By Sid Salter
There has been talk about Gov. Haley Barbour entering his “lame duck” session. But based on the first week of the session, the limp hasn’t been particularly noticeable.
On the first day of the 2011 regular session of the Mississippi Legislature this week, Barbour greeted lawmakers with another veto.
This time, Barbour vetoed a section of the state Department of Insurance’s appropriations dealing with a $20 million subsidy for the Mississippi Underwriting Association Reinsurance Assistance Fund, the so-called “windpool.”
The result? The House failed in an attempt to override Barbour’s veto. The vote Wednesday was 68-52 in favor of an override, but the vote fell well short of the 80 votes that were needed.
Barbour actually vetoed the proposal last May. The $20 million subsidy would have come from the state’s Hurricane Disaster Relief Fund.
Many members of the Gulf Coast delegation asked lawmakers urged to vote for the override. Rep. Brandon Jones, D-Pascagoula, argued that insurance rates are the most pervasive problem facing Hurricane Katrina survivors.
Barbour actually lost the votes of four Republican representatives, all Gulf Coast legislators, on the veto override vote. But Barbour picked up six Democratic votes to prevail against the override attempt.
The 1890 Constitution gave the governor the power to veto legislative action, but it required a two-thirds majority of the entire membership of both houses to override a gubernatorial veto. Still, when Democrats dominated both houses of the Legislature, veto override fights weren’t much of a problem for the legislative leadership.
Beginning his eighth and final year as governor, Barbour’s veto record is perfect. He’s never been overridden.
To pass a revenue bill, the Senate needs 32 votes. To override a gubernatorial veto, 35 Senate votes are needed. With Republicans in tacit control of the Senate, Barbour’s had a safety value against House challenges.
But asked about his veto record in 2006, Barbour said he was simply playing the political cards he was dealt.
“The governor’s power to veto legislation has existed in Mississippi for more than 100 years. It’s not a product of any contemporary political situation,” Barbour said. “That’s how the system works and I accept that. I’m not overly fond of vetoes. Heck, I hope I never have to make another one.”
So far, Barbour’s pitching a shutout against the Legislature with his veto record. But getting to the end of his tenure with that perfect veto record intact will require all Barbour’s political skills.
Barbour came close to losing his perfect veto record last year when some fellow Republicans turned on him in the battle over eminent domain. But Barbour enlisted help from loyal Republicans and Democrats to stave off that challenge in the state Senate after the House voted to override Barbour’s veto of the eminent domain bill.
As the end of Barbour’s term in office approaches, the power he’s exerted over the legislative process will decrease. That’s a virtual certainty. But there’s no sign in the early days of the 2011 session that he’s lost his power just yet.
Contact syndicated columnist Sid Salter, Perspective editor of the Clarion-Ledger, at (601) 961-7084 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.