Opinion: Think NH Will Let Another State's Primary Go First? Think Again

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When will the primary and caucus season for 2012 officially start? Ask Bill Gardner, the Secretary of State of New Hampshire.

Gardner started his career in New Hampshire politics as a state representative, and was elected Secretary of State in 1976 by the state legislature and has remained in that office under both Democratic and Republican legislatures. I suspect he’s the longest serving SOS, and as such, Gardner is the most ardent defender and protector of the New Hampshire “First-in-the-Nation” presidential primary system.

Lean and intense, Gardner is a true believer that an orderly and sequential presidential selection process, one that will allow candidates to plan ahead, present themselves to voters in the two small and politics-friendly states of Iowa followed a week later by New Hampshire.

That’s the proper order of the political universe and Gardner does not suffer fools who want to move the calendar around.

After all what would life in American be like if celebrated New Years followed by Christmas? It’s just not right!

When I met with Gardner in his very comfortable, lived-in office in Concord he told many tales of upstart governors or Secretaries of State (including Iowa’s Chet Culver) who tried to mess with the orderly sequence in the past. Garner always prevailed.

His suite of offices is full of presidential election memorabilia, which he shows any visitor like a prod dad sharing pictures of his grandchildren. There is an imposing oak table at which he sits presidential wannabes so they can fill out the New Hampshire primary ballot form and write their obligatory check to the state.

There are pictures of every presidential contender of note and thus every President of the United States with Bill proudly gleaming. His office is one of the mandatory stops on the pilgrimage to political success.

Bill Gardner is the Godfather of political primaries. Gardner is so legendary that the Twitter hash tagged #BillGardnerFacts is growing like wildfire. Here are a few of my favorite tweets.

Bill Gardner was challenged to a staring contest in first grade. He didn't blink until he was 12

    In his high school yearbook, students were listed alphabetically. Gardner had the alphabet changed to begin with G.
    God wanted to create the world in 11 days. Bill Gardner said seven.
    Bill Gardner doesn't watch weather forecasts. He tells it when to snow.
    One day Bill Gardner decided he didn't want to pay a sales tax ever again. The rest is history. (New Hampshire has no sales tax)
    Bill Gardner was challenged to a staring contest in first grade. He didn't blink until he was 12

The law in New Hampshire is still written so that anyone who can file and write a check can run for president in New Hampshire - its partly good business,  it’s also a Yankee sense of fairness that the privilege of running for the nations highest office should be open to as many people as possible and not limited to professional politicians. It makes for a large and interesting list.

Of course, I reminisce about my fascinating hour chatting with Gardner a few years ago because he has again unsheathed his sword and threatened the upstarts with severe penalties if they upset the election calendar. (Truth in reporting: I have a fishing cabin on a lake in New Hampshire and love that state but I live and vote in Iowa.)

His threat to move the New Hampshire Primary to December if Nevada moves its caucuses up to January 14 is not idle threat. He’ll move it to November if he has to! Never mind Nevada’s disrespectful claim that “it’s time to start a new tradition.” That’s an oxymoron. Tradition is tradition.

Steffen W. Schmidt is University Professor of Political Science and Public Policy at Iowa State University and Chief Political Correspondent of Insider Iowa.