Friday, June 24, 2011 | 2 a.m.
When Gov. Jim Gibbons took his veto stamp and blazed a scorched-earth path through the bills passed by the 2009 Legislature, he was written off as a politically isolated governor making a show of the only authority he had left.
In turn, lawmakers overrode a majority of his 48 vetoes, his veto stamp was interred in Nevada’s history museum and the episode was written off as a temper tantrum.
But in a move that surprised many Carson City veterans, Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, followed a similar path to Gibbons, vetoing 28 measures sent to him by a Legislature controlled by Democrats.
Sandoval’s staff says he weighed each bill on its individual merits, and not solely guided by any ideological position.
But the number of bills vetoed by Sandoval has many questioning whether Nevada has shifted from a state governed by pragmatic politicians to one run by leaders more deeply divided by partisanship.
It appears Sandoval acted as a backstop for GOP lawmakers who went to the mat for him in the budget fight. The majority of the bills Sandoval vetoed were passed out of the Senate in a 11-10 party-line vote.
In a key departure from the Gibbons episode, lawmakers didn’t attempt a single override vote of Sandoval’s vetoes — an indication they clearly didn’t have the two-thirds majority needed.
“I don’t see the pragmatics of politics anymore,” said Guy Rocha, a Nevada historian and retired state archivist. “Now it’s that idea of compromise as a sellout. Today it’s much more difficult to get people to move forward with a common agenda. They used to do that.”
Typically, governors veto between two and six bills. Gibbons set the record. The only other governor to approach his total was Henry Blasdel in 1865. He vetoed 38, according to Rocha.
Ideological differences are to be expected when one party controls the Legislature and the opposing party has the governorship. But in 1981, the last time that occurred in Nevada, Republican Gov. Bob List vetoed just 12 bills from the Democratic Legislature.
Sandoval sided with Republicans on a number of party-line votes, but also took Democrats’ side on a handful of measures. The majority of bills that made it out of the Legislature did so on a unanimous or near-unanimous vote.
Party-line bills on which Sandoval sided with Democrats included one prohibiting employment discrimination based on gender-identity or sexuality and another creating an office of parental involvement in the Education Department.
In the wake of a dramatic Nevada Supreme Court ruling that eviscerated his budget, Sandoval was able to craft a budget compromise that eventually melted the partisan standoff over state spending.
But that left a number of policy bills ripe for veto. Some attributed the deepening partisan divide to hard feelings over the budget.
“The budget problems over last two sessions have put people into more partisan positions than they may have been in the past,” said Josh Hicks, Gibbons’ former chief of staff. “With the Senate changing, you see a greater willingness to push out partisan legislation without a lot of compromise on it. That then sets the table for a veto.”
Although Sandoval, a former attorney general, wasn’t forced into a veto position on the budget bills, he took a conservative approach on sentencing and parole legislation, and business regulations.
“I was shocked, actually, by the number of vetoes and by the bills he vetoed,” said Jan Gilbert, a lobbyist for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, noting the liberal organization had difficulties moving its priority bills through the Senate because of the conservative bent of some in the Democratic majority.
“I think it was an astonishing number of bills to veto.”
Here’s a look at five Sandoval vetoes that reflect the partisan divide:
Assembly Bill 137
The bill would have required some schools to provide free breakfast to low-income students. Democrats decried the veto, saying the legislation would have brought more than $40 million in federal money to the state.
Sandoval, however, said the decision about which schools should provide the nutrition program is better left to the school districts.
Senate Bill 418
The bill would have allowed the Legislature to create a committee to oversee the implementation of the new federal health care law.
But Sandoval backs a state lawsuit seeking to repeal the law and said the executive branch is doing just fine complying with the requirements to implement it. Creating a legislative study committee would be “unnecessary and duplicative,” he wrote in his veto message.
Assembly Bill 546
The bill would have required additional early childhood education training for child care providers and imposed additional reporting requirements.
Sandoval saw the legislation as too burdensome on small businesses. “Such a standard sets a new, overly high bar for small businesses in the child care industry,” he wrote.
Senate Bill 115
The bill would have required hospitals to charge a lower, negotiated rate to out-of-network emergency patients. The legislation was one of Senate Majority Leader Steven Horsford’s priorities and was one of the most heavily lobbied bills by the Culinary Union.
But Sandoval, again, saw the bill as government “overreaching” in an attempt to interfere in contracts decided by private businesses.
Assembly Bill 301
The bill would have automatically restored voting rights to felons who complete their sentences. Advocates for the bill argued it would streamline a cumbersome process that governs how felons are granted voting privileges.
Sandoval disagreed that the process should be streamlined. “The right to vote is a privilege that should not be lightly restored to those few individuals who commit the most egregious crimes in our society,” he wrote.