By TERESSA GENETTI-SCOTT
Elected officials and party leaders from eight Western states are in Salt Lake City today to recommend a date for the Western Presidential primary for the year 2000.
The task force, organized by the Western Governors’ Association and the Council of State Government, will try to agree on a date for the eight states to hold their presidential primaries for the year 2000.
Utah Governor Mike Leavitt, who spearheaded the idea of a Western primary, said a coordinated primary will increase the Western region’s influence.
“The purpose is … to make the West a strategic building block in the presidential nomination process. A place where the candidates come early and often to develop organizations, develop relationships and get to know the people,” said Leavitt in a May 1998 meeting about the Western Primary.
Leavitt supports holding Western primaries as early as March to maximize the region’s influence.
“An alignment of the Western primary with a California or Pacific Coast primary one week earlier or later could upset the current process. Instead of an east-to-west process, picture a process that unfolds west-to-east,” he said.
In addition to Utah, seven other states have committed to the Western primary. They include Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming.
Jim Geringer, governor of Wyoming and chairman of the Western Governors’ Association, said he has made the Western primary a priority. He said the issues important to the interior West have been virtually ignored in previous elections.
He said, “If several states band together to hold a primary, we increase the odds that the voice of the West will carry beyond our borders.”
Because primary elections in western states have been scattered, presidential primaries in the past have not carried as much clout as regions that coordinate primaries. In 1996, presidential delegates were all but decided after the New England and South region primaries that March.
The conference will also feature two noted political analyzers who will be there to advise task force.
Dick Wirthlin, pollster and political advisor to former President Ronald Reagan, will advise the task force on how presidential candidates decide to spend time, money and effort in campaigns.
Cecil Andrus, chairman of the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, will counsel the task force on the possible impact of an early March date. Andrus’s perspective in politics comes from working both on the state and national level. He served four years as governor in Idaho and as Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior under the Carter administration.
Once the task force recommends a date, each state legislature will have until July to take action.
In a September meeting for the Western primary, North Dakota and South Dakota were also included as members of the primary. However, delegates opted not to participate.