Vetomania: A Battle for Power between Governor and Legislature

Maine Gov. Paul LePage is adding to the constitutional changes that politicians are making to government. He has set out the veto every bill the Legislature presents for his signature.

LePage probably does not oppose all of the proposed laws, but he seeks to require the Legislature, in which the Senate is controlled by his fellow Republicans and the House is controlled by the Democrats, to pass all bills by a veto-proof, two-thirds majority.

Above all, LePage’s vetoes highlight a battle for political power between the legislative and executive branches of government much more than a battle between the parties.

LePage is open about his intentions. He believes his 2014 reelection means the Legislature should bend to his will. He discounts the voters’ will in electing members of the Legislature, which is supposed to make the laws.

He says legislators have wasted his time, so he is wasting theirs by levying his vetoes. He may also be wasting the state’s reputation and taxpayer dollars to pay for extra legislative sessions.

There are other problems with “vetomania.” Bills that should get a second look, where LePage’s opposition may make sense, are swept into the override wave as the Legislature asserts its rights. And bills that should be enacted, even in his view, though they fell short of a two-thirds vote on passage, may be wiped away by a failure to override.

He has tried to use the pocket veto, holding bills without his signature until ten days after the Legislature adjourns. But he faces the problem that it has not quit for the year. In fact, it is possible that the Legislature will keep itself in session permanently, making pocket vetoes impossible. Will his move end up before the Supreme Court or in the legislative investigation of his actions?

LePage’s veto moves would follow GOP precedent in Congress, where President Obama is blocked from making the kind of recess appointments to office envisaged by the Constitution, by the simple means of never having a recess.

His actions parallel the increased growth in the use of the filibuster in the U.S. Senate, which blocks votes on hundreds of bills without the consent of 60 senators. In Maine, the Democrats at one time similarly created false ends to legislative sessions to get around the customary two-thirds agreement on the state budget.

Government has always depended on understandings, written and unwritten, about how participants would behave so that it could function. Breaking historic understandings by insisting on the unreasonable application of the federal and state constitutions could threaten the American political system.

When political splits get that wide, can the system survive?

 

Gordon L. Weil

About Gordon L. Weil

Gordon L. Weil is a former local, state, national and international organization official. He is an author and newspaper columnist.