Governor No: Dayton Is Poised to Claim a Spot among the Top Vetoers in Minnesota History

By Kaul, Greta | MinnPost.com, May 25, 2017 | Go to article overview

Governor No: Dayton Is Poised to Claim a Spot among the Top Vetoers in Minnesota History


Kaul, Greta, MinnPost.com


Your reaction to to Gov. Mark Dayton's recent decision to veto a whole spate of budget bills passed by the Legislature most likely comes down to politics. Where Republicans see a stubborn obstructionist in the governor's residence thwarting the will of the duly elected representatives of the people, Democrats see a principled check against the excesses of an ideologically driven legislature.

But whatever your views on whether Dayton's exercise of his veto power are justified, one fact is indisputable: Dayton has vetoed a lot of bills. How many? Just this year, he's issued 17 vetoes; that brings his all-time career total to 78 full vetoes (including signed vetoes and vetoes by refusal to sign bills, known as a "pocket veto.")

Is that a lot? Well, it's enough to put Dayton squarely in third place among Minnesota governors, based on records from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library that go back to 1939 (prior to that year, recordkeeping wasn't as accurate, the library notes). Dayton is still trailing behind his predecessor Tim Pawlenty, who issued 96 vetoes and well behind the veto king, Arne Carlson, who vetoed 127 bills. (Pawlenty and Carlson each served two terms; their rankings as top vetoers do not change when you control for the number of terms served.)

Vetoes by governor, 1939-2017

If Dayton wants to claim the top veto spot, he's got some work to do. It would take an additional 19 vetoes to surpass Pawlenty and a whopping 50 vetoes to unseat Carlson. But there's still time; the current special session looks set to produce at least one guaranteed veto and possibly many more, and then there's still the 2018 session of the current Legislature.

But of course, governors don't issue vetoes in order to get their names in the record books. Rather, there are certain factors -- some political, some institutional -- that create the right conditions for a big crop of vetoes.

Institutional factors

Perhaps the biggest determinant, and not a terribly surprising one, of the number of vetoes a governor issues is whether or not the state is ruled by divided government, said Andrew Karch, a professor of political science at the University of Minnesota and an author of "Why do Governors Issue Vetoes," a 48-state look at gubernatorial vetoes published in Political Research Quarterly in 2008.

When the legislature and the governor's office are held by opposing parties, they have different legislative priorities, so you're likely to see a lot more disagreement manifested in vetoes. Looking back on Minnesota's history, that seems to be the case.

In bienniums where the legislature and the governor's office were controlled by members of the same party since 1951, governors averaged four vetoes. In bienniums where there was split control in the House and Senate with a governor from either party, the average was five. When the governor's office was held by the party opposite the party holding the two legislative bodies, (most of these bienniums occurred during high-veto Carlson, Pawlenty and Dayton's terms), the average was 28.

Nowhere is this conflict more apparent than when veto gold medalist Carlson was in office. A Republican who had both houses of the legislature controlled by the opposing DFL for the duration of his eight-year term, Carlson's tenure culminated in 127 full bill vetoes, including pocket vetoes, and 245 lines vetoed from appropriations bills (governors are allowed to veto individual lines of appropriations bills).

The level of conflict between the governor and the legislature frustrated legislators and made commentators apoplectic.

"Carlson's veto count is the mark of a governor who is prone to prizing conflict too highly, and its resolution not highly enough," a 1998 opinion piece in the Star Tribune said after Carlson's last veto, which "felled a bill authorizing a study on the merits of growing industrial hemp in Minnesota."

But University of Minnesota Regent Steve Sviggum, who was then the minority leader in the House, takes a different view of things. …

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