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Nixon defends veto of 'right to work' bill, dismisses Republican attacks over large union donation

Gov. Jay Nixon ceremonially signs his veto of right to work Thursday, June 4, 2015 in St. Louis.
Sarah Kellogg | St. Louis Public Radio

Amid GOP calls that he give back the money, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon says any controversy over $50,000 that he recently received from the national UAW misses the point of why he vetoed an anti-union bill known as “right to work.”

“This is not partisan to me,’’ Nixon said in an interview Thursday after an unrelated news conference to herald a new business coming to the city’s Grand Center area.

“I don’t think we move our state forward if we make it a crime for employers to talk to their employees about whether they should be with a union or not,” the Democratic governor said. “I don’t think it helps to have unlimited civil liability for employers. I don’t think this bill is right for the state.” 

Under “right to work,’’ employers and unions are barred from requiring all workers in a bargaining unit to pay dues. Backers contend that the ban is necessary to attract business to the state. Opponents say the bill’s real aim is to hurt unions because they often back Democratic candidates.

Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder is among the Missouri Republicans who have been bashing the governor for more than a week because of the $50,000 campaign contribution from the United Auto Workers.  Nixon received the donation June 10, just days after he vetoed the “right to work’’ bill that the General Assembly passed during its recently concluded legislative session.

Kinder, who is considering a 2016 bid for governor, said, “Gov. Nixon is constitutionally barred from seeking reelection. What use, then, does he have for this money? He should return the money. Otherwise, it smells of more ‘pay to play’ politics by this administration.”

Nixon said he didn’t solicit the campaign, noting that he hasn’t been actively raising money for more than a year. The UAW donation is the largest he has received in the last couple of years.

Unions long have been in Nixon’s political corner, financially and otherwise, in part because of his longstanding public opposition to “right to work.”

Speaking about campaign donations in general, Nixon observed, “Folks who agree with you help you.”

In any case, the governor noted that several dozen Republican lawmakers in the Missouri House and Senate also voted against the “right to work’’ measure, robbing the bill of any veto-proof majorities.

Some activists in both camps privately acknowledge that it may be difficult for “right to work’’ supporters to gather the additional votes needed to override Nixon’s veto during the General Assembly’s annual veto session in September.

Said Nixon: “We’re hopeful that this is a measure that doesn’t even come up for a vote.’’

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.