From looking at the raw numbers, Republican legislators might consider the Missouri General Assembly’s recent veto session a smashing success.
After all, the Republican-controlled body overrode 10 of Gov. Jay Nixon’s vetoes – and even more of his line-item vetoes. Nixon even faced a blistering condemnation from a Democratic senator over his response to Ferguson.
But those facts alone don’t necessarily tell the whole story. The Missouri Senate's decision to use a rare parliamentary maneuver to quash a filibuster effectively prevented Republicans from overriding more bills. It may mark a significant shift in how the General Assembly operates for the foreseeable future.
And there are questions about whether overriding Nixon’s line-item vetoes will have any discernable impact, primarily because of the governor’s strong powers over the budget.
To get a better take on the veto session’s impact, here are the answers to the five questions that we posed last week.
What was the main event?
There were two: the line item veto overrides and a bill enacting a 72-hour waiting period for abortions.
The line item overrides simply because they took up so much of the veto session’s time. They also probably got more attention because other high-profile bills – such as a measure overhauling the state’s student transfer law – didn’t make it past the finish line.
Meanwhile, the override of the 72-hour waiting period required the Senate to use the so-called “previous question” motion. It’s a controversial move that cuts off a filibuster and forces a vote on a particular bill. The last time the “PQ” was used was in 2007, when Republicans cut off filibusters on an abortion-related bill and an amendment making English the official language of proceedings.
We’ll get to the impact of that move in a bit. But the fact that the 72-hour waiting period bill broke a seven-year détente in the Missouri Senate boosts that legislation’s profile. (And that doesn’t even get to the fact the bill itself makes Missouri one of only three states that make a woman wait that long for an abortion.)
Can Republicans have another record-breaking session?
It depends on whether the 47 budgetary line items count toward the final total.
If you do include them, then the answer is unquestionably yes.
If not, it could still be argued the Republican legislature overrode a record number of standalone bills this year. That’s because the House and Senate overrode Nixon’s veto of a tax cut bill earlier this session – bringing the total up to 11.
Regardless, Nixon is under no obligation to release the funds from the overridden line items so the fate of the various line items remains to be seen.
Will conservative Republicans in the Missouri Senate be kingmakers?
Yes and no.
On the one hand, the Missouri Senate’s conservative bloc didn’t necessarily vote down any of the tax break bills known derisively as the “Friday favors.” In fact, many of those bills managed to get out of the Senate before getting struck down in the Missouri House.
But state Sen. Bob Dixon’s decision not to pursue a veto override of a wide-ranging bill that included tax breaks to data centers could be construed as a victory. And even if they didn’t play a direct role in torpedoing the 10 tax break bills, the fact that only a couple of them passed is a win for both the governor and certain conservative lawmakers.
What impact did Ferguson have on Nixon’s ability to sustain his vetoes?
This is a bit trickier to gauge. It certainly didn’t help Nixon’s cause that state Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City, took to the Senate floor to lambaste Nixon's response to the events in Ferguson.
And besides the line-item vetoes supported through bipartisan majorities, the legislature did override the governor on some important bills – including the abortion and gun bills.
But the legislature would have overridden Nixon on those issues even if the Ferguson unrest never happened. There have always been plenty of conservative Democrats willing to vote "yes" on gun and abortion bills (although Nixon’s fierce criticism of the so-called “gun nullification” bill last year probably play a role in that measure’s defeat).
Still, the legislature ended up not overriding the “Friday favors” and a bill that reclassifies deer as livestock. That suggested Democratic lawmakers were willing to stick with Nixon on some issues, even if they aren’t particularly happy with him.
Nixon wasn’t exactly in a great position with the legislature before Aug. 9 -- and he may be in for a very difficult time as he rides out his term.
How will Democrats matter this year?
They had some pull. Even though the 72-hour abortion waiting period bill passed, House Democrats were able to help defeat the deer-as-livestock bill when Rep. Jeff Roorda, D-Barnhart, switched votes at the last minute. They also played a role in overriding Nixon’s line-item vetoes.
But the Democrats’ biggest impact was what happened in the Senate after the previous question motion. When Democratic senators promised to filibuster every other override, Republicans effectively closed up shop. That prevented some bills from being enacted.
Senators like state Sen. Jason Holsman, D-Kansas City, openly discussed how his caucus could gum up the works next year – including refusing to give unanimous consent to introduce guests. This mirrors how relations between the caucuses soured after the previous question was used in 2007.
But Republican willingness to use the PQ motion could substantially weaken Democratic senators’ ability to block bills or force compromise. And that may make it harder to stop bills targeting labor unions or further restricting abortion.
On the Trail, a weekly column, weaves together some of the intriguing threads from the world of Missouri politics.