SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian's repeated use of the veto power and his rock-solid alliance with conservative Assembly Republicans have effectively thwarted the will of the Democrat-dominated Legislature, leaders of both parties say.
By the time this year's constitutional deadline for acting on bills had passed at midnight Wednesday, Deukmejian had vetoed 232 measures, most of them pushed through by the Democrats over Republican objections.
Since taking office in 1983, Deukmejian has rejected more bills than Ronald Reagan did during eight years as governor.
The result is often a logjam in which each party has the power to block the other, but neither can muster the strength to move ahead with its own agenda.
"We've reached a sort of stalemate on a lot of matters," said Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles). "They (Republicans) can't push back, and it's very difficult for us to push forward. So we make very small steps."
In the last week alone, as Deukmejian sifted through about 900 bills sent to him in the final days of the 1987 session of the Legislature, he shot down scores of measures. Several were aimed at traditional Democratic constituencies, including a minimum wage increase, a bill allowing employees to take four-months of unpaid leave for child-rearing and a proposal to allow parents to prepay their children's future tuition costs at today's prices.
Deukmejian also vetoed a bill to abolish the scandal-plagued Southern California Rapid Transit District and replace it with a new super-agency, a measure that was crafted by two of the more influential Democrats in the Senate and Assembly. The governor said one reason he vetoed the bill was because the proposed new agency would have been prevented from contracting with private companies for bus service, a major policy goal of Assembly Republicans.
On some issues, Deukmejian rejected the Democrats' most far-reaching proposals while signing measures moving more modestly in the same direction.
On AIDS, for example, he blocked a bill designed to use tax credits to raise $150 million for research into the deadly disease, a measure that his own appointee to the California AIDS Advisory Commission had called the most important legislation on the issue this year.
He also vetoed a bill to require distribution of a video on acquired immune deficiency syndrome to junior and senior high schools throughout the state. Yet the governor signed a Republican-authored bill to allow the state to test experimental AIDS drugs in humans.
Similarly, Deukmejian signed four minor bills drafted to cut down on fraud and misleading practices in the marketing of so-called "medi-gap" health insurance, which is sold to the elderly to supplement their federal Medicare payments. But the governor rejected a more sweeping bill by Assemblyman Lloyd Connelly (D-Sacramento) that Democrats had considered the cornerstone of the package, but which Assembly Republicans had requested be vetoed.
"You can see a definite pattern when that hard-core bloc in the Assembly votes against a bill," Connelly said. "Even though it passes the Assembly and the Senate with a strong bipartisan majority, you're going to have a problem in the governor's office."
A spokeswoman for the governor said he listens to the GOP lawmakers but ultimately makes his own calls.
"The governor gives great deference to what the Republicans say about legislation," said Donna Lucas, deputy press secretary.
"But the bottom line is that the governor looks at each piece of legislation on its merits. No one other than Gov. George Deukmejian vetoes or signs laws. It's the governor who makes those decisions, " she said.
The fact remains that although Republicans have only 15 seats in the 40-member Senate and 36 in the 80-member Assembly, their unity with Deukmejian has given them more control over the legislative agenda than their numbers alone would suggest. Democrats may possess the votes to pass any measure they wish, but the Republicans have the one vote that counts the most--the governor's.
Assemblyman Phillip Isenberg (D-Sacramento) said he suspects that Assembly Republicans return the governor's favors by refusing to consider joining in veto override attempts. Isenberg cited the Assembly's recent failure to override Deukmejian's veto of $2 million in additional firefighting resources during the height of the state's fire season.
Republicans publicly justified their stance by insisting that there already was sufficient money in the state's disaster response account.
"It's crazy, the kind of stuff where you want to grab hold of the Administration and just shake them," Isenberg said. "This guy goes blindly down the road and vetoes anything they want, and they pay him back."
Assembly Republican Leader Pat Nolan of Glendale is so proud of the successful alliance that he recently distributed figures that he boasted demonstrate that his caucus can obtain a veto from the governor on almost any bill it opposes.