Calif. AG candidate seeks to bar blanket veto threats

Chris Rizo Oct. 11, 2009, 6:16pm

Alberto Torrico (D)

Jerry Brown (D)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline)-Alberto Torrico, a California assemblyman running for state attorney general, said Sunday that he will introduce legislation this week that would bar governors from threatening mass vetoes.

Torrico, the Assembly majority leader, told Legal Newsline he decided to introduce the legislation after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger threatened to veto many of the 704 bills on his desk unless he and Senate and Assembly leaders -- from both sides of the aisle -- agree on a multibillion plan to upgrade the state's complex water system.

"I will introduce a bill on Monday to remove any ambiguity -- to make sure that the kind of political extortion that has become so common in today's California politics is clearly illegal," said Torrico, D-Newark.

The soon-to-be introduced measure could be taken up in a special legislative session that Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, has suggested to address government reforms. Otherwise, the bill would be heard in January, he said.

Torrico conceded the governor would likely veto the bill should it clear the Democrat-led Legislature. But with wide bipartisan support behind the measure, Torrico said lawmakers could override a governor's veto.

"There is a lot of disappointment and a lot anger in the Democratic and Republican caucuses over the governor's ongoing political extortion," Torrico said.

Earlier, Torrico had formally asked state Attorney General Jerry Brown, a fellow Democrat, to investigate the governor's threats. Torrico said he was not surprised, but disappointed, that Brown declined to act.

"I was hopeful he would intervene and force the governor to act in a lawful way," Torrico said of Brown, who himself is considering a run for governor next year.

In a letter to state legislators, Brown said as the state's chief executive, Schwarzenegger has the right to reject lawmakers' proposals.

"We believe that the doctrine of separation-of-powers counsels against our inquiring into the legality of Governor Schwarzenegger's veto threats," Brown wrote.

Governor seen as limited

Threats may be all the lame duck governor has to get the Legislature to see his way, Barbara O'Connor, director of the Institute for the Study of Politics and Media at Sacramento State University, told Legal Newsline.

"From a conflict resolution point of view, brinksmanship doesn't usually work, especially when you have polarized interests," O'Connor said. "But threats are made all the time. It's the one power that a governor has when he doesn't have any authority: He threatens, or cajoles or bribes."

She said "only time will tell" if Schwarzenegger's veto threats will work to get a water bond on the November 2010 ballot.

Legislative leaders said Sunday that they remain at odds over the size of a water bond measure for new reservoirs and canals, and remain divided over conservation mandates and existing water rights protections.

"He is almost a governor without a party at the moment," O'Connor said of Schwarzenegger. "He's clearly not a Democrat -- although he gets along with them better than with members his own party - and he is trying to craft a deal that requires cooperation and his own folks (Republicans) are not cooperating."

Schwarzenegger has until Sunday at midnight to act on the range of bills sitting on his desk. State law says the governor has 30 days to act on bills after the legislative session's end.

More News