Utah's Republican governor clashed with Utah's Republican Legislature in the recent veto override session. The Legislature prevailed, and feelings were hurt, raising some interesting questions:
Are executive/legislative relationship seriously damaged?
Webb: Politics is a contact sport, and this one drew some blood. There's no question that, while most Republican legislators thought it was good public policy to override the governor's veto, this was also, in part, a political power play with legislative leaders flexing some political muscle.
However, legislative/executive flare-ups are normal and should be expected. Tension between the two branches of government is inherent in the system, exactly what the Founders intended. Executive and legislative branches check each other and compete for power. In that conflict, no one gains too much power and threatens our liberty.
Republican vs. Republican is also normal in a state dominated by one party. Fights always occur in politics, and if the opposing party is too weak to make a difference, then battles will break out within the majority party. But Gov. Gary Herbert and the Legislature will put this behind them and get along just fine.
Pignanelli: "These things [gang warfare] gotta happen every five years or so … Helps get rid of the bad blood." — Peter Clemenza from the Godfather I believe in the "Clemenza Rule." Indeed, I once advised a governor that he needed to veto a handful of bills once every few years or so. If he couldn't find any objectionable legislation, I suggested throwing darts at a stack of bills or rolling dice to determine bill numbers — anything to force a veto override session. He demurred.
The dynamics to a veto override session are unique and offer so many advantages. They are not burdened with the pressures of a general session nor have the consensus of a special session. Override sessions exist because of antagonism, and the players are focused. Both sides are forced to build coalitions and must include the minority party in deliberations. Tensions that have escalated between the governor and the Legislature are exposed and then eventually exhausted.
Leading to the recent override session, there was certainly bad blood between legislators and the governor. Many lawmakers were frustrated with the governor over HB477 and felt that they were alone in making the tough decisions on the budget. Conversely, Hebert certainly did not want any more encroachment on his powers. The session is over, the bad blood spilled, and no long-term damages to the relationship.
What is the political fallout of the falling out?
Pignanelli: Because of the controversy surrounding HB477, the governor and Legislature suffered in favorability polls. Combined with the governor's setback in the veto override session, potential challengers to the governor now may view him as vulnerable. Yet, over time the veto override session will indirectly help the governor. Because Herbert confronted the Legislature, he was automatically placed in a commanding role — which the public appreciates in their leaders.
Webb: Aside from short-term hurt feelings and an opportunity for news media speculation, I wouldn't read too much into this skirmish. Mature politicians realize that it doesn't make sense to burn bridges. Today's opponent is tomorrow's ally. Ultimately, they need each other. So there is little long-term damage to either side.
Herbert might be challenged from within the party in the 2012 election, and some legislators may support the challenger (especially if it is a fellow legislator). But those political dynamics won't have resulted just from this veto override.
Who was hurt, and who was helped?
Webb: Herbert did not sustain such a hit that he is seriously weakened. Remember, as columnist George Will likes to say, politics is more like baseball than football. In football, if you lose a few games, you're no longer among the elite teams. In baseball, even the very best teams, even the World Series champions, lose dozens of games. This was one game among many, and Herbert will win his share. He still has the bully pulpit, his veto, and he controls the entire executive branch. He's still the most powerful person in Utah politics.
Clearly, House Speaker Becky Lockhart and Senate President Michael Waddoups buffed up their political chops in this fight. They rallied the troops and prevailed. They're willing to take on the tough fights and not cave in to intense pressure. They won the battle, but it's a long war.
Pignanelli: One of the achievements attributed to the Jon Huntsman administration is the four-day workweek for government employees. Now that two-thirds of the Legislature has ended much of this experiment, Ambassador Huntsman cannot use this in his presidential campaigning. Speaker Lockhart and President Waddoups (but especially Lockhart ) benefited both in the public arena and in their respective caucuses for taking strong stands on policy matters. The public may not have understood all the nuances but appreciated the substantive deliberations. All the major players benefited, which usually happens in the veto override session, thus proving the Clemenza rule.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com.