Watch that pen

The importance of having watchdog groups to keep an eye on what the government is doing is pointed up today in an article in Statelines about the veto powers in several states. Few of us in California have heard of the “Frankenstein veto” but voters in Wisconsin have noted that the governor of that state has power not just to veto or approve a bill as it is sent to him, but to amend it. By changing a few words, a Wisconsin governor transferred more than $400 million from transportation to education. No matter how important education may be to voters, you have to wonder whether this kind of power is what they wanted to give the governor. We’ve heard a lot recently about President Bush’s signing statements which lay out the extent to which he intends to carry out the laws that he is signing. These statements can limit the way government agencies carry out the intent of Congress in passing the law. Both the governors’ powers of veto and the president’s power of signing statements shift the power of law-making from the legislatures to the executive. Whether we the citizens approve of this or not, it’s something we ought to be thinking about–and something we should be telling all potential voters about. Voter education doesn’t just mean telling people how to fill out a ballot. It includes letting people know what their ballot is going to mean and how much power it gives to the people they vote for. “Eternal vigilance” is not just an empty phrase.

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