The Missouri General Assembly entered its yearly veto session on Sept. 16. In it, the Republican-led body voted to override 12 bills vetoed by Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat.
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a GOP candidate for governor, said the amount of bills overridden in the Sept. 16 veto session represented a historic achievement for Nixon.
"After today, @GovJayNixon will have been overridden more times than all previous governors in #MO history #moleg," Kinder said in a tweet.
We wondered if Kinder was right. Is Nixon Missouri's most overridden governor of all time?
We reached out to Kinder's director of communications, Jay Eastlick, who sent us a list of Missouri governors and the number of times they were overridden. He gathered the information from Anne Rottmann, an administrator at the the Senate Legislative Library.
Before the Constitution of 1875, Eastlick said, a simple majority was enough to override a veto. Veto sessions became annual events in 1989. During a veto session, the General Assembly may override any veto issued after the regular session if two-thirds of the members in each chamber agree. The list includes nine governors.
It turns out Kinder is right. Not only is Nixon the most overridden governor in Missouri history, more of his vetoes have been overridden than those of all previous governors combined. (The chart below lists Missouri governors and the number of overrides of vetoed legislation. The chart does not include overrides of line item appropriations.)
Nixon vetoes have been overridden 34 times in the past six years: one each in 2011 and 2012; nine in 2013; 11 in 2014; and 12 this year. Between 2012 and 2013, there was a significant spike in vetoes.
Legislative makeup under Nixon
Of the 34 total overrides, 23 occurred after 2013. That's almost 68 percent of all overrides. Missouri's political climate and the makeup of the General Assembly, especially the House of Representatives, has undergone a noteworthy change during Nixon's current term.
Here's a look at how the balance of power has changed:
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon made history on Sept. 16 by having the most vetoes overridden for a Missouri governor. Missouri GOP members overrode a dozen of Nixon's vetoes. The Missouri legislature has experienced a small but steady increase of Republican seats in the House since 2009. Shy Hardiman
The numbers show a small steady increase in Republican seats in the House. We wondered about the significance of this shift in power, so we reached out to a few experts to speak about the veto process and Missouri's political climate during Nixon's time as governor.
Marvin Overby, an American politics professor at MU, said the partisan divide does have an impact on veto overrides.
"Any executive (governor or president) facing a legislature in which both chambers are controlled by the opposition will likely be in a position to a) use the veto pen more often and b) face a larger number of overrides."
Nixon faced a Republican-dominated General Assembly for nearly half his tenure as governor.
Between 2009 and 2012, the Republicans in the House of Representatives did not hold a veto-proof majority because they didn't occupy two-thirds of the chamber. Every year since, Republicans have maintained a two-thirds margin in the General Assembly. The Senate has maintained a two-thirds margin since Nixon's first year in 2009.
In addition to the legislative makeup, Peverill Squire, an American politics professor at MU, said the relationship between the governor and the legislature contributes to number of vetoes and veto overrides.
"The governor has not enjoyed a close relationship with the legislature and that has contributed to the number of bills he has vetoed and the number of those vetoes that have been overridden," Squire said. "But partisanship rather than personal relationships really drives the number of overrides."
So, legislative makeup affects veto overrides and the bills that are vetoed in the first place, but is Kinder's claim significant?
Overby said there are many ways to interpret the number of times Nixon has been overridden.
"From Kinder's perspective, the number is notable because it is the most in state history. But from another perspective, it would be reasonable to ask about the percentage of vetoes overridden," Overby said.
So, we looked at the percentage of vetoes overridden.
Except for 2015, Nixon vetoes were sustained more often than they were overridden.
Although 34 veto overrides is a historic number, Squire said it is worth noting that the GOP failed to override the governor on a number of key issues.
Overby echoed Squire and said the more interesting question is how Nixon can sustain any vetoes given the makeup of the General Assembly.
Overby said the reason vetoes were sustained depends on a multitude of factors: "a) Nixon's skill in choosing which bills to veto, b) splits within the GOP caucuses in the chambers and c) the fact that vetoes and overrides are not always sincerely about policy … sometimes they are about politics."
Scott Holste, Nixon's press secretary, noted that Kinder's claims leaves out details.
"...the General Assembly has sustained several vetoes on the Governor's key priorities, including Right to Work in 2015, two school voucher bills, and numerous tax break giveaways that would have done serious damage to the state budget…" Holste said.
Holste also said lumping all the veto overrides together misses the point.
"The bills that have been vetoed have been vetoed for a number of different reasons," he said. "In some instances, they are vetoed because of technical errors; others are vetoed because of constitutional problems; others because of unintended consequences."
Kinder said Nixon has been overridden "more times than all previous governors in Missouri history." Thanks to the growing Republican majority in the legislature and the number of bills Nixon vetoed, that is indeed correct.
We rate Kinder's claim to be True.