During his two terms as governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson got the nickname “Governor Veto” as he vetoed 750 bills sent to him by the legislature. Now California’s Jerry Brown is bucking for that title. In June he vetoed the state budget, something that apparently had never happened before. In his veto message he wrote that the budget “continues big deficits for years to come and adds billions of dollars of new debt… contains legally questionable maneuvers, costly borrowing and unrealistic savings.”
And this week, facing a flurry of bills landing on his desk, he’s giving his veto pen a workout. On Wednesday he vetoed 12 bills, 11 of them sponsored by Democrats in the heavily Democratic legislature. As John Myers of KQED noted, he offered pithy and philosophical arguments in some of his veto messages. Take the bill to impose a $25 fine for kids who ski or snowboard without a helmet. Brown vetoed it, saying, “I am concerned about the continuing and seemingly inexorable transfer of authority from parents to the state. Not every human problem deserves a law.”
He also vetoed a bill that would require initiative signature gatherers to wear a button if they’re being paid, saying:
If it is acceptable to force paid signature gatherers to place identifying badges on their chests, will similar requirements soon be placed on paid campaign workers? I choose not to go down this slippery slope where the state decides what citizens must wear when petitioning their government.
He had earlier received the “John Lilburne Award” from the Citizens in Charge Foundation for vetoing another attempt to restrict petitioning.
Brown’s libertarian streak isn’t entirely surprising. When he became governor the first time, in 1975, he talked about “an era of limits” and increased state spending less than his predecessor, Ronald Reagan. He opposed Proposition 13 but then embraced it after the voters did and rode its implementation to easy reelection. Running for president, he supported a balanced budget amendment. He liberalized the state’s marijuana law, decriminalized homosexuality, and vigorously opposed the antigay Briggs Initiative. He declared on Meet the Press that his goal was “To stand up to the special pleaders who are encamped, I should say, encircling the state capitol, and to see through their particular factional claims to the broad public interest.”
I had high hopes that the 73-year-old newly elected governor, with no more dreams of higher office, would aggressively confront California’s out-of-control spending and special-interest deals. Brown watcher Tim Cavanaugh of Reason says that any hope that Brown would actually take on the spending interests, many of them public employee unions that helped him win office again, ended with his sweetheart contract for the prison guards union. But I’m still hopeful. Governor Brown knows his state is in debt up to its eyeballs, he knows where the money goes, and he knows that the special pleaders are still encircling the state capitol. And he’s still skeptical about the “inexorable transfer of authority … to the state” and the idea that “every human problem deserves a law.” That’s a good basis for a new era of limits on power.