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Rowan County legislators reflect on vetoes

In 20 years, North Carolina governors have vetoed 63 pieces of legislation. Just over 60 percent of those vetoes were overridden by the General Assembly.

A high percentage of the vetoes — about 45 percent — were made by current Gov. Roy Cooper, with a whopping 28 in the 2017-18 session of the legislature. That number appears far from surprising to two Rowan County legislators.

Outgoing state Sen. Dan Barrett, R-34, said the high number of vetoes could be expected considering the disconnect between Democrat Cooper and the veto-proof, Republican-controlled legislature.

“Many of the vetoes and veto override votes are a natural byproduct of divided government,” Barrett said. “The legislature had a more conservative governing philosophy, while Gov. Cooper’s governing philosophy is more liberal.”

Rep. Julia Howard, R-79, who will represent parts of western Rowan County in 2019 because of redistricting, agreed.

“Anytime you have different positions, (you) continue to have vetoes,” she said.

Differing positions also mean continued overrides, she said. Some 23 of 28 vetoes in 2017-18 had been overridden by midafternoon Thursday, with three rejected during a series of lame-duck sessions held since late November.

Barrett pointed to another cause for the increase in vetoes: a continued tension between the legislative and executive branches of government about which branch holds certain constitutional powers.

“This tension began with Gov. (Pat) McCrory and has continued under Gov. Cooper,” he said. “A recent example of this are Gov. Cooper’s vetoes of legislation regarding reconstituting the elections and ethics boards.”

So much back and forth and the resulting need for continued special sessions raises the question: Are legislators using their time in Raleigh as effectively as they should?

Yes, said Howard.

“I don’t believe any member has failed to continue to represent our constituents,” she said. “I know that our Rowan delegation has fulfilled our workload.”

Barrett said his experience is that the many return trips to Raleigh and extra time spent on legislation are necessary.

“It takes time for legislation to wind its way through two houses of the legislature, including committee work, negotiations with stakeholders,” he said, “and sometimes the executive branch and between two houses of the legislature.”

Looking ahead to next year, both Barrett and Howard said they expect vetoes to decrease with the loss of Republican supermajorities in the 2019-20 session.

For Howard, the loss is a cause for concern.

“I fear that very little will be accomplished in the next two years, including a new budget,” she said.

But Barrett, who will not serve in the 2019-20 session after losing to fellow incumbent Joyce Krawiec in this year’s double-bunked primary, sees the shift as an opportunity for positive change.

“To avoid gridlock, we will need better working relationships and communications between the legislature and the governor, with a focus on what is best for all North Carolinians,” he said. “In my view, good policy makes good politics, not the other way around.”

Reps. Carl Ford, Harry Warren and Larry Pittman and Sen. Tom McInnis did not respond to the Post’s request for comment.

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