December 18, 2001
LEGISLATIVE HISTORY OF CHALLENGE PRIMARY LAW
By: Mary M. Janicki, Assistant Director
You asked for the legislative history of the change in the challenge primary law that reduced, from 20% to 15%, the percentage of convention delegate support, a candidate must have to receive a political party endorsement.
In 1993, the General Assembly passed PA 93-342, “An Act Concerning Nominations Procedures for State-Wide and District Offices,” which reduced, from 20% to 15%, the percentage of the nominating convention vote a candidate for state or district office must receive in order to force a primary. The legislation started in the Government Administration and Elections (GAE) Committee as a proposal to change the nominating procedures in the state's election laws to allow direct primaries for state and Congressional offices (HB 7002, “An Act Providing for Direct Primaries for State and District Office”). The House amended it to apply the direct primary method to candidates for all district offices, including multi-town seats in the General Assembly.
The Senate added its own amendment deleting the direct primary provisions and replacing them with the reduction in the required percentage of delegate support. Finally, the House passed the Senate version, which the governor signed.
The substitute bill the GAE Committee drafted and sent to the House would have established a direct primary system for state and congressional candidates. It included the procedures for requesting, circulating, filing, and certifying petition forms similar to those that candidates for municipal offices must follow to force a primary for their party's nomination. The bill was one of several introduced that session on the direct primary (SB 362, SB 761, HB 6000, and HB 7002). At the committee's February 18, 1993 public hearing on the bills, the following individuals or organizations supported them:
● then-Secretary of the State Pauline Kezer
● People for a Direct Primary
● Congress of Connecticut Democrats
● Connecticut Citizen Action Group
● Legislative Electoral Action Program
● We the People
● A Connecticut Party
● Common Cause
● Lavender Stripe Democratic Club
Ed Marcus, then chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee, submitted testimony through Ellen Zoppo, the State Central Committee's press secretary, which was unanimously endorsed by the state central committee. It read in part: “I am totally opposed to a direct primary, and indeed, I believe that to reduce the 20% threshold would be a mistake as well.”
Ed Sederquist, “an active member of a party and legislative campaigns,” also opposed all the direct primary bills and presented the results of his research on 20 years of prior campaigns. He concluded that the 20% rule did not impose a significant barrier to candidates who wanted to challenge party-endorsed candidates.
The GAE Committee unanimously approved the direct primary measure in HB 7002. The House sent the file to the Appropriations Committee, which approved it by a vote of 41-6, with no changes.
The bill, considered a major piece of legislation for the session, was made the Order of the Day in the House for Tuesday, May 11 at 2 p.m. At that time, Representative Miles Rapoport, the GAE Committee chairman, brought the bill out and made the following points regarding the 20% rule in a long debate on direct primaries.
What are the sum of the key flaws of the 20% rule? Number one, it makes Connecticut's election law out of kilter with other states around the country….Secondly, this rule, different as it is from other states, can be used and has been used to deny legitimate strong candidates with something to offer to our political process from even having the opportunity of presenting their case to the voters…. Thirdly, I think the current system of requiring the 20% presupposes that somehow our party leaders and our town committees and our party committees know better than the voters of our parties what makes a good candidate….Finally,…we have a gubernatorial election coming up and other statewide elections in 1994. … This bill will give those people [Democratic and Republican candidates] the opportunity to spend the next year taking their case to the voters of their party, testing out their ideas, seeing whether they have vision for the state and vision for the future of our economy and our state, rather than spending the time…going through the delegate selection process, calling delegates one by one on the phone, spending time hoping to get town committee endorsements, going to influential party elders in different Congressional districts.
The House adopted House Amendment “A,” which modified the signature distribution requirement in the original bill. Representative Stephen Dargan called House Amendment “B,” which members debated extensively. It proposed to extend the direct primary provision to candidates for all district offices, not just those for representative in Congress, and made the minimum signature requirement for primary petitions 5% of the enrolled party members in the district (the same as the requirement for petitioning municipal candidates under current law). The strongest argument for the amendment was consistency in the nomination process for candidates for all district offices in the state, as opposed to a dual system. The bill's sponsor, Representative Rapoport argued against extending a direct primary system to the General Assembly, claiming it was unlikely to pass in the Senate. He made the appeal that a change to the more progressive nominating system for some candidates was preferable to none at all. On a roll call vote, the House “B” passed 103-47. Other House amendments on the signature requirements, cross-endorsements for candidates, and the registrars of voters' certification duty failed.
The House passed the bill, as amended by House “A” and “B,” by a vote of 128-19.
On June 7, the Senate took up the amended bill (File 746, substitute House Bill 7002, as amended by House Amendments “A” and “B”) and adopted its own amendment that deleted all of the primary provisions and substituted the lower convention delegate vote threshold for challenging an endorsed candidate in a primary. Senator William DiBella, the GAE Committee chairman, proposed the amendment. No one else spoke in favor of it. Senators Genuario and Lovegrove opposed it as more restrictive than the original bill. It was adopted by a vote of 23-13. The amended bill passed by a vote of 28-8.
When the bill went back to the House the next day, Representative Rapoport said: “The choice we have today is whether to make a small change for the better, I believe, in the nominating system or making no change at all.” After another lengthy debate, the House passed the Senate version of the bill, 116-28. The governor signed it on June 29 and it became effective October 1, 1993.