The Bill Stops Here: Governor Pawlenty’s Veto Pen

Governor Tim Pawlenty’s veto on February 22nd of a controversial transportation bill has set the stage for the DFL-controlled legislature to attempt an override.

Governor Pawlenty has deployed the veto more often (37 times since 2003) than all but 2 of his predecessors over the past 70 years. Governors Arne Carlson and Jesse Ventura were Pawlenty’s only predecessors to log more vetoes. Republican Governor Carlson was crowned the King of the Veto: 40 percent of all vetoes in Minnesota since 1939 (179 in total) came from his pen (an additional 16 veto attempts by Carlson were ruled unconstitutional). The use of the veto has increased over time, reflecting the polarization of Minnesota politics and other changes. The last three governors account for 60 percent of all vetoes over the past seven decades.

But overriding a governor’s veto is both rare and very difficult. Ninety-seven percent of all vetoes have stood.

The power of the governor’s veto comes from a two-punch combo. First, legislative efforts to override a veto are rare. The legislature has only attempted to defeat 10 percent of vetoes by Minnesota governors (43 override attempts of 447 gubernatorial vetoes) since 1939.

Secondly, only 13 efforts by the legislature to override a governor’s veto have succeeded during this span. A successful override of Governor Pawlenty’s transportation veto would be historically notable—it would be only the 14th time that the legislature has successfully overridden one of the 447 vetoes by Minnesota governors since 1939.

The key barrier to successfully overriding the governor is party control of the legislature. The governor’s fellow partisans rarely support a veto override and legislators in the opposing party rarely have the constitutionally required two-thirds majorities in both chambers to override (90 in House and 45 in Senate in the modern era).

Not surprisingly, one-third of all attempts to override the governor’s veto and 69 percent of all successful overrides occurred during the tenure of Jesse Ventura. The state’s only third-party Governor since 1939 found himself out-muscled by a coalition of Democrats and Republicans.

Click here for a full report by the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance on gubernatorial vetoes in Minnesota, “Making History: Goveror Pawlenty’s Transportation Veto and A Legislative Override.”

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