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Once legislation has made its way through the lawmaking process, it comes to the governor’s desk for signature. If a governor signs the bill, it becomes law, and if the governor does not like the terms of the legislation he or she can veto, or reject, the entire bill. The bill can then become law only if a supermajority of legislators overrides the veto by voting in favor of the bill. Since it is difficult for two-thirds or more of state legislators to come together to override a veto (it requires many members of the governor’s own party to vote against him or her), the simple act of threatening to veto can be enough to get legislators to make concessions to the governor before he or she will pass the legislation.

The ability to veto legislation is just one of the formal powers    governors have at their disposal. Formal powers are powers the governor may exercise that are specifically outlined in state constitutions or state law.

Laura van Assendelft. 1997. Governors, Agenda Setting, and Divided Government. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Unlike U.S. presidents, many governors also have additional veto powers at their disposal, which enhances their ability to check the actions of the legislative branch. For instance, most states provide governors the power of the line-item veto. The line-item veto    gives governors the ability to strike out a line or individual portions of a bill while letting the remainder pass into law. In addition, approximately 30 percent of governors have the power of an amendatory veto    , which allows them to send a bill back to the legislature and request a specific amendment to it. Finally, a small number of governors, including the governor of Texas, also have the power of a reduction veto    , which allows them to reduce the budget proposed in a piece of legislation.
National Conference of State Legislatures. “The Veto Process.” In General Legislative Procedures . Washington, DC: National Conference of State Legislatures, 6-29–6-64. http://www.ncsl.org/documents/legismgt/ilp/98tab6pt3.pdf (March 14, 2016).

The vanna white and frankenstein vetoes in wisconsin

Although the line-item, reduction, and amendatory vetoes give governors tremendous power to adjust legislation and to check the legislative branch, the most powerful and controversial vetoes, which have allowed governors to make selective deletions from a bill before signing, are dubbed the “Vanna White” veto and the “Frankenstein” veto. (Vanna White hosts the popular game show “Wheel of Fortune,” in which contestants guess what a phrase is based on a limited number of letters. As they guess the letters, White indicates the correct letters within the puzzle.) These powers have a colorful history in the state of Wisconsin, where voters have limited their influence on two occasions.

The first occurred in 1990 when voters passed a provision restricting the governor’s ability to use the “Vanna White” veto to change a bill by crossing out specific letters within a given word in order to create a new word. After this restriction took effect, the “Frankenstein” veto came into practice, which allowed a governor to remove individual words, numbers, or passages from a bill and string the remaining text together (like the fictional Dr. Frankenstein’s monster) in an effort to alter the original intent of the legislation.

Monica Davey, “Wisconsin Voters Excise Editing from Governor’s Veto Powers,” New York Times , 3 April 2008. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/us/03wisconsin.html?_r=0.

As an example of the Frankenstein veto, when an appropriations bill was sent to Wisconsin governor James E. Doyle for signature in 2005, Doyle scrapped over seven hundred words from a passage that would have appropriated millions of dollars to transportation. The words that remained in the bill redirected those funds to education. Lawmakers were outraged, but they were not able to override the veto.

Daniel C. Vock. 24 April 2007. “Govs Enjoy Quirky Veto Power,” http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2007/04/24/govs-enjoy-quirky-veto-power.

Then, in 2007, Governor Doyle used the veto once again to raise property taxes almost 2 percent.

Steven Walters, “Voters Drive Stake into ‘Frankenstein Veto’,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel , 2 April 2008. http://www.jsonline.com/news/wisconsin/29395824.html.
As a result of these controversial moves, the state house and senate passed a referendum to end the ability of governors to create a new sentence by combining words from two or more other sentences. A legislative referendum is a measure passed by the state legislature, such as a constitutional amendment, that goes to the voters for final approval.
National Conference of State Legislatures. 20 September 2012. “Initiative, Referendum and Recall,” http://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/initiative-referendum-and-recall-overview.aspx.
This referendum went to the voters for approval or rejection in the 2008 election, and the voters banned the practice. Governors in Wisconsin and all the states still have tremendous power to shape legislation, however, through the other types of vetoes discussed in this chapter.

Should any state governor have the powers referred to as the “Vanna White” and “Frankenstein” vetoes? What advantage, if any, might state residents gain from their governor’s ability to alter the intent of a bill the legislature has approved and then sign it into law?

Questions & Answers

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