When lawmakers come back in January 2017 to begin the 99th General Assembly, many things will be different. Because of term limits, the make up of the legislature will certainly change. House members can serve four 2-year terms, and Senators can serve two 4-year terms, for a total of sixteen years for any person serving in Missouri’s legislature. Not only will the membership of the House and Senate change, but this fall Missourians will elect new people to 5 of the 6 statewide offices. The unique thing about this is that all individuals coming into these offices will be new to their jobs. We will have a new State Treasurer, Secretary of State, Attorney General, Lieutenant Governor, and a new Governor. Only the State Auditor will remain in office. We can expect change in January of 2017.
Perhaps the most publicized outcome of this year’s Veto Session is the fact that Governor Jay Nixon will go down in Missouri history as the most overridden governor ever. Since Governor Nixon took office in 2009, lawmakers have overridden 96 of his vetoes—if you include both legislative bills and budget expenditures. This is nearly four times the combined total overrides of all other Missouri governors, dating back to Missouri’s territorial days in the early 1800s.
Looking back at Missouri history in regard to previous governor’s vetoes, we see that from 1820 to 2011 Missouri governors had only been overridden a total of twenty times. Missouri Territorial Governor McNair was overridden one time. Then, in 1833, Governor Dunklin was overridden a total of 12 times, holding the record of most overrides until the Nixon years. Before Missouri’s new constitution took effect in 1875, it took only a simple majority to override a governor’s veto. After that point in time, the Missouri Constitution required both chambers have a two-thirds majority of votes to override. From 1838 thru 1999 there were only four overrides of a governor’s veto, one each for Governors Boggs, Price, Bond, and Carnahan. Then in 2003, Governor Holden was overridden three times. Governor Nixon has been overridden on a total of forty-seven legislative bills, not including any budget expenditure overrides.
There were no overrides in 2009-2010, Governor Nixon’s first term, but there was one each in 2011 and 2012. After his re-election there were 9 in 2013, 11 in 2014, 12 in 2015, and 13 in 2016, for a total of forty-seven.
In all fairness to Governor Nixon, many of his overrides are due in part to Missouri’s politically divided government. He is the only Democrat governor to serve opposite a Republican legislative super majority, at least since the Re-Construction days after the Civil War. It is interesting to point out that during Governor Bond’s tenure, just the opposite occurred. At that time Democrats held a legislative super majority, and a Republican was governor. Only one of Governor Bond’s bills was overridden.
During Governor Nixon’s last term, there seemed to be an ever present conflict of policy and philosophy and, perhaps, a failure to work across political divides. Another huge problem during the last 8 to 10 years in the state has been the inability to have the necessary money to fund all government programs, especially social programs that have expanded faster than incoming revenues. Missouri has continued to pass a balanced budget and maintain a AAA bond rating, something in which Governor Nixon, as well as all legislators, can take pride.
The veto process and Missouri’s political climate during the Nixon years has been one followed by numerous political analysts, for several reasons. First of all, partisan divide played a major role. Any executive facing a legislature in which both chambers have a two-thirds veto majority will use his veto pen more often and, consequently, face a larger number of overrides. Furthermore, a governor chooses which bills he is going to veto. This means he has the option of signing a bill into law, allowing it to become law without his signature, or vetoing the bill.
Another significant factor involved in the Governor-Legislature’s relationship has been the lack of interaction between our state’s Chief Executive and members of the General Assembly. It’s fair to say that, for the most part, during Governor Nixon’s tenure the relationship has not been a positive one. Granted, it is not always about policy, as politics often entered in. However, no matter how many ways his overrides are interpreted or explained, it remains a fact that one of Governor Jay Nixon legacies is that he will be the most overridden governor in Missouri history.
Governor Nixon will leave office in January. Even though we have not always agreed on all issues, I respect him and his position. He and I have always had a cordial personal and business relationship, and I wish him the very best in his future endeavors.