State legislators ponder override of Palin vetoes

Posted: Thursday, June 05, 2008

Legislators are gathered in Juneau to decide whether to back Gov. Sarah Palin's gas pipeline plan, but some are saying they want to confront her on another issue: her controversial vetoes of $268 million from the state's capital budget last month.

David Sheakley / Juneau Empire
David Sheakley / Juneau Empire

The debate in the legislative hallways over the veto override issue adds a new dynamic to the contentious gas pipeline debate, as some of those expected to back the governor on the gas pipeline are also looking to challenge her on the project vetoes.

House Speaker John Harris, R-Valdez, said there is interest among Republicans in overriding Palin's vetoes, but those wanting to challenge the governor on the vetoes will need the support of House Democrats to make that happen.

"We don't have the votes in our caucus," he said.

House Democratic Leader Rep. Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, said her caucus is spilt on the issue, like the Republicans.

There might be enough votes in her caucus to back an override, she said.

"There are some people who will not vote to override any vetoes, some who will vote to override on specific issues, and some who want to override all of them," Kerttula said.

One of those votes would likely come from Juneau's other representative.

"I'm just so frustrated with the governor's ferry vetoes. I'm ready to override all of them," said Rep. Andrea Doll, D-Juneau.

Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, whose rural Southeast district was hit hard by vetoes, said he wasn't ready to comment.

Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, who criticized the growth of the state budget, said he'd oppose any attempt to override the governor.

The Alaska Constitution gives the Legislature five days after a special session convenes to decide to override. The deadline to override would be Saturday.

The Constitution also makes it difficult to override a veto, needing a 75 percent supermajority of the 60 legislators, meeting in joint session, to override the governor.

Some members of the Senate majority coalition, made up of 75 percent of the Senate itself, said they'd be willing to go the override route.

"I'd like to see a discussion," said Sen. Kim Elton, D-Juneau.

"I've got some interest," said Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage, and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Elton was among those legislators criticizing Palin for failing to communicate her veto criteria to the Legislature ahead of time, and said that may play into legislators' interest in overrides.

The governor, Elton said, "needs to be engaged when we are saying 'no' to a lot of people, and 'yes' to a few," he said.

Senate Republican Minority Member Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks, said an override would be a mistake.

"She cut less than 10 percent," he said. "I think everyone ought to be very grateful for the size of the capital budget. An override just makes us look greedy."

Some legislators say they think the override talk stems from resentment of an extremely popular governor who doesn't treat the Legislature as an equal branch of government and doesn't come down from her third-floor offices to engage the House and Senate.

"Some people think it is time we taught the third floor a lesson," said Doogan, an override opponent.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 586-4816 or e-mail

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