HELENA, Mont. -- Displaying his trademark showmanship, Democratic Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer stood on the Capitol steps Wednesday and punctuated his rejection of 17 Republican bills by emblazoning representations of several of them with his "VETO" branding irons.
Republicans, predictably, were not impressed and criticized the governor, saying he was making a mockery of the system. Legislative Republican leaders are gearing up for budget negotiations with the governor.
Republicans hold a large 68-32 majority in the House, enough to override a veto in that chamber, but only hold a 28-22 margin in the Senate that leaves them short of bypassing the governor's veto pen.
The governor also made it clear there will be more vetoes to come for GOP ideas he described as frivolous, silly, unconstitutional or "just bad ideas." So far this session, Schweitzer has vetoed 21 bills. And he promises to turn back another as it is formally gets to him.
Schweitzer has issued proposed rewrites -- called amendatory vetoes -- on another 10 bills.
Among the rejected bills is a proposal despised by Democrats to end same-day voter registration. Schweitzer also vetoed a bill aimed at tinkering with parts of his "Clean and Green" energy initiative, one that would have attempted to place state eminent domain authority over federal land and another that would have repealed the state's medical marijuana law. He also promises to reject bill that would allow the expansion of cyanide gold mining operations, a plan that was originally curtailed by voters in an initiative.
Dozens of onlookers cheered as papers burned under the heat of the "VETO" irons and left the imprint on a piece of wood -- the larger the iron, the more important Schweitzer considers the issue.
"At an actual branding party there is some castration," Schweitzer told the crowd. "We are not doing any of that today."
The governor told the crowd at the end of his branding session that he takes the issues at hand seriously.
"I am going back into this Capitol and I am going to veto not only these bills, but a lot more bills," Schweitzer said. "This is serious business. We had a little fun here today."
Three of the bills vetoed Wednesday belonged to Sen. Jason Priest of Red Lodge.
One would have required any new state mandates on procedures required to be covered by health insurance policies to be first applied to state workers, while another blocked state implementation of a piece of the federal health care overhaul.
A third would make it more difficult to adopt building codes aimed at energy efficiency.
Republicans believe the energy regulations can restrict building of new homes.
"It's unfortunate that we are putting theatre ahead of the cost of affordable health care and jobs," Priest said. "I think it is incredibly disrespectful of voters."
Some of the other bills vetoed Wednesday:
-- A watered down version of a bill that at first aimed to place county sheriffs in authority over federal agents
-- Require county oversight of movement of bison
-- Allow the inclusion of hydroelectric power in renewable energy standard
-- Eliminate state authority to use hunting access fees to buy land
-- New restrictions on local school district sex education policies