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Panel Analyzes Nixon's State Of The State Address

Gov. Jay Nixon speaks during last year's State of the State address. The governor's speech comes amid heightened scrutiny of his actions during the Ferguson unrest and unprecedented GOP majorities in the Missouri General Assembly.
Tim Bommel, House Communications

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon delivered his seventh State of the State address Wednesday night. On Thursday, “St. Louis on the Air” asked a panel to analyze the speech and the Republican response, starting with the headline they would have put on the speech.

“Nixon’s speech more subdued in places,” said Marshall Griffin, St. Louis Public Radio’s Missouri statehouse reporter.

“Governor gets passionate about Ferguson, cool about the budget,” said Jo Mannies, St. Louis Public Radio political reporter.

“Too little too late?” asked Jason Rosenbaum, St. Louis Public Radio innovation reporter.

“Governor to legislature: Will you please let me play?” said Terry Jones, University of Missouri–St. Louis political science and public policy professor.


Nixon said “we’re all in this together,” but that remains to be seen in Jefferson City where the Democratic governor faces an overwhelmingly Republican House and Senate.

Mannies: “His most passionate comments in his 50-minute speech were about Ferguson. I think it caught a lot of people off guard, including myself, because his budget proposal actually is pretty much status quo — nothing really major in it. And then he waxes poetic for several pages about Ferguson and what needs to be done to bridge the racial divide. This is not something that Nixon usually does. It really changed the tone of the whole evening.”

Rosenbaum: “He devoted more words to the automobile industry in that section than Ferguson, so that should be noted. I was struck by a couple of things: Number one, he did express support for changing the use of force law, which I think is specific. He talked about municipal court reform in very general terms. He didn’t really say what he wanted in that.

“If you’ve been following the Michael Brown situation, it seems like those two sides are pretty intractable. For Nixon to just kind of say ‘Well, we’re all in this together’ and gloss over that, I think, is kind of ignoring the reality of the situation and kind of showcases that it will take more than words to bridge that divide.”

Jones: “We’ll see possibly some modest municipal court reform ’cause that’s doable and cheap. But we’re not going to see any kind of dramatic response from state government that’s real.”

Missouri House Speaker John Diehl Jr. began his Republican response to the State of the State address by talking about Ferguson.


Rosenbaum: “My reaction to that was ‘It took you seven years to figure that out?’ That’s been a pretty common complaint when Nixon had a lot more leverage and smaller Republican majorities. Now he wants to come and play nice?”

Jones: “The governor knows that he’s significantly weakened for a variety of reasons. He knows he’s no longer the player he once was, and hopes to be. It doesn’t look like the Republican legislature is going to let him.”

Mannies: “He has never been like a big team player. When he first became governor, he did forge a close friendship with Charlie Shields, who was then the Republican leader of the state Senate. Since then, I’ve noticed that Nixon has really had no close relationship with any of the legislative leaders with either party. I’ll be really surprised if that happens. I think he means well, but it’s just not in his DNA to do that.”

Medicaid Expansion

Griffin: “It’s not going anywhere. One senator, especially if he has a few allies with him, has the ability to kill pretty much anything that comes over from the House. And the House isn’t going to take it up either.”

Size Of Government

Mannies: “Diehl in general, I think, was talking about the proposed Medicaid expansion — just trying to tamp that down.”

Griffin: “Without using the words ‘Medicaid expansion.’ ”

Mannies: “(Diehl) has said before that he would like to see the General Assembly focus more on tax cuts or at least other things that businesses might need to try to make the state more pro-business. I’m real interested to see how Diehl takes this going forward over the next few weeks.”

Gas Taxes And Tolls

Griffin: “I hazard to say that the Medicaid expansion might have a better chance. The governor might actually be completely alone on this. I don’t think anyone wants to pay tolls to drive on I-70, even if it would help offset transportation costs.”

Jones: “The real problem is that the majority of Missourians don’t think there’s a problem with our transportation system. Not that they don’t have a gripe here or a gripe there, but they don’t see a crisis. The civil engineers do. The Missouri Department of Transportation does. Many elected officials also do. But until the public says ‘Yes, we need to do something,’ they’re not going to pass a tax to do it.”


Mannies: “This budget proposal for the coming fiscal year, frankly, is virtually flat. He’s proposing some very small increases in education and a couple (of) other things, but really there’s no expansive, major thing that he’s proposing, as opposed to a year ago. Because of Amendment 10, which passed and restricts the governor’s budget powers, actually in some ways this budget is actually slightly lower than the current budget. He’s hinging many of these increases on a supplemental bill that the legislature would have to approve, and also a separate bonding proposal that the legislature would have to approve. It’s unclear if any of those things are going to happen.”

School transfers

Nixon devoted 29 words to school transfers, the same number of words he devoted to the subject last year, word-counter Rosenbaum said.

Rosenbaum: “I think part of that is because the legislature will ultimately decide what the substance of that is. In essence, it’s going to really be up to the legislature, whether they’re going to heed the governor’s warning from last year not to include the so-called private option in there, or whether they’re going to ignore them and try to take a chance to see if they can override it during veto session.”


Griffin: “I could foresee maybe a few minor tweaks to the ethics system in Missouri maybe getting out of both the House and the Senate this year, but the big one, of course, capping campaign contributions, I don’t see that going anywhere.”

Jones: “They only way we’re going to see campaign finance reform in Missouri is through the initiative petition process. I don’t think you’re going to see the General Assembly tie it’s own hands.”

Rosenbaum: “I don’t want to play conspiracy theorist here, but I noticed that Nixon didn’t explicitly call for campaign limit as he did every other year. The presumptive Democratic nominee to secede Nixon, Chris Koster, voted to repeal campaign finance limits when he was a Democrat in 2008. He’s never supported campaign finance limits. He’s taken huge campaign contributions throughout his statewide political career. I don’t think that’s why Nixon didn’t say anything about it, but I think that there’s going to be a pretty big shift philosophically for the Democratic party on that issue if Koster becomes governor or if he becomes the nominee.”

Mannies: “Koster is among those who are calling for some restrictions on legislative gifts from lobbyists (and) how quickly legislators can become lobbyists. Now, the crowd of lobbyists outside the legislature is basically a class reunion of former legislators half the time. I think there may be some movement on that, but I’m not sure how much.

“The governor brings this up every year. Usually it’s his most passionate comments in his State of the State address. In fact, one of the interesting things about Ferguson was that that was more passionate than his call for campaign donation limits or other ethics reform.”

Nixon's Future

Jones: “I think it’s going to be very difficult for him to rehabilitate the image that was created by Ferguson. His future would not lie in elected politics, but in appointed positions or in some type of statesman’s-like university think tank role. But his political ambitions, I think have been destroyed by Ferguson.”

Rosenbaum: “I think his next move is the private sector, to be quite honest.”

Griffin: “There seems to be some indication that he might have his sights set on the University of Missouri system.”

Mannies: “He’s a lawyer. He’ll have a lot of options. His image has been damaged a lot by Ferguson, and I think his speech, though, sort of reflected that. I think he was very well aware that his comments about Ferguson would end up being the headline grabbers. This may have been part of that move to resurrect and rehabilitate his image.”

“St. Louis on the Air” discusses issues and concerns facing the St. Louis area. The show is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and hosted by veteran journalist Don Marsh. Follow us on Twitter: @STLonAir.

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