Override falls short after partisan fireworks

Override falls short after partisan fireworks

cottage food industry, Alma Hernandez, veto, veto override, Hobbs
Rep. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson, surrounded by fellow lawmakers from both parties, lashes out April 25 at Gov. Katie Hobbs for vetoing legislation to broaden Arizona’s “cottage food” program. (Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer)

The effort to override Gov. Katie Hobbs’ veto of a bill that had received bipartisan backing ran out of gas on April 25 when the Arizona House of Representatives mustered a simple majority vote – but not the necessary supermajority.

But even though the override came up short, it represented an unusual effort to roll the governor and exposed fault lines between Hobbs and lawmakers in her own party.

The bill would have made a modest change to food safety state law by expanding Arizona’s “cottage food” program – which exempts certain homemade food products from state food safety regulations – to include some foods that include perishable products or must be temperature controlled.

But in recent days, lawmakers used increasingly strident language to describe the bill. Supporters said it’s about protecting Arizona’s Hispanic community, saying it would help tamale vendors operate within state regulations. One detractor called it an example of “model legislation pushed by dark money billionaires.”

“Veto overrides are not about policy but all about politics, pure and simple,” said Barrett Marson, a Republican strategist.

Politics were on full display on April 25, with lawmakers in favor and against the proposal holding separate press conferences before the mid-morning vote in the House. A conservative lobbying group held an event they dubbed “Free the Tamales” on the lawn outside the Capitol.
Republicans and a few Democrats supporting the override talked about immigrants who sell tamales or other homemade foods in parking lots and on street corners to support themselves and their families.

“HB2509, it’s about traditions,” said Sen. Catherine Miranda, D-Phoenix. “It’s an important message to our communities and to our families, that we as Latinos will be here to protect our traditions.”

Outside of the rare bipartisan gathering, Republicans were more blunt.

Shope, tamales, Twitter, veto, cottage foods
Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge

“What can be said of the [lawmakers] who originally voted yes on the bill and then chose to be cowards in the face of pressure from the Governor? As my mom & nana would say, ¡qué vergüenza!” Sen. T.J. Shope, R-Coolidge, wrote on Twitter.

Democrats labored to put forth a different narrative.

Sen. Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, who voted “yes” for the bill but “no” to override Hobbs’ veto, accused Republicans of refusing to work together with Democrats on the measure.

“We are calling on the Republican caucus to stop the insincere charade they have been propping up and work across the aisle, if they are genuine in their desire to expand the cottage food industry in a way that will benefit both the consumers and producers,” she said.

The House override vote ultimately failed 35-23, coming five votes short of the 40 needed for a supermajority.

Senate President Warren Petersen, R-Gilbert, said he believed the Senate would have had a supermajority, but only three Senate Democrats confirmed to the Arizona Capitol Times they would have voted “yes” – one less than the four Democrats needed for a supermajority, assuming all Republicans voted in support.

Earlier this month, the measure passed through the Legislature with overwhelming support, earning a 26-4 vote in the Senate and a 45-11 vote in the House.

Hobbs, for her part, has publicly stayed on the sidelines as the override drama unfolded. After filing a veto letter explaining her opposition to the bill on public health grounds earlier this month, the governor hasn’t said more about her reasoning or talked about why she chose to reject a measure that was initially supported by a majority of lawmakers in her own party.

The governor did, however, have conversations with lawmakers about the bill in the past few days. Christian Slater, Hobbs’ communications director, confirmed that those conversations happened but declined to say what was discussed.

Daniel Scarpinato, a chief of staff to former Gov. Doug Ducey, said that a governor negotiating with their own caucus to avoid an embarrassing override creates an unusual set of political dynamics. It puts the governor in a weak position and can allow legislators to gain “leverage” for future considerations, he explained.

“It is exhausting, it is time-consuming, and you do, then, owe people favors,” Scarpinato said.

Though the governor hasn’t made the plans public, she’s also been discussing a different approach to the issue of informal food sales with some lawmakers.

Democrats talked about that idea on April 25. Senator Hernandez said she has been working with the Governor’s Office, as well as food safety experts, to develop a separate proposal.

In the past few days, the Democratic caucuses in the Senate and House put out statements saying their members wouldn’t roll the governor this week.

“House Democrats will not override the veto of House Bill 2509,” the House caucus said in a terse news release on April 24, echoing a similar statement from the Senate caucus on April 21.

But it became clear that those statements didn’t mean there wouldn’t be any Democratic support for the override.

In the House, the five Democratic “Yes” votes for the override came from Reps. Alma Hernandez, D-Tucson; Consuelo Hernandez, D-Tucson; Lydia Hernandez, D-Phoenix; Melody Hernandez, D-Tempe; and Myron Tsosie, D-Chinle.

In the Senate, three Democrats said they would have voted to override: Miranda; Sen. Eva Diaz, D-Tolleson; and Sen. Sally Ann Gonzales, D-Tucson.

Some Democrats who switched from a “Yes” to “No” vote on the proposal insisted that their flip came after finding out more about the bill.

Rep. Cesar Aguilar, D-Phoenix, said he recently learned that the proposal was backed by the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm funded by conservative megadonor Charles Koch.

Veto overrides are exceedingly rare in Arizona state politics – the last one happened in the early 1980s. But it’s not unheard of for a governor to nix a bill that did enjoy widespread bipartisan support.

Last year, for instance, Ducey vetoed a bill that would have allowed for a public vote on whether to extend a local tax that funds transportation in Maricopa County. Though the initial vote on the bill would have been sufficient for an override, the Republican-controlled Legislature didn’t challenge Ducey’s move.

Anna Hernandez brought up Ducey’s veto of the “Prop. 400” bill on April 25, saying it showed that GOP legislators turned to the override only when it was politically expedient.
“Where,” she asked, “was the outrage for the millions of working community members across Arizona? And where was the veto override then?”