Attorney General Jerry Brown's refusal to investigate the governor's wholesale veto threat has drawn a pledge from one angry lawmaker to introduce legislation to bar future governors from threatening mass vetoes.
Brown, a Democrat and likely candidate for governor, on Friday declined to jump into the legal fray around Gov. Arnold Schwarzengger's veto threats – drawing a sharp rebuke from the two lawmakers who had made the requests.
The dispute centers on the governor's threat to veto some 700 bills on his desk unless the Legislature passes a comprehensive water bond package. The pair of legislators have alleged that this threat constituted illegal coercion and asked Brown to issue an opinion.
Brown's Oct. 9 veto opinion was addressed to those two legislators, Assemblyman Alberto Torrico, D-Fremont, a contender for state attorney general next year, and Sen. Jeff Denham, R-Merced.
"We believe the doctrine of separation of powers (Cal. Const., art. III) counsels against our inquiry into the legality of Governor Schwarzenegger's veto threats," Brown wrote. "Under out Constitution, the Governor's decision whether to veto legislation is an intrinsic part of the legislation."
The letter goes on to quote the well-known "sausage and legislation" line by late German president Otto Von Bismarck, and to cite how holding "legislation hostage" and extracting "ransom" are normal parts of the legislative process.
Brown also cites an earlier opinion by the Legislative Counsel declaring the threats legal. The Legislative Counsel provides legal advice to the Legislature, but Denham has criticized the opinion as using faulty legal logic.
"No one can duck responsibility like Jerry Brown can," said Denham in a statement. "Asked to render a legal opinion, Jerry instead rambles, quotes Otto von Bismark and speaks of doilies and tea. And now Jerry wants to be Governor again? Heaven help us if he makes it back."
Torrico meanwhile pledged to send the bill he's certain to want to veto no matter what's happening with water.
"On Monday, I am introducing legislation that will specifically clarify that any governor or legislator who threatens or intimidates or coerces through extortion, that will be specifically illegal and felony," Torrico said. "We're going to codify that into statute so there will be it will be in clear that in California, the politic of extortion will come to an end."
Such legislation, it became law, could change the budget process, Torrico noted.
"The action by the governor is just a culmination of what's been happening the last 4 or 5 years, where you have Republican legislators levering their vote on a budget for things they want," Torrico said.
Denham made the first request around February of this year, in response to similar though less comprehensive veto threats by the governor. Torrico's request was more recent, made in response to a blanket veto threat made several days ago in meetings with legislative leaders. He confirmed that threat publically on Friday.
The dispute is happening against a backdrop of ongoing negotiations over a comprehensive water bond. The governor is meeting with legislative leaders in both parties and houses-the so-called Big Five-throughout the weekend.
On Friday, the governor spoke at a rally outside the Capitol held by the California Latino Water Coalition. Schwarzenegger has been closely identified with the group, often appearing at rallies. According to a brochure produced by the group, he suggested the idea of the Coalition to Central Valley mayors and water officials in Selma in 2007.
"Water is the lifeblood over everything we do," the governor told the crowd.
The governor's communications director, Aaron McLear, downplayed Denham's and Torrico's reactions.
"We're not focused on political hype. We're focused on closing on a water deal," McLear said. He added, "Obviously we have the authority to veto bills. Every governor in history has had the authority to veto bills."