Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed bills at nearly twice of the rate of his two most-recent predecessors, Gray Davis and Pete Wilson. And if this year is any indication, he has rejected Democratic measures at several times the rate of GOP-authored bills.
Looking at veto rates of the last fifteen years, Schwarzenegger’s reign is notable for three things: the higher veto rate, his consistency in vetoing at least 22 percent of the bills that hit his desk, and the low number of bills reaching his desk.
Over four years, Schwarzenegger has rejected 23.3 percent of the bills reaching his desk in a given year. For Davis, the rate was only 14.8 percent; for Wilson, it was 13.7 percent over his last six years. While we did not evaluate data prior to 1993, conservative columnist Debra Saunders wrote in the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday the Schwarzenegger had the highest veto rate of any California governor in 40 years.
“I don’t think there’s anything to it,” said the governor’s press secretary, Aaron McLear. “The governor tries to evaluate each bill on its merits and looks at what’s best for California.
“He does not consider what previous governors have done, or whether it’s a Republican bill or a Democrat bill,” McLear added.
Wilson’s veto rate fell by half during the two years the GOP controlled the legislature in his second term. He turned back only 7.7 percent of the 1,195 bills that landed on his desk in 1995, and only 8.3 percent of bills the next year. When Democrats controlled the Legislature, his average veto rate jumped to 16.5 percent, peaking at 21.8 percent in his final year, 1998.
Democrat Davis never had to deal with a Republican legislature, but still rejected 22.3 percent of the 1,617 bills on his desk in 2000. In 2003, however, he vetoed only 5.2 percent of bills, the lowest percentage for any year from the past three administrations.
Legislative Republicans have been frequently critical of Schwarzenegger, saying he often doesn’t live up the ideals of the party. But they can likely take some solace in his veto record.
Schwarzenegger vetoed 133 Assembly bills this session, and 129 were authored by Democrats. Of the 451 Assembly bills he signed, 132 had Republican authors. Put another way, he signed 97 percent of Assembly Republican bills (132 of 136) and 71 percent of Assembly Democratic bills (319 of 448).
This number includes so-called “committee bills,” carried by Assembly committees, all of which are chaired by majority democrats. According to an article by Frank Russo, publisher of the California Progress Report, the governor signed 86 or 90 committee bills from both houses, meaning the true veto rate for Democratic bills was actually higher than 29 percent.
On the Senate side, only five of 81 vetoes went to GOP bills. Schwarzenegger signed nearly 300 Senate bills, about one fifth of them from Republicans.
In other words, an Assembly Democratic bill was nearly ten times as likely to be vetoed as a Republican bill, while the Senate had a lower but still significant difference. The reasons for this may not be strictly partisan on the governor’s part, noted Beth Willon, press secretary for Assembly Speaker Fabian N