JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) – Missouri lawmakers are set to expand Gov. Jay Nixon’s already historic status as the state’s most overridden governor, a record the Democrat earned after years of clashing with a Legislature under virtually unchecked Republican control.
Since Nixon took office in 2009, lawmakers have overridden 83 of his vetoes of bills and budget expenditures nearly four times the combined total of all other governors’ overrides dating back to Missouri’s territorial days in the early 1800s.
It’s unknown where Nixon ranks on the charts of most overridden governors during the nation’s 240-year history, but he certainly appears unusual among contemporaries. And Nixon’s override tally is nearly certain to expand Wednesday when lawmakers consider more than 20 bills he vetoed this year, his last in office.
“I think it’s going to be a successful veto session,” predicted Republican House Majority Leader Mike Cierpiot.
Nixon’s distinction as Missouri’s most overridden governor is due partly to the rarity of Missouri’s politically divided government. He’s the only Missouri Democrat to govern opposite a Republican legislative supermajority at least since Reconstruction. Democrats held legislative supermajorities for part of Republican Gov. Christopher Bond’s tenure but overrode just one veto a bill related to nursing regulations, in 1976.
Nixon bristled when asked recently about his frequently overridden vetoes, accusing Republicans of enacting “bad policy.”
“They ought to at least have to answer to the public as to why is the record of having more times that they’ve overridden me more important than their philosophy of small government,” Nixon said.
Eleven other states also have politically divided governments, including Alaska, which is led by an independent governor and a Republican Legislature.
Yet not every executive leader of those states has faced the same level of pushback as Nixon. New Jersey’s Democratic Legislature, for example, has never overridden any of Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s hundreds of vetoes made during his more than six years in office.
But Democratic lawmakers in New Jersey need help from GOP members to overturn Christie. The override binge in Missouri began after Republicans obtained a supermajority in the House and Senate in 2013 giving them enough votes to reach the two-thirds majority benchmark without needing any help from Democrats.
In 2014 alone, the Legislature overrode Nixon on 11 bills and 47 line-item budget vetoes shattering Missouri’s previous single-year record of 12 veto overrides set in 1833, when a different constitution required only a simple majority vote. All of those overrides were on bills granting divorces to specific couples, something that is no longer a legislative matter.
Lawmakers of one party hold veto-proof majorities in just four other states with governors of the opposite party: Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts and West Virginia, where only a simple majority is needed to override.
Even in those states, veto showdowns are less frequent.
In Maryland, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed 12 bills and been overridden on six by the Democratic-led Legislature since he took office last year. Massachusetts’ Republican Gov. Charlie Baker tends to negotiate with Democratic lawmakers, and has primarily vetoed budget line-items during his two years in office.
Democrats who dominate the Illinois Legislature have overridden just one of 74 bills vetoed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner since he took office last year. However, the divided government has caused that state to go more than a year without a budget agreement the first time that’s happened anywhere since World War II.
In Missouri, Republican lawmakers are capitalizing on their numbers to steamroll Nixon.
In recent years, Missouri’s Republican-led Legislature has overridden him to enact the state’s first income tax rate cut in almost a century, impose a 72-hour waiting period for abortions and ban college scholarships for immigrants living illegally in the U.S. It’s also overridden Nixon on numerous lower-profile bills simply because it has the numbers to do so.
Bills on this year’s veto session agenda include a wide-ranging gun rights measure and a proposed requirement that voters present photo identification at the polls, as well as less-attention grabbing bills dealing with license fees and loose cows.
“Primarily it’s a conflict of policy ideas and philosophies, but more importantly I think it’s based on the numbers,” Cierpiot said. “The governor happens to be a governor during a time when Republicans are at the biggest majority we’ve ever been.”
Associated Press writers Michael Catalini in Trenton, New Jersey, Bob Salsberg in Boston and Brian Witte in Annapolis, Maryland, contributed to this report.
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