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Editorial: Brown takes the cap off her veto pen

Editorial: Brown takes the cap off her veto pen

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Gov. Kate Brown has announced that she plans to fully or partially veto at least one bill passed by this year's legislative session, but she doesn't need to identify the ones she has in mind until she actually carries through with the vetoes.

Oregon's Constitution requires the governor to publicly announce whether she plans to use the veto five days before she actually does so. As The Oregonian explained in a story this week, this requirement is satisfied when the governor notifies legislative leaders that she plans to veto legislation. A spokeswoman for Senate President Peter Courtney's office told the newspaper this week that the office has received word from the governor that she's planning to break out the veto pen.

(As an aside, we love the thought of a "veto pen," perhaps a nice fountain pen, that is set aside specifically for the purpose of rejecting offending legislation. "I'm getting the veto pen," the governor could say, and then could reach out to shatter the sheet of glass behind which the pen is stored. The glass, of course, would bear the legend "In case of veto, break glass." Under the terms of the state constitution, the sound of the glass breaking could satisfy the requirement that the governor provide notification that a veto is pending.)

But we digress.

The governor is notorious for playing her cards close to her chest, but we'll find out soon enough which bills she wants to reject, since her veto deadline is Aug. 9.

She has dropped some clues over the last few weeks. As we have noted in previous editorials, she has publicly said that one bill in particular, Senate Bill 761 (which we have mentioned in other editorials), made her "grumpy." And she has good reason for feeling that way: Senate Bill 761 would make it more difficult for citizens to qualify an initiative for the ballot.

The bill, which passed the Legislature on the last day of the session, bars initiative supporters from handing out copies of electronic signature sheets to Oregonians to sign and submit. Instead, voters will have to print their own forms or ask someone to print one for them. And each signature sheet must include the complete text of the proposed measure. During her term as secretary of state, Brown did good work in expanding voting rights in Oregon; this bill flies in the face of that. She should veto it.

Brown's veto ability extends to making line-item cuts in spending bills, and she's used that power: In the summer of 2017, she issued four line-item vetoes. Three involved spending projects in the district of then-Rep. Sal Esquivel, whom Brown accused of reneging on a deal to support a package of hospital and insurance taxes to fund the state's Medicaid program. Esquivel voted for the package, but then joined an effort to refer it to voters. 

It's hard to know for sure if Brown's 2017 vetoes represented her way of playing hardball with Esquivel. But, in that light, we noted with some concern remarks the governor made over the weekend to a reporter for Politico while she was at a National Governors Association meeting in Utah. Brown said that Senate Republicans' decision to walk out of the Capitol in an effort to kill a climate change bill "will haunt them over the next decade." When the reporter asked if Brown planned to inflict punishment by vetoing legislation important to Republicans, she responded: "I will just say ... revenge is a dish best served cold and slowly."

Those are intemperate words that Brown might come to regret, although you can see how she might be peeved at the state GOP, seeing how it's trying to get her recalled and all. But the governor might do well to remember that the Oregonians who live in districts represented by Republicans are the very same people she has said she wants to reach out to on climate change issues. This may not be the best way to start that outreach.  (mm)


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