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Republican legislative leaders to join Nixon on trade trip to Europe

Jo Mannies/St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri's two top legislative leaders are among those who will join Gov. Jay Nixon for an eight-day trade trip to Italy, Germany and Spain.

At a news conference Monday in St. Charles, the governor said the trip, which begins Friday,makes sense. The three countries already purchase more than $570 million a year in Missouri products. And Germany  is the state’s seventh top trade partner.

"We’re using this trade mission to build on our export successes and working to attract additional foreign investment, with a special emphasis on our all-important manufacturing sector,” Nixon said. “We’ll be meeting automakers, auto suppliers and other manufacturers in Milan, Frankfurt, Munich, Madrid and other cities.”

But the trip also is politically significant.

It will mark the first time that Nixon, a Democrat, has traveled overseas with Missouri House Speaker John Diehl, R-Town and Country, and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

Nixon hasn’t always been on the best of terms with either man, especially on such issues as the state budget and union rights. Under Diehl’s leadership, the Missouri House already has approved a “right-to-work’’ bill that would bar employers and unions from requiring all workers to pay union fees, even if a majority have voted to join the union.

Dempsey has said he has yet to decide what his final position will be regarding right-to-work. Nixon is expected to veto the measure, should it make it to his desk.

The governor said the group plans to visit some job-training programs in Germany.

In any case, the governor made a point during his news conference to emphasize that state officials speak with one voice, when it comes to making an international pitch for more spending on Missouri products, which can result in more jobs.

“It presents to the world a united front that gives us a significant competitive advantage,” Nixon said. “We’re a one-stop shop, politically. You deal with us, you deal with us together. And hence, in that vein, it’s led to a significant advantage for us.”

Also making the trip will be Nixon’s directors of economic development and agriculture, as well as two other legislators: state Sen. Jill Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, and state Rep. John Rizzo, D-Kansas City.

Another member of the entourage will be John Clark, vice president of Master Clock, the St. Charles firm that hosted the governor’s news conference. The governor and others lauded Master Clock as the state’s top exporter in 2014. The firm specializes in manufacturing clocks, and sold them in 65 countries last year.

Nixon had to drop plans to lead a recent trade trip to Cuba, the first by any state since the United States began formal efforts to normalize economic relations. The governor’s wife, Georganne Nixon, led the group instead, after Nixon stayed behind because of the Feb. 26 suicide of state Auditor Tom Schweich.

Governor now focused on auditor selection

In response to questions, Nixon said he is “into the process now, pretty heavily” to consider prospective replacements for Schweich,  a Republican who had just begun his second term as auditor after winning re-election in November.

Under the state constitution, Nixon will appoint a replacement who will serve out the rest of Schweich’s term. No legislative approval is involved.

Because Nixon is a Democrat, most Republicans in Jefferson City assume that the governor will select a Democrat to replace Schweich. If so, that would leave Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder as the only Missouri Republican holding statewide office (excluding U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.)

The governor declined to discuss the politics of the appointment, nor would he identify any potential candidates. “We’re now in the process of talking directly with folks out there who could hopefully hold that position,’’ Nixon said.

The key qualifications, he added, would be “ethics and the skill set.”

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.