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Kinder claims getting the silent treatment from Nixon

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 26, 2009 - Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder says he's being unfairly ignored by Gov. Jay Nixon, and that their lack of communication and coordination hurts the state.

"He hasn't spoken to me in over 200 days, since I called him and offered to help," said Kinder, a Republican, in an interview earlier this week.

Kinder said that he last had a substantive conversation with the governor, a Democrat, a few days after the November election when "I called him to congratulate on his victory."

Despite their apparent lack of communication, Kinder -- who presides over the state Senate -- said he had helped Nixon win confirmation of his economic development director, Linda Martinez, when she came under fire last winter early in the legislative session. Kinder said he also helped obtain legislative approval of the governor's economic development/jobs bill.

Still, Kinder's communications director said Friday that Missouri's No. 2 man "has a much better relationship with the Democrat governor from Illinois than he does with Gov. Nixon."

Nixon communications director Jack Cardetti seemed surprised by the lieutenant governor's complaints, and said that Nixon views his relationship with Kinder as "cordial.''

Cardetti noted that Nixon has had a close working relationship with many of the Republican legislative leaders, particularly state Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.

"Governor Nixon has worked in an extremely bipartisan way,'' Cardetti said, citing various bills that passed the Legislature with bipartisan support.

Nixon's staff also took issue with Kinder's assertion that the two have not talked. Nixon's camp noted that Kinder joined other statewide officials in Nixon's office on the night of the inauguration on Jan. 12. The two also have participated in at least one meeting of the state's Board of Public Buildings held several months ago.

"The governor has had interaction with the lieutenant governor,'' Cardetti said.

Kinder communications director Gary McElyea sarcastically added that the two also had been at the same Christmas party last December, hosted by state Sen. Kevin Engler, R-Farmington.

But in all of the cited cases, McElyea said, any exchange of words were "the simplest of pleasantries" and amounted to "zero conversation."

"So, really ... they are trying to say that having the governor and lieutenant governor in the same room is good enough?," McElyea added. "The fact that Nixon may have glanced at Peter in a crowd DOES NOT equate to him taking the lieutenant governor up on his offer to help. ... The lieutenant governor believes that Missourians expect us to work together."

Since taking office in 2005 Kinder has sought to be a much more active political player than some of his predecessors in the No. 2 job. There is the legendary observation of the late Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton, a Democrat, who observed that during his tenure as lieutenant governor, he spent a lot of time "watching the river go by."

During his first term with Gov. Matt Blunt, a fellow Republican, Kinder did take on many duties that gave him a share of the governmental spotlight. But now, in his second term, Kinder currently is the only Republican holding statewide office in Missouri.

During the legislative session, GOP leaders who control both chambers arguably wielded more governmental power. But Kinder has increasingly become a powerful ;political figure. He is heavily involved in state Republican politics, and last weekend endorsed U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Strafford, for the U.S. Senate in 2010.

Kinder and Nixon have had no high-profile disputes since both were sworn in on Jan. 12. Even so, Kinder's complaints about Nixon seemed somewhat reminscent of the strain in the 1980s when Republican governors Christopher "Kit" Bond and John Ashcroft had Democratic lieutenant governors: Kenny Rothman, Harriett Woods and Mel Carnahan.

The tension between Carnahan and Ashcroft was well known, and led to a court fight over how much power Carnahan could exercise when Ashcroft was out of the state. The courts ruled that Carnahan couldn't do much, and that Ashcroft remained in control as governor even when he wasn't in Missouri.

Despite his complaints, Kinder appears to be conceding that he's limited in how much he can do on a governmental level without the governor's approval. 

McElyea said that the lieutenant governor "knows they don't agree on everything and won't be able to work on a completely cohesive agenda. But he believes they should, at the least, work together on the items they both agree on.

"...The central point is, Kinder has offered his help and has offered to have a discussion about how the two can work together,'' his chief aide continued. "That conversation has never happened, and the ball remains in Gov. Nixon's court."

It may remain there. Replied Cardetti: "The governor will continue to work with Republican leaders to move the state forward, just as he's done for the last six months."

And what about Kinder? Said Cardetti, "The governor will work with him in the future."

But since the governor rejects the notion that he never worked with Kinder in the past, it's unclear if Nixon will try to make a change in their future dealings.

The upshot: Kinder may need to get used to talking to Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.