Jerry Brown's Use of the Veto: More Bark Than Bite

It turns out that Democratic Governor Jerry Brown was a lot more deferential to the wishes of the state legislature than many thought.

Despite repeated threats to employ the veto with gusto, the governor said no to just 14 percent of the legislature's bills for the year.

Over the past thirty years, increasing use of the veto has made the governor the state's most powerful legislator, an irony given that he serves in another branch.

That's because of the high threshold required in the legislature to overturn a governor's veto--an absolute two-thirds vote in each house. It takes 54 votes in the Assembly and 27 votes in the Senate to overturn a veto--the highest requirement in the nation.

No veto has been overturned since Brown's first stint as governor, when the legislature overturned 13 vetoes.

Then, as now, the Democrats controlled both houses. But then, unlike now, Brown tangled with the legislature regularly. But today's Brown is much more mellow by comparison.

Brown's use of the veto this year is a dramatic departure from the activism of his recent predecessors, although more than twice the rate of his first gubernatorial stint when he rejected only 6 percent of the legislature's submissions.

George Deukmejian (1983-1991) started the escalation of veto use by saying "no" to 15 percent of the bills that landed on his desk.

Pete Wilson (1991-1999) raised the ante by vetoing 17 percent of the bills he faced.

Gray Davis (1999-2003) raised the rejection bar yet again by turning away 18 percent of proposed legislation.

But no one has wielded the veto more aggressively than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who turned away a whopping 26 percent of the bills submitted by the legislature.

In retrospect, Brown's rejection rate for the current legislative session seems almost tepid.

Still, 14 percent means that one out of every seven bills failed to garner this governor's approval. And given the difficulties of overturning the governor's action, his decision will be final.

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