Campaign trail: Five questions for legislators in veto session
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Sept. 10, 2012 - The Missouri legislature has its veto session Wednesday, and lawmakers are planning to override the governor's veto on at least two bills -- one dealing with contraception coverage and the other, local vehicle taxes.
With the November election looming, political pressures are creating unusual alliances that could make the difference between reaching a two-thirds threshold to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s objections or heading back on the campaign trail with little changed.
Here are some subplots to ponder before lawmakers return to Jefferson City this week:
Will conservatives join Democrats in upending the vehicle tax bill? “Strange bedfellows” is a common theme in the world of Missouri politics. But a bill abrogating a Missouri Supreme Court decision that tossed out local taxes on vehicles is taking the term to another level.
Nixon has put forth a full-court press to convince legislators to sustain his veto on the bill, arguing that an override would prompt car buyers “to pay an additional and unexpected local tax.” A number of prominent Republicans – including state Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph – appear to agree with the Democratic governor.
And even Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder – who has spent the last few years lambasting Nixon on every issue imaginable – came out this week against overriding the governor’s objection. While Kinder’s opinion is largely symbolic, it nonetheless shows that not all Republicans are dismissing Nixon's arguments.
While several Democrats in both chambers voted earlier this year for the legislation, some may be inclined not to go against Nixon. And if enough Republicans – including some facing tougher re-election bids – decide to switch sides, Nixon’s argument could win the day.
Who’s more persuasive: Nixon or local governments? Of course, the Democratic governor isn’t the only one putting the pressure on.
Municipalities and counties, for instance, have argued that they could lose vital revenue without the bill. The Columbia City Council passed a resolution this week urging lawmakers to override Nixon’s veto.
State Rep. Ryan Silvey – a Clay County Republican handling the bill in the House – said that those local entities may prove particularly persuasive. The Columbia Daily Tribune reported that at least one Democratic legislator from that area – state Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia – would be inclined to vote for an override, adding that "the unanimous vote of the mayor and the city council is pretty powerful."
Noting that the bill passed 32-0 in the Senate, state Sen. Joe Keaveny, D-St. Louis, told the Beacon that "he couldn't imagine that many people jumping over the other side."
Keaveny noted that he is undecided on the bill, which he said was "poorly crafted."
"Without firmly knowing what I'm going to do, it's almost to a point where all special interests aside -- what's the best legislation we can pass?" Keaveny said. "That's the question you've got to answer."
Will an override of the vehicle tax bill prompt a lawsuit? Schaaf told the Beacon late last week that a successful override of the vehicle tax measure may prove to be a fleeting victory.
That's because, he said, a lawsuit could be filed arguing that imposing a retroactive tax is unconstitutional. Kinder recited the same concern in an interview with the Associated Press.
In a letter to the governor, Silvey suggested a way out of the dilemma: The bill would be overriden, tax notices would be delayed and the legislature would pass legislation next year providing amnesty to those affected.
Whether that sequence could actually occur -- or whether it would forestall litigation -- remains to be seen.
Will anti-abortion Democrats help override contraception veto? While term limits and electoral losses have thinned their ranks over the years, the legislature still includes plenty of Democrats opposed to abortion rights. That may prove decisive when a bill allowing employers to exclude abortion, contraception or sterilization from insurance coverage comes up for an override.
Republicans need five Democrats in the House to cross over to reach the 109-member threshold. A number of Democrats who voted for the bill earlier this year are now in tough battles for re-election, especially those in rural areas. With anti-abortion groups such as Missouri Right to Life likely watching the vote closely, a vote to sustain Nixon’s veto could give vulnerable Democrats an electoral headache during the heat of campaign season.
(State Rep. Stacey Newman, D-Richmond Heights, noted earlier this summer that those Democrats may also be pressured by organized labor, which came out strongly against the legislation.)
Since the Senate appears to have enough votes to clear the two-thirds hurdle, these socially conservative Democrats could play a pivotal role.
What about a filibuster? Having the votes to pass something in the Missouri Senate doesn’t mean much in face of a filibuster.
Although recent veto sessions haven't turned into talk-a-thons, a filibuster may be the only way, for instance, to stop the contraception bill from passing over Nixon’s objection. Schaaf told the Beacon if the vehicle tax bill makes it to the Missouri Senate, then he would consider filibustering it, if enough senators joined in.
"I am committed to stopping the veto override," Schaaf said. "If it comes over from the House and there are other senators willing to participate in a filibuster, I will be there."
Having multiple senators in the mix is critical because the Missouri Constitution states that a veto session can’t go longer than 10 calendar days. A group filibuster would be challenging, but it is almost impossible to believe that someone like Schaaf -- or a single opponent of the contraception bill -- could talk non-stop for that long.
"If you're the only person, you just stand there and talk for a couple hours and make everybody angry," quipped Schaaf, who has participated in several prominent filibusters over the past couple of years.