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When Montana's Governor vetoes a bill, it leaves a mark

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April 14, 2011


By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Helena, MONTANA: Up in Big Sky County, Governor Brian Schweitzer holds a record for vetoing bills, a record in set back in 2007 and broke this year. But that was hardly the story at the state capitol Wednesday morning. Seven bills that had particularly irked the second term Democrat were publicly branded with a red hot "VETO" brand the Governor has specially made.

All seven bills were GOP backed items, leading to Republicans charges that Schweitzer was engaging in political theater, putting on a "spectacle."[1] Red Lodge lawmaker Jason Priest, a Representative who has seen three of his bill literally go up in flames this session said, "Some of those bills had bi-partisan support. I think not only is it bad political theater but bad policy."

The crowds seemed to disagree. As Schweitzer turned out in jeans and an oversize silver belt buckle and announced, "These bills are either frivolous, unconstitutional or in direct contradiction to the expressed will of the people of Montana," onlookers cheered him on.[2]

Keeping with the demands of voters who likely know a thing or two about branding, Schweitzer actually had three 'VETO' brands prepared in 'calf', 'yearling' and 'bull' versions. Three bills were deemed bad enough to merit the last of those. The Governor insists he take the decision to veto a bill seriously, despite having a little fun with parts of it.

After the public vetoing was over, he returned to his office to veto 16 more bills in a somewhat more traditional manner. Already past all Montana's past records for single year gubernatorial vetoes, Schweitzer has said he may strike down upwards of 100 before all is said and done.

That could strike at bipartisan relationships, though. The GOP dominates the legislation with 60 of 100 House seats and 28 of 50 in the Senate. At least on those lawmakers took exception to seeing his serious work made light of. "I think those bills were done in a sincere effort to make a difference in Montana. It is what it is. I can't change it," was the opinion of Jim Peterson.

As Senate President, Peterson can certainly try to do something about that. Montana's lawmakers do have the option to override vetoes, and the House easily has enough Republicans to do that. The Senate however is six votes short of a purely partisan override; six Democrats would need to come on board.

There is, as yet, no word on whether Republicans have ordered an "OVERRIDE" brand.

See also