By Karen Shanton
When Republicans flipped the Arkansas General Assembly from blue to red in 2012, they didn't just gain a legislative majority. They also picked up the power to override gubernatorial vetoes.
With a Democrat, Mike Beebe, in the governor's mansion, this wasn't likely to be an inconsequential shift. And it's already starting to have some consequences. Earlier this year, Governor Beebe vetoed bills banning early-term abortions and requiring voters to show photo ID at the polls. Those vetoes were promptly overridden. Last week's trio of election reform vetoes faces a similar override threat.
Arkansas is uniquely positioned for veto overrides. It's one of just three states–with Missouri and Rhode Island–to emerge from the 2012 election with both a veto-proof legislature and divided government (government in which the governor's mansion and one or both legislative chambers are held by different parties). And it's the only one of the three with a simple majority override requirement. Rhode Island legislators need three-fifths of the vote to override a gubernatorial veto. Missourians have to muster two-thirds.
But some of the morals of this case should resonate in other states. The Arkansas example clearly illustrates the old political saw, "elections have consequences." Voter ID and abortion ban proposals like the ones that passed over Governor Beebe's vetoes this year stalled in the pre-election, Democrat-controlled Assembly. And Governor Beebe's veto count jumped from zero last biennium to six so far in the new biennium.
The Arkansas case also illustrates a new twist on the old saw: legislative rules have consequences. Republicans hold a mere simple majority of the Arkansas General Assembly. So, if Arkansas followed Missouri's or even Rhode Island's lead on veto override requirements, its policy landscape might have looked quite different than it currently does.