In the relatively recent past, Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has made statements that would lead the reader or listener to believe that he is not at all in favor of school choice legislation that utilized school vouchers. Haslam said on Monday that he’ll favor voucher legislation for means-tested lower-income students from “the worst performing schools.” What changed Haslam’s mind? Some may say it was the “study committee” that he formed to look at the issue, but more likely it was the reality that a voucher bill may come to his desk, and his veto is powerless.
Tennessee’s Constitution provides that a simple majority of each House can override a Governor’s veto (Article III, Section 18). In practical terms, that means that if a piece of legislation passes with a reasonable majority, will have little choice but to give his assent or face a kind of public political flogging at the hands of the General Assembly, as happened to former Governor Phil Bredesen after he vetoed legislation that allowed for concealed carry permit holders to carry in restaurants that serve adult beverages.
One fact of Haslam’s tenure as Governor is that he has avoided public spats with the General Assembly, even if that has meant allowing bills to become law without his signature. This is likely because those are battles that it would be constitutionally impossible for him to win. Haslam was going to get a voucher bill, one that would have passed and that he would have had to accept as it appeared on his desk whether he signed or vetoed it. If he comes out in favor of any kind of voucher plan now, he controls the debate and the direction the legislation will take rather than letting the Legislature control it for him.