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Veto override didn’t feel all that historic

RALEIGH (AP) ó So much for history.
After several veto showdowns resolved through negotiation that avoided embarrassing either the executive or legislative branch, the General Assembly handed Gov. Mike Easley the first override in North Carolina state history with hardly a regret by lawmakers.
“The members are predominantly concerned about the substantive issue, not the dynamics between the two branches of state government,” House Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, said soon after the Senate and House took just 40 minutes to override Easley’s veto of a boat-towing bill. “I don’t know how historic it is.”
Sure, it’s historic in the sense that the Democratic-led Legislature finally used the balancing power it received when the governor obtained the veto stamp to cancel his objections. North Carolina was the last state to give the governor the veto in 1997.
But the override may become little more than an interesting footnote in North Carolina’s political record given what bill was vetoed and the governor who objected to the measure.
“I thought it was like a pimple on an elephant,” quipped former Democratic Speaker Joe Mavretic, who ran the chamber in 1989 and 1990. An override, he added, “had to happen sometime.”
Easley, who took office in 2001, has been the only governor to use the veto, doing so nine times. In the first eight, legislative leaders had either accepted the verdict of fellow Democrat Easley or negotiated a compromise based on the governor’s objections.
Five of those six previous bills followed the same pattern: lawmakers unhappy with Easley’s meddling in legislation say they have the votes to override, but later work a deal with Easley that allows the veto to stand. That means supporters of the vetoed legislation also save face.
Unlike last year’s vetoed bill on economic incentives for tire manufacturers, lawmakers had less patience this time around than to wait two days before reaching a compromise. Easley, Hackney and Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand were out of town last week at the Democratic National Convention. Only Hackney returned for the session.
“Sometimes you work it out and sometimes it can’t,” said House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman, D-Davidson, who couldn’t reach an agreement with Easley aide Franklin Freeman. “Our best work is done when we do come to a good compromise position.”
The measure Easley vetoed Aug. 17 eased restrictions on towing boats by allowing wider boats to be towed without a permit all hours of the day and night. Easley said the measure could put “families at a risk on the highways” for death and injury.
His objections frustrated some legislators, who said safety issues were considered thoroughly during legislative debate on the measure this year and that statistics showed few accidents involving towed boats in recent years.
The Highway Patrol had started ticketing violators more aggressively recently under the previous law, according to supporters of the change, threatening professional fishing tournaments in the state and the boat-building industry.
“You should look at safety first, and we did that, and we found that there was no valid reason to be concerned about this wide trailer and this wide boat,” said Senate leader Marc Basnight, a Democrat from coastal Dare County.
Troopers were opposed to the changes, and Freeman had said before the session ended Easley probably wouldn’t sign the bill. Easley pointed out situations under the new law where two 9 1/2 foot boats now could approach each other on a road with two lanes, each 9 feet wide, without a permit or time restrictions.
“I’m still startled that they can dismiss so easily the safety concerns by law enforcement, the same folks that they almost always listen to on other issues,” said Chris Fitzsimon, the executive director of NC Policy Watch, a liberal political watchdog group based in Raleigh.
House and Senate members still agreed to the override, surpassing easily the three-fifths vote requirement.
“I have done what I thought was right to protect the safety of the public on our highways,” Easley said in a response. “It will be the members of the General Assembly who will have on their hands the consequences of this law.”

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