Lingle’s Veto Ratio Is Abysmal

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 18, 2007
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To veto, or not to veto, that is the question the governor has to answer. The Legislature must answer the question, to override or not to override. It’s a dramatic part of the political process.

Overall, the governor’s people did well in counting their votes, because when the dust cleared, Governor Lingle had vetoed 27 bills the House and Senate were only able to override 11 of them.

It’s not a test of political power as much as a test of political will. For years, Hawaii’s state legislators had to live with the fact that they had never overridden a gubernatorial veto. In point of fact, it was not until the year 2001 that they finally mustered the moral fortitude to override a bill related to the “Age of Consent.” In the eight years of Gov. Ben Cayetano’s administration, he vetoed 311 bills and only had one overridden.

Former governors John Waihee III, George Ariyoshi and John A. Burns never had one of their vetoes overridden. Some will argue that the reason is because both houses of the Legislature were controlled by Democrats during that time span. There is no strong and convincing evidence to verify that theory; however, times have changed. Back then it was not unusual to see Gov. John Burns strolling down the Capitol hallways dropping in on legislators during the final days of the session, rallying support for his pet bills. Other Democratic governors who followed him did the same thing, but with a different flair. It was a kind of invisible schmoozing technique. It was going on, but it was not seen in public. I used to call it the “Tea House Technique” after I attended a few of them.

They were scary to me because observing raw political power up close and personal encourages you to be silent and thoughtless.

By comparison, Lingle is a rare political gem. She is single, a former Neighbor Island mayor and a Republican with massive appeal on all islands. Granted it is not the kind of appeal that filters down to other Republicans, but she is very persuasive locally, nationally and internationally. She always seems to say the right thing at the right time. Her critics say she has the gift of gab.

Her veto record is abysmal when compared with other Democratic governors before her. She has vetoed 190 bills in six years in office and the Democratic-controlled Legislature has overridden 44 of them. Is this because the governor is a Republican? Probably, but not necessarily, because the in the old days there were a lot of skilled states-persons who were willing to compromise.

There are some other interesting things about how our legislative process works. One of them is how bills are introduced. Hawaii is one of the few states that has no limit on how many bills each legislator can introduce in one session. We have time limits for submitting proposals, but no other restrictions. There have been many attempts over the years to limit the number of bills introduced, but it was struck down as a constitutional infringement on the legislator’s right to free speech.

It’s worth mentioning that it’s not unusual for the Legislature to have more than 4,000 bills per session to process. So when someone asks if legislators really read all of the introduced bills, the answer is no. The leadership of each legislative body assigns people to do that and puts them in designated committees for processing.

One thing to watch for next session is a prevailing tendency for the legislators to introduce fewer bills for consideration during an election year. Obviously, they need more time to campaign for re-election. The priority after getting elected is to get re-elected. This year was a heavy load for the Legislature, especially with new leadership in the Senate and a host of contested confirmation hearings. There were 3,962 bills introduced and 8 percent of them were passed. Unlike the last four years, no constitutional amendments were entertained or considered.

The 2007 legislative session will go down as one that featured a lot of writing, a lot of boring rhetoric, not much change on either side of the aisle, and a session that left the all-important question unanswered, “Was the public’s will served?”

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