When All Was Said And Done

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The Great 'Give Me Water or I'll Give You Vetoes' Showdown of 2009 is now over. And as is often the case around the Capitol, everyone lives to fight another day.

Just after 9:30 pm last night, Governor Schwarzenegger released a statement that ended the long-running saga over a deal on water issues, and whether lack of said deal would trigger a mass veto of legislation worked on all throughout the year.

"Over the past few days we have made enough progress in our negotiations that I am calling a special session on water," Schwarzenegger said in the statement.

The idea of a special session on water issues -- the apparent seventh this year alone -- has been bandied about ever since the Legislature failed to send proposals to the Guv's desk by the end of the regular session last month. Since then, Schwarzenegger and his advisers had remained coy about calling one, probably in part because it was worth seeing whether a deal was, or was not, imminent. After all, while the rest of the world may consider a "special session" a declaration of urgency, Capitol watchers know that the timelines for actually convening and acting in special session are, no pun intended, fluid.

A governor may be able to call attention to an issue by asking the Legislature to show up, but that's about as far as it has to go. And don't forget, there are already pending special sessions on tax reform and education issues.

The announcement, of course, means one of two things: that a deal truly is close, in which case a special session is likely needed to push through the actual legislative proposals... or... the details were still so messy by Sunday night that there was no way to finish in time to avoid the veto massacre Schwarzenegger had promised... but perhaps wasn't so thrilled with carrying out, considering the acrimony it would have created with legislators. Comments from Republican legislative leaders yesterday seemed to indicate the latter.

(As it's been pointed out, that acrimony would have been largely with Democrats, as the vast majority of bills in limbo had Democratic, not Republican, authors.)

And so Schwarzenegger's Sunday night release of what could be called legislative hostages -- hundreds of bills that the governor had earlier promised to can in the absence of a water compromise -- will no doubt set tongues wagging about what, if anything, the water poker game accomplished.

As of this morning, documents from the governor's office show he acted on 685 bills Sunday, signing 456 into law and vetoing 229. While there were a few big legislative policy issues the governor decided to endorse with his signature -- solar energy mortgage crisis fixes to name two -- there were a few proposals which most might have expected a veto, and which instead received an autograph. Most notable are two the governor publicly lambasted this summer as examples of the Legislature taking its eyes off the ball: a bill establishing a new commission on blueberries and a bill banning the cutting (or "docking") of cow tails. Such reversals are, predictably, already leading some to wonder what all the fuss was about.

Still, the governor vetoed some bills with a clear sign he didn't like the Legislature's collective priorities. A great case in point: the veto message for a bill to encourage the sterilization of high school wrestling equipment in an effort to battle staph infections. Schwarzenegger vetoed the measure because, according to his veto message, there are no impediments in existing law to sterilize wrestling equipment But he also used the occasion to jab (with puns, no less) both the author, Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter), and the Legislature in general:

The Legislature needs to wrestle with whether it will continue to pass bills like this one, that current law sufficiently addresses, or whether it will go to the mat on pressing issues such as water infrastructure, tax reform, and federal education funding.

But back to the issue of water: the real question is whether the broad veto gambit paid off for Schwarzenegger, or California as a whole, on resolving the never-ending saga over the state's water supply.

(Note: Not many more bloggings until November folks, as I remain on paternity leave. This one took an awful long time to write while dealing with both a newborn and a toddler's morning needs! --JM)

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About John Myers

John Myers is Sacramento Bureau Chief for KQED Public Radio and "The California Report," heard daily on 23 public radio stations across the Golden State.

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