Bill Gardner's Textualism

Any remaining confusion about the 2008 presidential character can be laid at the feet of one man: New Hampshire’s Secretary of State, William Gardner. The moment Gardner sets the date is the moment the confusion vanishes.

When it comes to the, Mr. Gardner is a strict constructionist of the Scalia variety. New Hampshire MUST hold its primary seven days before any other delegate-producing contest. It must preserve its status as the first-in-the-nation primary. Gardner’s worldview is circumscribed by the narrow language of New Hampshire state law. And this year, that might be a problem, because the real reason Gardner is empowered to set the date has little to do with the text of the law and has everything to do with a subject that the law does not address: the influence New Hampshire exerts on the rest of the calendar.

The Catch 22: If Gardner, sitting in his Concord silo, follows the letter of the law, he will probably wind up reducing New Hampshire’s influence. If he broadens the scope of his consideration to include New Hampshire’s influence, then he probably cannot follow the letter of the law and will be forced to make compromises.

Mr. Gardner knows that the Democratic National Committee is ready to permit Nevada to move its caucuses to Jan. 12. Gardner seems to have already rejected the idea that, as a “caucus”, Nevada would be irrelevant to his date-setting decision. So – subtracting seven days from Jan. 12 gives you Jan. 5. But Gardner knows, too, that the Iowa Republican Party (and the Iowa Democratic Party, probably) have arrived at a Jan. 3 date for their caucuses. What about Wyoming? If Gardner wants to schedule his primary for January, he’ll have to ignore that state’s Jan. 5 Republican convention.

If Gardner is a strict constructionist, your New Hampshire will be in December.

Rep. Jim Splaine (D-NH), the inventor of New Hampshire’s primary language and a close friend of Bill Gardner’s, has floated the idea of a Dec. 11 primary, arguing that “A NH Primary on or around December 11th would mean that after our event, the "winners" and those "exceeding expectations" would be exposed to a great deal of nationwide analysis during the Holiday Season as to just why they did so well, or not, and how their showing in New Hampshire will affect the next race in Iowa and other states beginning the first week of January. That contributes to the respected "impact" of the NH lead-off primary, and sets us in good position to remain first and relevant for 2012 and beyond.”

A horrible idea, responded Kathy Sullivan, the former state party chair.

1. It will be the end of the primary going forward into the future. While we'll still schedule one, the candidates won't come. Why? Because we will have proven what we have denied all these years: that we are arrogant people who only care about New Hampshire, and that we want to go first just because we want to go first, not because of grass roots politics, not because of our dedication to democracy. Say goodbye to the primay, and turn the lights off behind you!

2. There are about 48 states very unhappy with Michigan and Florida right now, for ignoring the party rules and moving their primaries up, exacerbating frontloading and putting chaos into the calendar. New Hampshire needs allies to keep our position, If we go before Christmas, we will lose whatevere good will we have left.

3. A December 11 primary will not enhance a candidate's chances nomination chances. It will make the results irrelevant. Why? Because the results will be lost in the shuffle of the Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays, college football playoffs, and the three weeks before the Iowa caucus. We will not matter - and frankly, if we move the primary into December, nearly a year before the general election, we don't deserve to matter.

For what it's worth, almost everyone in New Hampshire -- aside from Gardner's own circle of friends -- agrees with Sullivan.