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Legislature lifting its foot off the veto pedal

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 2:23 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

In the Legislature's land of 1,000 dances, one of the strangest is the maneuvering around vetoes by the governor.

The rules used to be simple: The Legislature passed bills. If the bills gave the governor hives, he vetoed them and that was that.

Although the state Constitution had a provision for the Legislature to meet to override the veto, it never did.

Then, about a decade ago, while Ben Cayetano was leading the state, the Legislature said, "No, this shall not stand," and overrode a controversial bill raising the age of consent. But that was the only veto override in almost 40 years since statehood.

After that, the governor was Republican Linda Lingle, and the vetoes and overrides became part of the annual spring pageant play.

Lingle would warn that new tax bills would be vetoed. The Legislature would not listen and pass dozens of tax increases anyway. Lingle would then trundle the offending taxes off to the veto guillotine.

Then a spark would shoot through the Legislature and it would rise as one to override the vetoes.

In her eight years, Lingle vetoed 347 bills and the various Legislatures overrode 110.

For a Democratic Legislature going from none, to one, to 110, that was a real beat down.

"It is obvious," says GOP Sen. Sam Slom, "how many Democratic governors were overridden, one — then look at Gov. Lingle."

So now the Legislature is back with a Democratic governor and is dealing with 23 potential vetoes and again like old Democrat days, there is suddenly little interest in overriding vetoes.

Even Slom says Gov. Neil Abercrombie has picked a handful of "not too controversial" bills to reject.

"I don't think any rise to the occasion of causing an override," Slom predicted.

His Democratic colleague Sen. Clayton Hee agrees.

"It seems to me that the Legislature, or at least the Senate, has tried to give him the benefit of the doubt," Hee said in an interview.

That is not to say that Democrats will continue to form the Abercrombie cheerleading team, Hee cautions.

"My own sense is that as we move forward, we will see some erosion of good will," Hee, a legislative veteran, predicted.

What is gone from the argument this year is a Democratic majority spoiling for a fight with the governor.

Now it is calmness. Two years ago, then-Senate President Colleen Hanabusa had her troops ready to fight, even if the House would not join the fray.

"We thought it was important that we demonstrate our willingness to consider overrides," said Hanabusa.

House Speaker Calvin Say was always the more reluctant partner to override bashing.

"It's my personal belief that simply because we have the legislative super-majority to override is not justification for us to do so," said Say two years ago.

Next year Abercrombie, the Legislature and partisan calmness may not so easily co-exist.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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