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Political Rundown: Is Nixon The One?

Governor's website

Politics can be a 24/7 occupation, as anyone with a cell phone, computer or cable subscription knows. It's not hard to find political news, commentary or just plain rants. They are everywhere. Sometimes it takes a little more digging to find the context, perspective or background on major issues of the day. 

Once a week, our political team would like to share stories that gave them insight into the news of the day  or perhaps just some pleasure to read. This week's offerings range from a "graphic" view of America to another assessment of the political future of Missouri's Gov. Jay Nixon.

Maps' quest

Want to have fun — and learn a lot? Scan the Washington Post's "25 maps and charts that explain America today." It's full of fascinating, sometimes quirky, data about the United States. Some maps are a little depressing: Missouri falls into the bottom quintile of Gallup’s well-being index, which "relies on 55 metrics, including rates of obesity, produce consumption, smoking, depression and psychological fulfillment." That's offset — or maybe not — by Missouri's relatively good showing in the number of brewery permits issued last year. More serious maps and charts deal with unemployment, insurance rates and the impact of the recession. (Susan Hegger)

Nixon's the one? Or one of many?

All the speculation surrounding Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s plans for 2016 fit in a national narrative, as far as the Washington Post is concerned. Post reporter Jaime Fuller lays it all out in a Tuesday storyaptly titled, “Are you a governor? You are probably thinking about running for president.”

Nixon, a Democrat in his second term, is among 20 governors listed — Republicans and Democrats — who have generated coverage about possible 2016 bids for the White House.

For the past 80 years, being a governor often has been the best route to the Oval Office:  Presidents Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush were all former governors.

Governors also often have had reputations, deserved or not, as being better prepared to run the country. For one thing, governors have had to master the pragmatic skills of actually governing and of dealing with uncooperative legislatures – practice for handling a fractious Congress.

That is one reason governors are often tapped for the No. 2 slot, particularly if the nominee hails from that pesky congressional circle. Nixon has also been touted by some as a potential vice presidential nominee largely because he is under 60 and hails from the Midwest — increasingly must-win territory for either major party.

The Washington Post article indirectly alludes to Nixon's second-tier status as a presidential contender since he gets a shorter mention than other governors listed.

Nixon doesn't appear to be in the same speculation league at Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal or New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, both Republicans. (Jo Mannies)

And this...

Just as I was leaving St. Louis Public Radio headquarters on Monday, I saw a familiar face on the television screen – Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon.

It wasn’t local news footage, though. Nixon and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory were guests on CNN’s Crossfire, probably because the nation’s governors were in Washington, D.C. for a National Governors Association meeting. It was a somewhat rare instance of Nixon in the national spotlight, although that may change soon depending on whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton runs for president.

One of the more enlightening moments came when the conversation turned to hiking the minimum wage, which President Barack Obama talked about in his State of the Union address.

While other governors — such as presidential hopeful and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn (both Democrats) — have given full-throated support for raising the minimum wage, Nixon’s response was less loquacious. “While I support increasing the minimum wage," he said, "that's not my long-term economic plan,” adding that he wanted more money for education.

“Well, first of all, Missouri has the minimum wage that's already indexed to inflation,” said Nixon, referring to the 2006 ballot initiative that passed overwhelmingly. “I support increasing the minimum wage, giving folks a raise. But, bottom line, what we really support is getting people the education and the training they need to get a lot more than the minimum wage." Nixon argued that a good education gives people "a broader opportunity in our society.”

Nixon’s comments reflect political reality in Missouri. A boost in the minimum wage isn’t likely to pass the GOP-controlled General Assembly. (By comparison, Quinn has a far better chance of getting a minimum wage hike through the Democratically dominated Illinois General Assembly.)

Efforts to get it on this year’s ballot are up in the air, as I noted earlier this week. (Though I’m sure supporters would be thrilled if the term-limited Nixon gave some of his nearly $434,000 of cash on hand toward that effort.)  Minimum wage initiatives are popping up in states with competitive U.S. Senate elections. Missouri, of course, doesn’t have one of those this year. (Jason Rosenbaum)

Night in jail

The director of the Colorado Department of Corrections spent a night in solitary confinement. He wanted to feel what is was like for the prisoners — many of them mentally ill — who spend the majority of their time in an isolated 10 x 7 cell.

“For a sound mind, those are daunting circumstances,” Rick Raemisch wrote of his experience for a New York Times op-ed. “But every prison in America has become a dumping ground for the mentally ill, and often the ‘worst of the worst’ — some of society’s most unsound minds — are dumped in ad seg,” or administrative segregation.

On average in his state, Raemisch said, inmates in solitary spend an average of 23 months there. Solitary confinement was the subject of a congressional hearing yesterday, chaired by U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill.

Raemisch testified that solitary “has been overused, misused, and abused for over 100 years.  If our goal is to decrease the number of victims inside outside prison, then we must rethink how we use administrative segregation, especially when it comes to the mentally ill.” You can watch Raemisch's testimony here(Chris McDaniel)

Don't touch that dial

It's no secret that Jay Leno wasn't happy to leave the "Tonight" show. It turns out the GOP was also sad to see him go. In a story about the changing politics of late-night TV in Politico,reporter Hadas Gold recounted how Leno, who skewered Republicans and Democrats equally in his monologues, went out of his way to make Republican politicians comfortable as guests. (Arizona Sen. John McCain recalled that Leno always had McCain's favorite cupcakes for him.) David Letterman is perceived as much less bipartisan, jabbing Republicans more than Democrats.  And Jimmy Fallon, Leno's successor, is seen as much less into politics -- but when he does political jokes, he is viewed as leaning liberal. (And, of course, Fallon seems to have a special relationship with Michelle Obama — especially when it comes to the evolution of Mom dancing.) (Susan Hegger)

Susan Hegger comes to St. Louis Public Radio and the Beacon as the politics and issues editor, a position she has held at the Beacon since it started in 2008.