ANNAPOLIS – Democrats in the Maryland General Assembly overturned three more of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich’s vetoes Wednesday to bring the total number to 17 during this politically-charged legislative session, the most since the last Republican held the governor’s office almost 40 years ago.
The overrides began on the second day of the session, when the Assembly gained national attention by overturning Ehrlich’s veto of a bill to force Wal-Mart to pay more for employee health care. Since then, vetoes of bills ranging from a minimum wage increase to poll practices to a bill that would allow the use of cameras to monitor illegal dumping in Baltimore have been fallen to the Democrats’ overwhelming majority in both houses.
Wednesday, the General Assembly overturned vetoes of a second illegal dumping bill and two other measures that will change the burden of proof for uninsured motorists and allow Montgomery County to install cameras to catch speeders.
“The Governor picked a fight with the Legislature and now the Republicans are embarrassed that he’s losing,” said Sen. Brian E. Frosh, D – Montgomery, “Frankly, he should be embarrassed for vetoing some of these bills.”
Republicans contend that the Democratic overrides are solely political.
“The monopoly in the legislature is focused on these vindictive overrides, putting politics over policy,” said Henry P. Fawell, an Ehrlich spokesman.
“The Governor is disappointed that these overrides are such bad public policy,” he added.
Votes in both houses have largely been split along party lines, with the Democrats easily achieving or surpassing the three-fifths majority needed.
The last time that gubernatorial vetoes were overturned at anywhere near this rate was during the administration of the last GOP governor in Maryland, Spiro T. Agnew, from 1967-1969. The General Assembly overrode nine Agnew vetoes in two special sessions.
Historically, Democratic Governors have fared far better in defending their vetoes.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening did not have a single veto overturned during his eight years in office. Prior to that, Gov. William Donald Schaefer had only two overridden.
Ehrlich had 16 vetoes of bills overridden in his first three years in office, including a special session, bringing his total to 33 overrides so far in his first term.
“I have to look at it as Democrats flaunting their power,” said Senate minority leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, R – Lower Shore.
“I don’t feel good about that, I don’t think that’s right and I regret that we continue down this road,” he said.
Some Democrats acknowledge that there are political motivations behind the overrides, but say that Ehrlich has forced their hand by being uncooperative with the Legislature.
“Obviously, there are politics here,” said Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, a Southern Maryland Democrat, during an override debate Jan. 18. “If Gov. Glendening wasn’t so malleable, so flexible, there would have been more overrides (during his administration).”
House majority leader Kumar P. Barve, D – Montgomery, concurred. “It happens to be that way when you disagree with the Governor, who is from the other party, it’s automatically political,” he said.
The House minority whip, Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, a Southern Maryland Republican, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the vetoes on the house floor.
“At this point in Maryland’s history these are very bad bills,” he said during the debate on three vetoed voting bills. “I hope we don’t flex our political muscles to the detriment of the state.” Not all of Ehrlich’s vetoes have been overridden, but the veto override efforts have not ended. He vetoed a total of 33, excluding duplicate bills that were passed by both houses but only one was needed to become law.