New Jersey's 12th Legislative District

Senator Samuel Thompson

Senator Sam Thompson

Editorial: Thompson on Historical Rarity of Successful Veto Overrides in New Jersey

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The following editorial by Senator Sam Thompson (R-12) regarding the historic number of veto override attempts conducted by legislative Democrats against Governor Christie was published by the Asbury Park Press on March 26:

Editorial writers, Democrats and others have reported Gov. Chris Christie has set a record with the number of bills he has vetoed and have continuously asserted that Republican members of the Legislature are spineless, intimidated cowards because, despite 50 veto override attempts, they have never provided the votes for a single veto override.

Sen. Sam Thompson notes that Gov. Christie has faced a record number of attempts by Democrats to override his vetoes of legislation, and that successful veto overrides are historically rare in New Jersey. (SenateNJ.com)

A historical review of records of gubernatorial vetoes and veto override attempts belies both of these statements. However, it also reveals the most significant and record-making number usually cited is actually the 50 override attempts. This is truly a record for the last 60 years.

There were not this many veto override attempts even in the four years in which the opposition party had veto-proof majorities in both houses (1968-69 and 1992-93). The previous record over this time span was 32 veto override attempts in Gov. Thomas Kean’s first term (1982-85), the last governor confronted by a legislature with a similar composition — both houses controlled by the opposition party with less than veto-proof majority.

It is also worth noting, the Legislature attempted to override 44 of the 290 vetoes cast by Christie in his first term and has tried to override 50 of his 354 vetoes to date. By comparison, the 32 veto attempts made in Kean’s first term were out of 608 bills he vetoed in that term.

In the two legislative sessions when the opposition party had veto-proof majorities in both houses, only 24 and 17 overrides were attempted. At no other time during the past 55 years did the number of veto overrides attempted in any gubernatorial term even reach double digits.

What this clearly indicates is that Christie has had to contend with the most contentious legislature in at least the last 55 years. The record number of override attempts Democrats have made clearly shows their preference is to make a political statement as opposed to sitting down and trying to resolve issues. That is not to infer that they are never willing to work toward solutions, just that they have a passion for making political statements.

The historical review of gubernatorial vetoes and veto overrides indicates it would be more appropriate for the media to characterize the Legislature during the Christie administration as the Don Quixote Democratic Legislature than to try to assert that the Republican members are spineless cowards for not providing the votes necessary for a veto override.

As discussed, the Democrats have tried far more overrides in the last five years than any similar legislatures in the last 55 years. In fact, the 50 overrides they attempted of Christie’s 350 vetoes exceeds the 46 veto attempts made of 2,734 vetoes cast by the other nine governors during this timeframe when the opposition party did not have veto-proof majorities in both houses.

The futility of their efforts and the justification for characterizing this legislature as a Don Quixote Democratic Legislature is the fact that legislative overrides historically do not occur in New Jersey unless the opposition party has a veto-proof majority in both houses.

Only once in the last 55 years has the opposition party been able to override a governor’s veto without having veto-proof majorities in both houses no matter who the governor was.

The inability of the Democrats in the current Legislature to obtain the necessary votes to accomplish a veto override is obviously a continuation of a longstanding New Jersey tradition. Consequently, unless those who would attempt to assert that the current Republican members are spineless cowards for failing to provide the votes for overrides, they must also be willing to assert the same claim for all of the legislative bodies in the state for the past 55 years.

Any event that occurs only once in 55 years has to be deemed historic. If the Democrats, with the current composition of the Legislature, were to be able to achieve a veto override for only the second time in 55 years, that too would be historic.

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