Gov. Brian Sandoval has always benefitted by comparisons to his predecessor.
Ex-Gov. Jim Gibbons — no stranger to scandal or scorched earth — set many dubious records. Not least among them: He vetoed the most bills of any Nevada governor, and he suffered the most overrides of those vetoes.
Compared to Gibbons’ 56 total vetoes (and 25 successful overrides), Sandoval is doing fairly well. He rejected a total of 45 bills in the 2011 and 2013 sessions, and he has yet to see a single one overturned by the Legislature.
Not that vetoes are always a bad thing: They exist to give a chief executive a final check on legislative excess. But often they can be seen as a failure of that chief executive to work with the Legislature, to declare a vision and work toward achieving it.
Although Gibbons holds the record, Sandoval is (thus far at least) not even a close second.
The Legislative Counsel Bureau’s research division studied governors from 1899 to the present and found that after Gibbons, the most vetoes were issued by Govs. Edward Carville (a Democrat with 54 vetoes); Tasker Oddie (a Republican with 52 vetoes); Richard Kirman (a Democrat with 52 vetoes); and Emmet Boyle (a Democrat with 48 vetoes).
So, at present, Sandoval, with his 45 vetoes, is in sixth place. He’s followed by Nevada’s very first governor, Henry Blasdel, who issued 38 vetoes in the inaugural 1865 legislative session. According to former state archivist Guy Rocha, Blasdel believed the brand-new Legislature was too quick to ignore the state’s recently approved constitution.
Most of those veto records, however, were set in the early to mid-1900s. According to the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s analysis, vetoes in the past 50 years have been the exception rather than the rule. Most sessions since 1960 typically have seen between one and seven vetoes (although Gov. Bob List issued 12 during the 1981 session). Two sessions — one in 1975 under then-Gov. Mike O’Callaghan and one in 2003 under then-Gov. Kenny Guinn — saw no vetoes at all.
Compared to those numbers, Sandoval’s 2011 total of 28 stands out, even without Gibbons’ record-setting veto rampage. And the governor’s 2013 total of 17 is unusually high as well.
In part, Sandoval’s record is surely due to divided government: Democrats control both the Assembly and Senate, and tension over legislation is natural. Statistics show that, with the exception of Kirman — a Democratic governor with Democratic majorities in both houses — most big-veto sessions come with a governor of one party and a Legislature either partially or fully controlled by the other.
Another factor: Sandoval’s policy of not commenting on (most) bills as they wind their way through the legislative process. The governor surely made exceptions, but it’s undeniable that a well-timed remark to a legislator, lobbyist or even journalist about his preference for one idea over another might give lawmakers time to craft bills that wouldn’t draw gubernatorial objections. Reading a veto message that objects to a provision that easily could have been changed during the legislative process has got to be one of the most frustrating experiences in Carson City. Not only that, but the governor’s absence from the process this year was noted by more than one person in the capital.
Finally, more bipartisan cooperation could help, too. This session saw bills with bipartisan support (say, the bill to collect DNA samples from people arrested on suspicion of felonies, or the bill to provide driver authorization cards to illegal immigrants) signed with great fanfare, while other bills passed on party line votes fell to the governor’s veto.
Regardless of his vetoes, the popular Sandoval is looking good for re-election. Perhaps the next legislative session — with a governor in his second and final term — will see more engagement and fewer vetoes.
Steve Sebelius is a Las Vegas Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.