If Gov. Janet Napolitano were a superhero, she’d be the Veto Vixen.
No, she can’t leap over buildings in a single bound. But she can use her handy, dandy, supercharged veto stamp to crush loopy legislation in a single swipe. Last week, Napolitano vetoed three bills, bringing her session total to 24 and her career total to 172.
I’m sure her conservative critics would spin it differently, but I’d say Arizona is a far better state thanks to Napolitano’s fearless and record-setting use of the veto.
Since taking office in 2002, Napolitano has repeatedly vetoed legislation to further loosen Arizona’s already lax gun laws, including a 2005 doozy that brought national ridicule upon the state.
Ignoring the possibility that booze and guns aren’t a good mix, the majority of our state lawmakers thought it was a splendid idea to allow people to carry loaded guns into bars, nightclubs and restaurants.
Using exceptional powers of discernment, the Veto Vixen has separated the wheat from the chaff of illegal immigration legislation, vetoing many flawed, anger-fueled measures.
Had she not swooped down in April to stamp away a bill requiring local law enforcement agencies to confront federal immigration violations, our red-ink-soaked state might be looking at a $100 million bill to provide new federal training to county and city law officers.
During her tenure, Napolitano has valiantly protected the rights of women by vetoing bill after bill that would have limited access to abortion.
The Veto Vixen has used her hawklike vision to zoom in on acts of sheer legislative silliness. In May, she vetoed a bill to create a committee that would have done little more than dispute the surveys and statistics that consistently rank Arizona at the bottom of the nation for K-12 education.
“The statistical usefulness of such a committee approaches zero,” Napolitano wrote in a letter explaining her veto.
Jeanine L’Ecuyer, the governor’s spokeswoman, said the staff carefully tracks bills and makes sure sponsoring lawmakers know about potential issues early.
It’s rare that the governor threatens a veto, but she makes it clear when there are “significant issues” that would make it difficult for her to sign a bill, L’Ecuyer said.
And while Napolitano doesn’t back away from confrontation, the veto number is somewhat artificially inflated, L’Ecuyer said.
One, she’s had to veto a budget that was composed of multiple bills.
Two, the Republican-dominated Legislature likes to set the Democrat up to look bad.
“What this Legislature, sadly, has demonstrated a habit of doing is sending up what we refer to as ‘veto bait,’ things that they know going in that she is likely to veto,” L’Ecuyer said.
“That’s a campaign tactic, tried and true. This Legislature just happens to do a lot of it,” she said.
The Veto Vixen also seems to have a Teflon coating when it comes to political slime. Despite a historic number of vetoes (Bruce Babbitt was a distant second with 114), Napolitano has never been overridden by the Legislature and her popularity with the voters has never waned.
“Most of the feedback we get from the public is, ‘Go, Janet,’ ” L’Ecuyer said.
The polls bear it out. In the most recent surveys by the Phoenix-based Behavior Research Center, 60 percent of Arizonans said the governor was doing an excellent or good job; 28 percent thought so highly of the Legislature’s performance.
“Janet Napolitano has a very high level of skill in explaining herself and providing a rationale to the public for her point of view and I think that has served her extremely well,” said pollster Earl De Berge. “She’s not inclined to do a veto and then go hide in the closet someplace. She explains it. . . . I think it has built public confidence in her that she doesn’t make arbitrary or just political decisions.”
University of Arizona political science professor Tom Volgy said Democrats, most independents and even some Republicans have come to see Napolitano as a “savior” from the incompetence of the Republican ideologues who run the Legislature.
The veto record “is probably a badge of pride for her,” the confirmation that she is willing to stand up to the Legislature when it counts, he said.
The Veto Vixen may not be aiming to break the 200-veto mark by the time her term ends in 2010. But absent some big power shifts in the November election, our mere mortal Legislature is sure to help her get there.
Anne T. Denogean can be reached at 573-4582 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Address letters to P.O. Box 26767, Tucson, AZ 85726-6767. Her columns run Tuesdays and Fridays.