Governors in the news: state executives battle with lawsuits and their own legislatures

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January 21, 2011

By Eileen McGuire-Mahony

Governor Brewer has asked the Arizona legislature to expand her powers to cut spending

Republican Jan Brewer is asking her state's legislature to give her authority to cut spending without waiting for legislative approval to enact those cuts. Several states already have awarded their governors such a privilege and, facing unprecedented budget shortfalls, Brewer now wants to same, saying Arizona's precarious finances requires shortening the time it takes to put any cost-cutting measures into play.[1]

Brewer and her top aides in strategy in budget are looking north, to Colorado, where the Governor has much broader powers to suspend outlays and cut items, especially when the legislature is not sitting. Arizona faces a $1.5 deficit and is in her fourth year of trying to sort out the budget gap and, while lawmakers agree there is a problem, both sides are skittish of agreeing to increase the executive's power to the degree Brewer has requested.

Massachusett's parole board is in upheaval following Governor's request for resignations

When a recently paroled man gunner down a police officer in December 2010, the outcry led Governor Deval Patrick to ask for, and receive, five resignations from officers of the state parole board.[2] In the aftermath of John Maguire's death at the hands of Dominci Cinelli, Massachusett's Undersecretary of Public Safety John Grossman and Governor Patrick issued an audit detailing the missteps that put Cinelli back on the streets.

In addition to the board resignations, Grossman and Patrick's review led to a former parole board officer quitting his new job as a prison system supervisor and to the suspension of three parole officers who were found to have failed in keeping track of Cinelli.[3] Inmates did not escape the reaction to Maguire's death; Grossman confirmed that, until further notice, the release of all parolees has been suspended. Patrick has interpreted the authority of the state parole board to include the right to delay granting release to a parolee while the Massachusetts office of Prisoner Legal Services is considering a lawsuit if the releases aren't granted.

Suffolk County Prosecutor Josh Wall, already scheduled to before the Senate for confirmation on February 2, 2011, is expected to take over as interim director of the parole board on Monday. The remaining four vacant slots will likely be filled by Governor Patrick in the coming days.


South Carolina unions are suing to force Governor Haley to remain neutral in labor battle

Palmetto unions sensed trouble when new Governor Nikki Haley named Catherine Templeton, an attorney known for honing a fierce skill in taking on organized labor, as Secretary of the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation. Publicly announcing her nominee, Haley said she wanted to keep unions out of her state's Boeing Plant. Unions have taken that comment as a significant enough threat to their interest to file a lawsuit. Filing jointly, the AFL-CIO and the International Union of Machinists are seeking a court order that would compel Governor Haley and Secretary Templeton to remain officially neutral on matters of union organization.

In one of her first appearances, Templeton, already confirmed, flatly told the crowd, “"Let me be very clear ... this is an anti-union administration..." Her boss echoed that sentiment, telling a reported, “"There's no secret I don't like the unions...we are a right-to-work state, we are pro-business by nature...”[4]

Union lawyers are claiming Haley's overt words, “ intimidate and coerce workers” and that it is “practically unprecedented for a state to be so clear... “ Haley's spokesman shot back, telling supporters of unions, “If "the machinists are offended that the governor doesn't think unions are a good thing in South Carolina, they're just going to have to get used to it." Templeton, when challenged on her intentions by Democratic lawmakers, reiterated that Haley had charged her to enforce existing law and to refrain from making new rules.

Texas' Republican Governor gives more issues 'emergency' status in the legislature, and Dems aren't on board

Everything is bigger in Texas after all, including the size of the 'emergency legislation' list that Governor Rick Perry has handed to the legislature. Already, property rights and the issue of sanctuary cities have been designated as emergencies, meaning they get pushed to the fore the lawmakers' calendar. On Thursday, Perry made two more issues 'emergencies'; a voter ID bill and a call for a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.[5]

The voter ID issue makes Texas one of several states set to debate the issue this year. With no fewer than ten members of the legislature, representing both chambers, having already filed bills related to the issue, there will be no shortage of jumping off points for voter ID and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst, the Senate President, said he intends to bring the issue under discussion in the Senate as early as Monday, the 24th.

As the holder of the one of the most statutorily powerful lieutenant governorships in America, Dewhurst can wield substantial leverage. Presumed to be a 2012 Senatorial candidate for the seat Kay Bailey Hutchinson is retiring from, he is also newly under the magnifying glass. Lone Star Democrats have already signaled they aren't pleased to see the voter ID debate given emergency status. Added to their reaction to the items already pushed to the top of the agenda, the 2011 legislative session is clearly going to have sharp partisanship on display as it delves into Governor Perry's top items. Democrats point to the state's titanic deficit and to redistricting, arguing the state ought to prioritize those items. Too, they say voter fraud occurs at nowhere near the level that Republican supporters of a voter ID bill claim and worry that such a law would backfire by disenfranchising minorities.

Texas was the largest winner of the 2010 Census, picking up four new Congressional seats. The state's huge and rapidly growing Hispanic population is at the center of the looming redistricting debate. Some Democrats have expressed concerned that a GOP controlled process could leave Hispanic voters with the short end of the deal. At the same time, analysts have wondered if there is any way Republicans could create safe seats for themselves in the new districts without cutting the heart out of existing GOP strongholds. An early solution to the voter ID debate could put the racially charged issue to bed in time for it not to affect redistricting. However, if the hearings become too overheated, the entirety of a jam-packed legislative schedule could take on an unpleasant taste.

West Virginia's special gubernatorial election has first official candidate

Days after the state's Supreme Court ruled that West Virginia must hold a special gubernatorial election this year, Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant made her formal announcement.[6] She had already announced she would run in 2012, the next year an election was scheduled. If the proposed dates are accepted, then the primary will be on May 14, 2011, followed by an August 6, 2011 general election.

Senator Byrd's summer 2010 death triggered a special election for his U.S. Senate seat, won by Governor Joe Manchin. Democrat Earl Ray Tomblin is the acting Governor; he indicated both his interest in a full term and his desire not to move the date forward. Tomblin's dual role as Governor and Senate President led to calls of a conflict on interest. The Governor has said he will comply with the Court's ruling.