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California Legislature

California's 2020 presidential primary should be in early March, lawmakers decide

 (Christina House / For The Times)
(Christina House / For The Times)

California lawmakers gave final approval on Saturday to moving the state's primary elections to early March beginning in 2020, a renewed effort at relevance in the quadrennial presidential sweepstakes.

SB 568 would shift all primary elections — including those for statewide, legislative and congressional offices — to the first Tuesday in March, as long as it comes after the first Monday.

"Moving California's presidential primary to March from June means candidates in both parties can't treat immigration, climate change, criminal justice reform and investing in jobs and innovation like afterthoughts, as they did too often in 2016," state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens), the bill's author, said in a written statement.

California has tried to move its presidential primary in prior years as a way to entice Democratic and Republican candidates to come to the state and campaign. But in almost every election cycle, other states moved their primary or caucus even earlier, thus leaving California as a political also-ran.

Whether Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the bill into law is unclear. In 2011, he agreed to a plan by lawmakers to permanently hold all primary elections in June. This bill would undo that, prompted by Democrats who lamented the state again missing real presidential relevance in 2016. Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination just before California voters went to the polls.

Republican opponents said the early primary would, in turn, force candidates to file their candidacy papers for state offices as early as the December before the election year. They argued that would dissuade some newcomers from challenging incumbents who already might have amassed a large campaign war chest.

"Some of you may love that, but I don't think it's right for the voters," said Assemblyman Matt Harper (R-Huntington Beach).

Brown has until Oct. 15 to act on the bill, along with dozens of others sent to him before the Legislature was to adjourn for the year early on Saturday morning.

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