Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, June 23, 1999

governor’s vetoes

THE trouble was cutting taxes. At issue was the tax on dogs, female dogs.

The Legislature's majority wanted the tax on female dogs lowered from $3 to $1 per year. Debate ensnarled the Legislature for days. When it passed, the governor vetoed it.

But the Legislature, which saw things decidedly differently than the governor, came back into session and overrode the veto.

It was Hawaii's first Legislature as a territory. Controlling the majority was the Independent or Home Rule Party, a short-lived political attempt by Hawaiians to peacefully get back the power they lost in the overthrow of the monarchy and the islands' annexation by the United States.

The veto override was a first for the Legislature. In total, the Legislature has overridden a governor's veto 51 times, all while Hawaii was still a territory and the governor was appointed by the president of the United States.

Since statehood, no governor has had a veto overturned.

There have been nearly 400 vetoes since 1959, but the Legislature has never been able to summon the votes to call itself back into session and override the veto.

In something of a face-saving maneuver, twice the Legislature met in special session to amend the vetoed bill. That met the governor's objections, without the unpleasantness of a direct override.

Today the Legislature and the governor appear to be closer to slapping, rather than saving, face. Gov. Ben Cayetano has quarreled before with the Senate, but like governors before him has gotten along with the state House.

Because House members run every two years, it just makes sense for representatives to avoid fights with the governor. Senators, on the other hand, enjoy a more independent view because they run every four years.

The relationship between the governor and the Senate, however, is particularly strained right now. Cayetano lost his two most important cabinet officers, Earl Anzai, budget director, and Margery Bronster, attorney general, when the Senate failed to reconfirm them.

Legislators grumble that in response Cayetano has gone out of his way to veto bills.

Now the Legislature has a chance to override the vetoes.

If they are to do so, the House and Senate must call themselves back into session by July 9 for the purpose of overriding one or more vetoes.

Then two-thirds of each chamber must approve the override.

THE other option is for the Legislature to amend the offending legislation or rewrite it and pass it as a new bill.

There are plenty of potential cases for revival. Senators see bills rejected by Cayetano that would have made it easier for prosecutors to win murder convictions in some cases. Another vetoed bill would have addressed native Hawaiian claims against the state.

As the battle between the executive and the Legislature continues, Cayetano's hand grows weaker. He has only one more two-year budget to offer and only three more years of executive appointments to make.

More importantly, as his announced retirement in 2002 approaches, Cayetano's political clout wanes.

The issues, much like the dog tax bill of 100 years ago, are likely to be forgotten, but the effect of the fight will be part of Cayetano's legacy.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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