News: CJ Exclusives

Veto record signals continuing conflicts between governor, NCGA, experts say

Democratic Gov. Cooper and Republican-led General Assembly each want to push their voters to the polls

Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, set a two-year record with his most recent seven vetoes. Political observers say that highlights election year politics, and the ongoing conflict between Democrats and the Republicans who control the General Assembly.

“I think the governor’s going to have to get some surgery on his wrist for signing so many of these vetoes,” David McLennan, a political science professor at Meredith College, said Tuesday, June 26.

Cooper has now vetoed 23 bills in the 2017-18 biennium — 10 this year, and 13 last year. Only Gov. Bev Perdue issued more vetoes in a single year — 16 in 2011, and 19 during the 2011-12 biennium. Eleven of Perdue’s vetoes were nullified by overrides. The General Assembly has voted to override 13 of Cooper’s vetoes. The Senate was expected to take override votes Tuesday afternoon, and the House on Wednesday for Monday’s vetoes.

“It’s a lot obviously, given how short a time the governor has had the veto, and how infrequent divided government is in North Carolina. It is a record,” N.C. State University political science professor Andy Taylor said. North Carolina, which historically has had a strong legislature and weak governor, was the last state to grant the governor veto power — in 1996 following voter approval in 1995 of a constitutional amendment.

Taylor thinks the majority of Cooper’s vetoes were over genuine policy disagreements. But, he said, the governor might have used political calculus when vetoing bills with strong support from both sides of the aisle.

House Bill 382, making changes to state insurance laws, passed both chambers unanimously. House Bill 13, to amend bail bond forfeiture laws, passed with wide margins and crossover votes in the House, 88-2, and the Senate, 36-8.

“You’ve got to figure [there are] strategic political reasons for doing that when there doesn’t seem to be any plausible way that a veto would be sustained,” Taylor said.

Overriding a veto takes a 60-percent vote in both the House and the Senate. Republicans control 75 of 120 House seats, and 35 of 50 Senate seats, giving them a supermajority to override Cooper’s vetoes without Democrats’ votes.

Taylor said both parties will spin the vetoes, and overrides, in their favor.

“The governor will use it to talk to his base to say, ‘Look at my resistance bona fides. Look how I’m fighting the good fight against nasty Republican majorities in the General Assembly. If you think that I’ve been helping them out look at the record number of vetoes, 23, that I’ve issued. It’s demonstrative of my efforts to push back,” Taylor said.

“Democrats might have a natural advantage in an anti-Trump feeling” during a blue moon election without a president or governor on the Nov. 6 ballot, Taylor said. So Republicans are likely to use Cooper’s record number of vetoes against him. Their narrative will probably include the need to protect their veto-proof supermajority, “because this guy in the governor’s mansion vetoes a lot of what we want.”

McLennan said the flurry of constitutional amendments Republicans introduced in the closing days of the legislative session might be a GOP voter stimulus in the blue moon election.

“Some of these seem to be hot-button issues that may bring people to the polls,” McLennan said. “It seems to me to be strategic in the worst possible way in that it’s not well thought out, it’s not well argued, and you just wonder what the messaging is going to be like related to the constitutional amendments between now and November.”

With so many constitutional amendments likely to appear on the ballot, McLennan questions how much the average voter will know about any of them.

Cooper’s record veto numbers reinforce the perceptions each party has of the other, he said.

“For Republicans this is more evidence of the Democrats not willing to get along, just being obstructionists. And for Democrats it’s another series of proposals by Republicans to grab power and do things that citizens don’t want,” McLennan said.

But he doesn’t see the veto skirmishes having much sway over voters’ decisions.

“Where I think it’s going to have more impact is perhaps in the fundraising circles,” McLennan said. “I think Democrats and Roy Cooper may be pushing this, saying ‘Look at those darned Republicans in the General Assembly doing more of the same. We’ve got to beat them in November so let’s get some money.’”

Cooper vetoed the following bills Monday, with these messages:

“Previous attempts like this by the legislature to discriminate and manipulate the voting process have been struck down by the courts. True democracy should make it easier for people to vote, not harder.”

“While agriculture is vital to North Carolina’s economy, so property rights are vital to people’s homes and other businesses.

“North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety. Those same laws stopped the Tennessee Valley Authority from pumping air pollution into our mountains.

“Our laws must balance the needs of businesses versus property rights. Giving one industry special treatment at the expense of its neighbors is unfair.”

“Adding another excuse to set aside a bond forfeiture when a criminal defendant fails to appear in court hurts school funding and reduces incentives to ensure justice is served.”

“Ending protections from pollution on the coast hurts the effort to make sure our water is clean. Other revisions to environmental protections are unnecessary, especially at a time when confidence in public water supplies needs to be stronger, not weaker.”

“Adding another excuse to set aside a bond forfeiture when a criminal defendant fails to appear in court hurts school funding and reduces incentives to ensure justice is served.”

“Legislative attempts to rig the courts by reducing the people’s vote hurts justice. Piecemeal attempts to target judges create unnecessary confusion and show contempt for North Carolina’s judiciary.”

“Some past attempts to alter the retirement system have been ruled unconstitutional for taking away vested rights from teachers and state employees. Although this legislation was designed to save the state money, I believe taking away these retirement options from our teachers and state employees could end up losing the system more money than this legislation seeks to save.”

Cooper signed or allowed 32 bills to become law Monday. The list is here.