he’s been gauging support for moving all of the state’s primaries to March. Doing so would likely mean changing the date of the Legislature’s fiscal session, which is set to begin in February next year.

“That’s something I would be supportive of because it wouldn’t come with the additional cost splitting the primary would have,” said Dismang, a Republican from Beebe.

But that proposal still faces resistance. The top Democrat in the Senate, who voted against the SEC primary bill earlier this year, said he’s still opposed to moving the primary and said he’d prefer to keep it off the session’s agenda.

“To go down and start a debate and let this thing spill over, I think we would lose focus on what our real mission is,” Senate Minority Leader Keith Ingram, a Democrat from West Memphis, said.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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