Historic veto bears scrutiny
Original post can be found HERE at Catskill Mountain News
Pundits were calling the Ulster legislature’s override of Mike Hein’s veto on term limits historic, and so it was. Hein, who took office on Jan. 1, 2009, almost made it through his first decade without having the legislature reject the half a dozen or so vetoes he had issued in the last decade. And then on Tuesday night, December 18, in its last regular session of the year, the legislature summoned up the minimum 16 votes to enact into law a resolution Hein had termed illegal.
Term limits, initially adopted by the legislature in November, had been on the agenda for more than a year and with many a tweak. First to fall victim to horse-trading between the executive and solons was a proviso to extend terms from the current two years to four years. After dropping that, they got busy with final legislation insuring that anybody currently in office would be given at least another dozen years in the legislature. This brings new meaning to the term “feathering one’s nest.”
The bill was not limited to the 23-member legislature, thus the degree of executive interest. Also, term-limited were the county executive and the comptroller, both to 12 more years after 2020.
Both sides played to their main points while ignoring their opponent’s, a form of political discourse all too common these days.
Hein based his veto on a state attorney’s opinion that the legislature did not have the authority to limit its own terms of office, even by referendum. An attorney’s opinion is, of course, only advisory. Legislators contended that giving voters that option was the essence of democracy. It was also convenient cover for legislators, i.e., listening to the voice of the people.
Hein also raised the specter of uber-conservative outside “dark money” operatives, presumably intent on removing incumbents so they could elect some like-minded candidates. For sure, the Mercer-backed Reclaim New York poured a ton of money promoting term limits back in July which at least delayed the vote until November.
But I think most of it was for show. The thin-skinned executive does not suffer humiliation, much less invite it. In this case, he was willing to take one for the team – the legislature – almost a year before any of them – including Hein – will face voters.
I’m not the only one suggesting this, but after a decade into the executive form of government, the legislature has yet to find its feet. Most, if not many of the initiatives its members brag about to voters, rise from the executive and most of them through the Hein-controlled budget process. This legislature, which has had at least 35 new members over the last 10 years, is barely relevant.
What better way, then, to demonstrate its independence, relevance and power than to override an executive veto? Was Hein an unindicted co-conspirator? None will say, but this much can be said: if the all-powerful executive wanted that veto to stand, it would have never reached the floor.
The danger, as Hein well knows, is that power, once tasted – and perhaps toasted by the electorate – has a way of feeding the appetite for more.