Nelson said Friday Florida Dems are prepared to pursue legal action against the DNC.
WASHINGTON (CNN) - The Democratic National Committee on Saturday rejected a plan submitted by Florida Democrats to hold their presidential primary on Jan. 29, setting up a potential legal showdown between the national and state parties over the seating of delegates at next year's Democratic National Convention.
Anticipating this would happen, Sen. Bill Nelson and other Florida Democratic lawmakers threatened on Friday to sue the DNC if the national party barred Sunshine State delegates from attending the convention.
"If the Democratic National Committee sanctions Florida then some of us (in) the Florida congressional delegation may ask an appropriate legal venue to determine whether or not a political parties rules can supersede someone's right to vote," Nelson said in a conference call with reporters.
The DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee declared that Jan. 29 was not in compliance with its rules and therefore rejected the proposal. The DNC prohibits any state other than Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina from holding a nominating contest before Feb. 5. Florida’s primary date was approved by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Charlie Crist.
At the meeting, held in a downtown Washington, D.C., hotel, Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman argued that it was Florida Republicans who muscled the legislation through the state legislature to change the primary date. Thurman’s argument was not enough to persuade members of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee.
Florida Democrats now have 30 days to submit an alternative plan to the DNC.
James Roosevelt Jr., co-chair of the DNC Rules and Bylaws Committee, said his panel’s action was justified because the nominating calendar was constructed in a way to give traditionally underrepresented Democratic constituencies a role in helping select the party’s 2008 presidential nominee.
“The rules for the primaries and caucuses were developed in a very open and thorough process over almost two years … and they had a principle of creating fairness and openness, geographic, racial, ethnic and economic diversity,” he said. “What happened today was simply to say the rules stay in place.”
The DNC previously had allowed Nevada and South Carolina to move their contests into January to help bolster diversity into the party’s presidential nominating process. While Iowa and New Hampshire are chiefly Caucasian, South Carolina has a large black population and Nevada boasts a growing Hispanic population and has a strong union presence.
Should the Florida Democratic Party ignore the DNC's ruling and move forward with a Jan. 29 primary, it will face sanctions including having all of its 210 delegates banned from attending the convention being held in late August in Denver. This is what Nelson and his Florida Democratic colleagues have vowed to fight.
Allan Katz, a DNC member from Florida who sits on the Rules and Bylaws Committee, told CNN he is “hopeful that we will be able to get past this disappointment and come up with an alternate plan.” Katz said one proposal under consideration is to have a caucus in February where the Democratic delegates for the convention would be officially chosen. Under this scenario, the Jan. 29 primary would in essence become what is being described as a “beauty contest.”
“I think right now what happens is the Florida Democratic leaders … look up and say okay the plan that we wanted is not going to work,” Katz said. “We've been told that definitively. We want to be at the convention. We want to have people elected as delegates. We want to have a party building activity. I believe a caucus process is the best process to go forward.”
Florida is not the only state considering moving their nominating contest into January, causing both the DNC and its counterpart, the Republican National Committee, a major headache. The RNC has similar restrictions on states, with the exception of Iowa and New Hampshire, from holding a nominating contest before Feb. 5.
The Michigan legislature is moving forward with a bill that would hold its Democratic and Republican primaries on Jan. 15 and the South Carolina Republican Party has already declared it will hold its primary on Jan. 19.
With so many issues unresolved, the primary calendar remains up in the air less than five months before the first votes for president are cast.
Under the DNC calendar, Iowa is scheduled to hold its caucuses on Jan. 14, followed by the Nevada caucuses on Jan. 19, the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 22 and the South Carolina primary on Jan. 29.
Officials in New Hampshire and Iowa either publicly or privately acknowledge that these dates are no longer viable given the rush by other states to hold similar contests in January.
On Saturday, the Rules and Bylaws Committee considered the 2008 state delegate selection plans for 33 states.
- CNN Political Editor Mark Preston