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Capitol Perspectives: Veto Strategies

Phill Brooks
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Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon  (Photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (Photo: UPI/Bill Greenblatt)

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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (KMOX/Capitol Bureau) - This year, we’ve seen a new legislative strategy evolve to deal with vetoes by the governor.

It’s an attempt to prevent the governor from having months to rally public support against a bill before the September veto session.

Gov. Jay Nixon did that last year with the tax bill. He spent months traveling across the state warning that the tax cuts would hurt state support for local schools.

The resulting education opposition contributed to the decision by at least some of the House Republicans who voted to sustain Nixon’s veto.

In response, this year Republicans rushed the tax cut bill through the legislature and sent it to Nixon early enough that lawmakers could act on a veto override before the session ends in mid-May.

The House Speaker was candid about their objective. “During the session…our focus is to try to limit the governor to talking about the policy of the issue and not the politics, so he can’t campaign around the state for several months,” said Rep. Tim Jones, R-St. Louis County.

The strategy is not limited to Republicans.

When Nixon voiced concerns about the size of the legislature’s rewrite of the state’s criminal laws backed by both Republicans and Democrats, the Senate’s Democratic leader pushed for a final Senate vote early enough that a veto could be overridden before the session ended.

This new tactic is part of a gradual decline I’ve seen in the influence governors have to protect their vetoes.

At one time, the legislature could not even vote on some vetoes. There was no fall veto session at all. So when the legislature went home at the end of the General Assembly’s final session it was over.

The legislature fixed that with a constitutional amendment a few decades ago. They also got voter approval for a constitutional amendment that gave lawmakers a way to escape the governor’s powers over a bill by submitting it to the Missouri voters.

That’s what legislative leaders say they intend to do this year if they cannot override the governor’s tax-cut veto.

Another factor in the governor’s declining influence involves the perks that can be awarded to win votes. The increased emphasis on ethics has led to a decline of these government rewards that could be bestowed by a governor as personal favors.

Kit Bond got rid of low numbered auto license plates. Now, all sorts of specialty plates are available to anyone. But back in prior years, low numbered license plates were a big deal. They showed you had clout with the administration.

A far more powerful award a governor could bestow to a legislator or family was a fee office contract to provide Revenue Department services like driver’s license renewals for an extra fee charged for the transactions.

After years of criticism, the state put more emphasis on awarding fee offices to non-profit groups or by competitive bid.

Patronage perks like fee office contracts and state jobs are not completely gone, but they’re a far weaker tool for governors.

For many governors, however, those rewards were less important than the personal relationships they had with legislators from both sides of the aisle.

For some governors, those relationships were deep enough that a chief executive could ask a legislator to switch a vote as a personal favor.

Nixon, however, does not have many of these kinds of relationships with GOP lawmakers. Some of it strikes me as Nixon’s own fault.

He does not seem to go out of his way to develop the kind of friendships with his legislative opponents that I’ve seen other governors pursue.

Nixon even has abandoned the practice of regular public ceremonies in his office to sign every legislators’ bills, no matter how minor.

For some lawmakers, it was a big deal in developing a personal allegiance. It was a public acknowledgement by the state’s chief executive, in front of the media and cameras, of their accomplishments.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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