Commentary

Scott Mooneyham: McCrory’s veto gamble

August 23, 2013 

MOONEYHAM,SCOTT.NE.103106.PLM

Scott Mooneyham

PAUL MAGANN

Some people may be surprised by Gov. Pat McCrory’s vetoes of two bills this month.

After all, he’s a Republican. The legislature is controlled by Republicans. Surely these folks are operating from the same playbook, right?

Except that’s not how it works.

Governors and state legislatures, regardless of party affiliation, naturally end up in adversarial relationships.

It’s about that separation of powers thing. When one branch of government makes the laws, and another is charged with carrying them out, inevitably the person with the duty to carry out the law – the governor – finds some of them distasteful or unwise.

Give that person the power to veto a bill that falls into that category, and he or she may use it.

Former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, a Republican whose terms coincided with Republican majorities in that state’s legislatures, once vetoed 41 bills in one fell swoop.

In North Carolina, former Gov. Mike Easley vetoed nine bills while his fellow Democrats controlled the legislature.

So McCrory’s decision to issue his first two vetoes hardly constitutes some political anomaly.

Still, he may have bitten off more than his relatively new chief executive teeth can currently chew.

Bipartisan support

McCrory chose two bills that passed by wide, bipartisan margins, with the votes in both the state House and Senate well above the three-fifths majority required to override a veto.

One bill would require criminal background checks of welfare recipients and allow social service workers to have applicants drug tested if they suspect that they have been using illegal drugs. McCrory said the bill would waste taxpayer money and result in uneven enforcement around the state.

His veto of the bill might help his image among moderates and demonstrate some independence from the legislature. But it is worth noting that several legislative Democrats voted for the bill, probably in part because they saw the measure as reasonably popular in their swing, moderate districts.

More problematic for McCrory may be his veto of an immigration bill.

The legislation calls for a study of immigration-related criminal procedures, but also would expand the use of employer verification intended to prevent the employment of illegal immigrants. At the same time, seasonal workers exempt from the requirement could be employed for up to nine months, rather than 90 days.

McCrory calls the 9-month exemption an unacceptable loophole. Doing so, he finds himself at odds with the state’s farmers, who pushed for the change.

While McCrory tries to generate some public support to sustain his vetoes, farmers and the agri-business community make appeals to legislators to override the veto of the immigration-related bill.

Matters of principle

His first two vetoes may have demonstrated to the public that McCrory is not in lockstep with a conservative legislature whose public standing has suffered pretty significantly over the last six months.

He can also claim high ground, that these are matters of principle.

No governor, though, wants to see his or her vetoes overridden.

On McCrory’s first two vetoes, that’s looking like a strong possibility.

Scott Mooneyham is the editor of the N.C. Insider State Government News Service.

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