Initiative proponents and consultants often calculate in which election they would like their ballot measures to appear. So when I heard that a bill in the California legislature would eliminate the February California presidential primary for 2012, I wondered if a little politics was at play.

The bill’s author, Assemblyman Paul Fong (D-Cupertino), insists that the reason for eliminating the February primary and joining the presidential primary to the primaries of state officials in June is a cost saving measure. Keeping the February presidential primary would make three statewide elections in 2012. And, this after a possible special election this summer, supposedly a non-election year.

However, in initiative-mad California, eliminating a potential election day can change the strategy for certain ballot measure proponents who, like grand master chess players, often make their move to file an initiative depending on which election the proposition will appear.

Other states are looking to get rid of early primaries that were created last presidential cycle so the states would have a relevant role in nominating presidential candidates. The Los Angeles Times’ Mark Z. Barabak yesterday had a good synopsis of the potential changes coming for the 2012 presidential primaries.

It is already understood that those supporting conservative measures usually prefer qualifying their propositions on the June primary ballot in California. Turnout is often lower in the primary than the November general election. Those who turn out to vote in greater numbers tend to be older voters of a more conservative bent. General elections tend to bring younger and more liberal voters to participate.

With a presidential primary ballot in California, the only items on the ballot would be the presidential candidates and the ballot propositions. With President Barack Obama in a strong position in his party, there will be little, if any, opposition on the Democratic side. That means there is little incentive for Democratic voters to come to the polls unless they are motivated by an initiative on the ballot.

On the other hand, a hotly contested Republican primary could pull a larger than usual Republican turnout. Any proposition on the ballot that has a stronger appeal to Republican voters would stand a better chance of passing.

Eliminating the February presidential primary would take care of this potential advantage.

California employed a February presidential primary during the last presidential election cycle hoping the most populous state would have a say in nominating the Democratic and Republican nominee. However, by primary Election Day, the election on the Republican side was pretty much decided for John McCain and Barack Obama had a strong hold on the Democratic nomination, although California went for Hillary Clinton.

There were seven ballot measures on that 2008 ballot. The most prominent was a change to the term limit law that was defeated.

Consider if a February 2012 presidential primary ballot, along with a hotly contested Republican presidential race, contained measures like a spending limit or pension reform. Public union leaders or Democratic legislators would not like the odds in such an election. If the presidential primary was joined with the regularly scheduled June primary election there is a good chance that a Republican front runner would be established by then, taking away the draw of voters choosing in a closely contested nominating battle.

So, while I agree with Assemblyman Fong that we don’t need an added election because that will save money and avoid election voter fatigue, I am sure that there are political operatives who are watching this bill for reasons that have to do with playing Election Day politics – either to weigh when to file initiatives or to prepare opposition to same.