Inside the Capitol

Thursday, May 07, 2009

5-15 Who Is the King of Pocket Vetoes?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------By JAY MILLER
Syndicated Columnist
SANTA FE -- Gov. Bill Richardson is getting considerable press and blog space for being the "contemporary king of pocket vetoes," as Dave Maass of the Santa Fe Reporter puts it.
When a governor vetoes a bill, he includes an explanation of why he is overriding the collective thinking of a majority of lawmakers. But if he completely ignores a bill passed by the Legislature, it automatically dies at the expiration of the 20 days after a legislative session the governor is allotted for acting on legislation.
Many governor's act on every bill that comes to their desk. They feel they owe that to the sponsors and the majority of lawmakers who voted for it. Maass reports that there were no pocket vetoes between 1976 and 1995.
That covers all or part of the terms of Govs. Jerry Apodaca, Toney Anaya, Garrey Carruthers and Bruce King. Former Gov. Gary Johnson was surprised to learn that he had pocket vetoed a few bills.
He wanted to drop the hatchet on as many as he could and enjoyed being Gov. No. Possibly the bills arrived from the Legislature too close to the deadline for Gov. Johnson's consideration.
But the pocket veto is a tool Richardson has used often -- 258 times according to Maass. That's almost as many as President Franklin Roosevelt pocket vetoed in over 12 years in office, he says.
Gilbert Gallegos, Richardson's deputy chief of staff, told Maass he doesn't understand why pocket vetoes are a big deal. Gallegos explains Richardson will write a veto message if he believes it is necessary and practical. If there is no reason for a message, he will use his pocket veto authority.
Many of Richardson's vetoes involved what Gallegos says was the Legislature overstepping its authority. That could include lawmakers forming committees to oversee or share administrative functions or even take then over completely..
Virtually all governors veto bills that erode executive power. Our original state constitution created a weak executive, with power shared among several statewide elected officials. All governors have fought to keep as much of their remaining power as possible.
The only difference is that other governors would simply write a short veto message telling lawmakers that they were treading into executive branch responsibilities. Micromanaging some would call it.
In citing examples of legislators whose bills were pocket vetoed this year, Maass notes at least one who said as soon as his bill passed, he knew it would be vetoed. That would seem to prove Gallegos' point that there was no reason for a message.
But with current administrative scandals being investigated, there is a strong probability that the Legislature will continue working toward more legislative oversight -- and with more public support than they ever have had before.
Blogger Mario Burgos has another slant. He says Richardson uses pocket vetoes "to avoid putting himself in the crosshairs for making unpopular decisions. It's a way for him to appease legislators or special interests instead of making the hard decision by vetoing it."
But as Gallegos argues, "A veto is a veto." It doesn't matter whether it is a pocket veto. The governor takes the heat either way.
It appears Richardson definitely is the contemporary king of pocket vetoes, but for all time honors among New Mexico governors, former Gov. Edwin L. Mechem may be the champ.
I haven't been able to find the figures but during the almost eight years he was governor between 1951 and 1962, Mechem's name was synonymous with pocket vetoes.
I don't remember the reason Mechem gave for his inaction. I was a teenager during much of that period but I do remember that the street word was that Big Ed was just too lazy. Governors had much smaller staffs in those days so maybe Mechem didn't have much help.
But judging by his distinguished career on the federal bench in later years, I would guess that he figured a lot of bills didn't need to become law and most of those didn't even deserve an explanation.
FRI, 5-15-09

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



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