California Politics: The Governor’s Almighty Veto

The controls and balances between the California legislature and the executive are intended to allow the legislature to make laws, the governor to block those laws if they choose, and lawmakers – when they feel strong enough – to replace the governor and put them into practice .

But the final component of that structure has been inactive for more than 40 years as more than a generation of lawmakers have refused to challenge the governors’ vetoes of both parties against a bill – even if the legislature overwhelmingly supports a bill.

A veto override should be rare. But shouldn’t it exist?


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41 years and counting

Until then-Gov. Jerry Brown was in his second unsuccessful presidential run and his relationship with the legislature had deteriorated. A stuttering economy was bad enough for lawmakers; a governor charging battlefield states instead of solving problems in Sacramento made matters worse.

As a result, Brown made history when the legislature voted so many times to overturn his veto. By the spring of 1980, the legislature had overruled the governors’ veto four times within eight months. Her disdain for Brown’s actions was unmistakable.

“The governor and his veto are about as great as a popgun for lawmakers and lobbyists these days,” the Times reported on March 24, 1980.

It was also the last time a California governor’s veto was lifted. Researchers from the state’s Senate Research Bureau report that there have been 8,710 vetoes over the past four decades, but none have been overridden by the Senate and the Assembly. This period of undisputed governorship has spanned the tenure of six governors – three Democrats, three Republicans – and endured even during bitter public order battles.

Numbers and Necessity

A veto override is difficult to implement due to the design and requires a two-thirds majority of each house. And for much of the past 40 years, California governance has been divided between Democrats and Republicans. While the Democrats held a majority of the seats in both houses for most of the time, they should have needed the GOP legislators to override the vetoes before 2012 – a difficult thing to do during the tenure of two Republican governors, George Deukmejian and Pete Wilson could be reached.

But for most of the last decade, the Democrats had a super majority in both houses of the legislature. And Brown seemed to have learned something from the shameful veto overrides of the past in his second round as governor.

For starters, he gave the legislature more leeway as he saw fit. Legal records show that no governor in modern history has fewer vetoes as a percentage of bills in any given year – less than 2% of bills in 1982 – than Brown.

“There is a term called comity,” he told me in an interview in 2012 when I asked him about his increasing reluctance to accept a veto law. “That’s a good old word, Comity. It is the respect that one institution or branch of government owes another. And I follow this spirit. “

But by this point in his career, Brown had also perfected the art of negotiating with lawmakers before bills hit his desk. Early involvement in the process ensured that sweeping policy proposals were more to his taste.

Much of that spirit has continued over the past three years under Governor Gavin Newsom, although successive years of government during the COVID-19 pandemic have also limited the legislature’s workload and, as a result, fewer bills have made it through the process.

Newsom completed its review of the 2021 proposals last weekend, signing 770 bills and vetoing just 66. This veto rate of 7.89% was the lowest of all governors since the administration. Gray Davis in 2003. (The all-time record is held by Brown, who vetoed 1.8% of the bills on his desk in 1982.)

Perhaps the most fascinating part of the 2021 Bill’s signing season is how many of the rejected bills have had overwhelming or bipartisan legislative support.

Of the 66 bills that Newsom vetoed, all but 10 passed both Houses by a two-thirds majority or more – the same threshold required for the veto to be lifted but likely not to trigger such action if the legislature is in January meets again.

Even a careful reading of the governor’s veto messages did not always provide a clear explanation for his actions.

Assembly Act 70, passed in a bipartisan vote in both Houses, would have introduced a state review process for companies that make synthetic genes and manufacture the devices that make them. Newsom contested, insisting in part that the projected estimated $ 4.2 million public health service cost should not be imposed outside of the annual state budget process.

Newsom also blocked Congregation Bill 603, which would have required the online disclosure of legal settlements of alleged police misconduct. The objection in his official statement was that the information can be obtained through public filing requests and court documents rather than being made available on government agency websites.

Then there was Assembly Bill 418, which both chambers passed without a single dissenting vote, designed to provide state emergency officers with new guidelines for awarding grants to local governments during planned power outages during the forest fire season. Newsom’s veto message was essentially that his government needed more flexibility in issuing emergency funds and again relied on concerns about the state’s budget process.

Not all lawmakers are so deferential

While there is no way of knowing for sure what lawmakers will do when they return for the new year, there was no reason for a vote to overturn any of these vetoes, despite the fact that the bills have received widespread support and in some cases with relatively little cost to the taxpayer.

It should be noted that while the California Democrats do not want to overturn the governor of their own party, this has not stopped veto overrides in other states. In April, Arkansas Republican lawmakers overruled Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto of a bill banning gender reassignment treatment for minors. And in July, Hawaii Governor David Ige’s veto of a bill to change the structure of state tourism funding was overridden by his Democrats.

Bottom line: In California, a governor’s veto has become the last word.

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California’s political blitz

– Los Angeles City Councilor Mark Ridley-Thomas was charged Wednesday on federal charges of accepting bribes from a USC dean to direct millions of dollars in public funds to the university.

– Ridley-Thomas, 66, is the third member of LA City Council to be charged with federal corruption charges in the past two years.

– The California attorney general’s office has charged the executive director of the state’s largest union with crimes, alleging an investigation into possible campaign finance violations found Alma Hernández and her husband undervalued their income by more than $ 1.4 million to evade taxes.

– California will ban sales of new gas-powered lawnmowers, leaf blowers and chainsaws as early as 2024 under a new law signed by Newsom last weekend.

– Newsom vetoed laws that would have allowed cannabis products to be advertised on freeway billboards in most parts of California.

– George Skelton writes that Newsom made the right decisions about laws related to fishing and “ghost guns”.

– California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, have been hit by lawsuits challenging their students’ vaccination regulations for COVID-19, alleging vaccines were too new and unvaccinated children were discriminated against and their equal rights to a public denied education.

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