Inside the Capitol

Thursday, April 16, 2009

4-20 Why Governors Veto?

Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Every governor seems to have his own style for signing and vetoing bills. Gov. Gary Johnson gained notoriety for vetoing more bills than any other governor in state, and maybe even national, history.
Johnson had a libertarian philosophy but knew he'd have to run as a Republican in order to get elected. Libertarians believe in limited government and Johnson figured that vetoing bills was a great way to limit government.
Gov. Bruce King vetoed a great many bills also. His motivation wasn't especially philosophical. It was practical. He had a favorite explanation about how he introduced and passed many bills during his first year as a legislator.
But then King noticed during the remainder of that year that most of his new legislation didn't seem to work out quite the way he had expected. So the following year he introduced legislation to repeal much of what he'd accomplished the first year.
King decided that most legislation isn't really needed. In fact, one year, he even vetoed a bill that his wife, Alice, was championing. The following year that bill passed very quickly and was signed even quicker -- complete with an elaborate signing ceremony.
I also recall Gov. Johnson doing something similar to his first lady, Dee. Johnson always insisted he never looked at the name on the bills he was vetoing. No one had a bit of reason to doubt that statement because Republican legislative leaders suffered just as many vetoes as anyone else.
Democrats had fun trying to override bills introduced by Republican leaders. It requires two-thirds of both houses to override a veto and enough Republicans always stuck together to support their governor even when it meant voting against their own bill.
On the other end of the spectrum are governors who vetoed very few bills. Their motivations were somewhat harder to discern. Vetoes must be explained but signings don't.
One possible explanation is that these governors were nice guys who didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings and figured who were they to override a decision of the Legislature. If you still believe in the Easter bunny, that's probably a pretty good answer.
A more likely explanation is that governors who veto few bills want to build as many good relationships with lawmakers as they can in order to get as many of their own legislative initiatives passed.
Former President George W. Bush developed his own style. He didn't veto a bill for several years after he became president. But he created what he called signing statements in which he essentially said he was going to carry out only those parts of the bill with which he agreed.
That could be something that happens with New Mexico governors except on a much more subtle basis.
Gov. Bill Richardson is one of those governors who doesn't veto many bills. There is speculation that he is using his signing or veto power as a bargaining chip with lawmakers, especially the top ones.
Two bills on Richardson's desk following the 2009 legislative session raised many questions about what Richardson might be up to. One was the bill to open conference committees to the public, press and other lawmakers.
Conference committees are the closed sessions legislative leaders hold to iron out differences between similar bills passed by the House and Senate.
For a decade lawmakers, with support of the press, have fought to open these meetings. Only the six legislators involved in the conference committees get to know what is going on. The other 106 lawmakers are as much in the dark as the general public.
Gov. Richardson always had said he would sign such a bill if one ever made it through the legislative process. But when one did this year, Richardson backtracked. He also surprised on another bill to restrict state employee double dipping.
We'll discuss those in depth soon.
MON, 4-20-09

JAY MILLER, 3 La Tusa, Santa Fe, NM 87505
(ph) 982-2723, (fax) 984-0982, (e-mail)



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