Pa. House approves '08 primary on Feb. 12

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HARRISBURG -- State Rep. Harry Readshaw admitted he was a bit surprised that his bill to move the state's 2008 presidential primary to Feb. 12 won so easily in the House yesterday.

House Bill 289 was approved 117-85. The Carrick Democrat claims Pennsylvania will have almost no influence over who becomes the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates if it holds an April 22 primary, as now planned.

But the earlier-primary proposal still has a tall mountain to climb -- the state Senate.

Mr. Readshaw wants the Senate to act on the bill before this weekend, when the Legislature begins its summer recess. He admitted the Feb. 12 primary is dead if the Legislature doesn't act until October or November, because county elections officials need at least 90 days to prepare for the primary, and candidates need time to circulate petitions.

The bill's success or failure depends in large part on how strongly Gov. Ed Rendell, a supporter of a February primary, gets involved, Mr. Readshaw said. Mr. Rendell previously has said he'd like a Feb. 5 primary. Several other states already plan a primary on that day, called "Super Duper Tuesday."

Mr. Rendell has said he'd like the Keystone State to have more influence over the two national party candidates.

Erik Arneson, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, noted the Senate has its hands full with other pending legislation, including the new state budget, a transportation aid package, a new slots-funded economic development fund and other measures.

"We have no plans to move the primary date," he said.

But Mr. Readshaw said he'll keep pushing. He said Pennsylvania is now basically irrelevant in the process of choosing presidential candidates, even though it's the sixth-largest state.

"We should empower the people of Pennsylvania to have influence in the presidential choices," said.

Rep. Matt Baker, R-Tioga, said bad weather could hamper turnout for a Feb. 12 primary. He noted the "Valentine's Day massacre" snowstorm of Feb. 14 this year, when several interstates in eastern Pennsylvania were shut down with ice for three days.

He also complained that with a Feb. 12 primary, candidates would have to seek petition signatures during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.

Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Lawrence, said, "Pennsylvania voters are tough. They can handle a February primary. I'm sure they can get to the polls. Senior citizens will go through 10 feet of snow to make their vote count."

Rep. Bill Kortz, D-West Mifflin, also supported the Feb. 12 primary. "Pennsylvania is a nonentity now for presidential candidates," he said. "We should be part of the process."


Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at tbarnes@post-gazette.com or 1-717-787-4254.


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