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Will California Lawmakers Ever Again Override A Veto?


Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed more than 130 bills this year, 14 percent of the measures that reached his desk. Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) has ruled out any votes to overturn this year’s vetoes.

And that’s not surprising. The Legislature hasn’t overridden a veto since 1980 when the governor was also named Jerry Brown. Lawmakers haven’t even voted on a veto override since 2003.

That’s a shame, says former Assembly Speaker John Pérez.

“This is a question of political will,” he says.

Pérez says that’s one of many ways the Legislature has ceded power to the governor since term limits took effect. He says he twice tried to override vetoes as speaker, but the votes weren’t there.

“When legislative leaders and legislators feel strongly enough that the governor took the wrong position in vetoing a bill, then it requires leadership and it requires a little bit of strength to stand up to a governor and put a bill up for a veto,” Pérez says.

Now, a new crop of lawmakers under a new term limit system is looking to regain some of the power that’s shifted to the executive. Many of them used that rationale to block Brown’s big climate change push to cut vehicle petroleum use in half.

Sacramento State political analyst Steve Boilard thinks that might eventually extend to vetoes – especially with a less popular governor. But whether lawmakers use the override or not, Boilard says, it’s a mistake to publicly rule it out.

“It’s almost like deterrence, what we used to talk about during the cold war,“ Boilard says. “You don’t need to use your nuclear weapons for them to be effective. You just need the other side to think you might occasionally use them.”

Right now, that isn’t much of a threat.

 jerry brown

Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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