Local Editorials

Regional primaries make sense

The mid-August Iowa Straw Poll (pay $35 and you get to vote!) already claimed a casualty – Republican presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty.

The Iowa caucuses will be Feb. 6, and the New Hampshire primary is set for Feb. 14. After that, the presidential field likely will thin out. Many people won’t get to participate with a full set of candidates, including Illinoisans on March 20.

Early contests in Iowa and New Hampshire, who insist on being first every time, give those tiny states disproportionate power in choosing the leader of the free world.

There must be a better way.

There is.

Regional presidential primaries were proposed more than two decades ago by then-U.S. Sen. Alan J. Dixon of Illinois.

A moderate Democrat, Dixon envisioned a system where the first primaries would rotate to different regions of the country so, eventually, every region could get the “first-in-the-nation” moniker and have real influence in deciding the next president.

Dixon, 84, who was senator from 1981 until 1993, still believes regional primaries are superior to today’s “ridiculous” process. He said so in an interview last week with Sauk Valley Media.

“I do think it’s a sound idea. I think it’s something we should do,” Dixon said.

A senior counsel with Bryan Cave LLP law firm, St. Louis, Dixon said the dominance of small states in choosing party nominees does the country no favors.

“No offense to Iowa or New Hampshire, but they really [aren’t] places to articulate issues as a whole,” he said.

In those small states, “The extremes tend to gain traction quicker and better,” Dixon said.

“What we really need is something that’s more reasonable in price and [for] the physical well-being of the candidates.”

Dixon’s bill would have divided the country into about five zones. Each zone would take a turn hosting the first primaries.

Candidates would focus on one region at a time, such as the Midwest or the South, thus reducing travel costs and improving other efficiencies.

However, the regional primary bill never caught on. Congressional leaders “didn’t see any groundswell to change,” Dixon said.

A trio of senators – Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn. – gave the idea another try. The Regional Presidential Primary and Caucus Act of 2007 would have split the country into four regions; after the 2012 Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, those regions would have taken turns hosting primaries. The bill died in committee.

It’s too late to reform the 2012 primary process, but not 2016. Klobuchar, Alexander and Lieberman should give it another try. We’d also like to see the current occupant of the Senate seat that Dixon once held – U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk – get involved.

Make Dixon’s plan a reality, restore balance to the process, and maybe better presidents will be elected in the future.

Goodness knows, the country will need them.

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