Drawing on Missouri’s bloody Civil War history, Gov. Jay Nixon used his second inaugural address Monday to call for Republicans and Democrats to put aside partisan differences.
“The people of Missouri deserve — and expect — no less,” Nixon said. “And that is how I intend to lead.”
The Democratic governor has faced a Republican-dominated legislature in each of his first four years in office. But after cruising to a second term in November — the first governor to do so in Missouri since Mel Carnahan in 1996 — he meets a new challenge. Voters gave the GOP veto-proof supermajorities in the House and Senate.
Nixon, 56, noted that a similar dynamic existed when he was first elected as a state senator from De Soto in 1986.
“Then, as now, Republicans and Democrats were deeply committed to their beliefs,” Nixon said. “Then, as now, we had a divided government, with a governor of one party and the other party holding a majority in the legislature.”
Disagreement and debate were “daily fare,” Nixon said. “But it was possible to disagree while continuing to advance the public good. Cooperation wasn’t a sign of weakness, but rather a prerequisite for progress.”
And progress, he said, “is not partisan.”
While many believe Missouri politics has never been more divided, Nixon said history suggests otherwise. He said a much larger chasm existed during the Civil War, including a time when there were “two state governments, two state capitals and two governors.”
He noted the infamous massacre in Centralia when Confederate guerrillas killed more than 100 Union soldiers and “hacked them to ribbons.” Nixon added that the suffering, retaliation and political struggles dragged on for years after the war’s end, “crippling our economy, testing our resolve.”
“That was hard politics,” he said. “But from that time forward, the arc of Missouri history shows us that even the deepest divisions can be healed.”
He ticked through a list of accomplishments from his first term, noting efforts to boost Missouri’s auto industry and rebuild areas of the state ravaged by natural disasters.
“History has left its indelible mark on our landscape,” Nixon said. “But history is not destiny. We do not inherit the future. We must build the future.”
Nixon avoided offering specifics for his second term, speaking only in generalities about a “future without limits,” where all children get an education that prepares them to compete for the best jobs in a global economy, business and art flourish together, and the bounty of Missouri’s farms can “feed, clothe and power the planet,” he said.
Democracy must be a “chorus of many voices,” Nixon said, “and our democracy and our state are stronger for it.”
That lack of specificity irked state Sen. John Lamping, a Ladue Republican who took to Twitter to dismiss the “say-nothing speech from a do-nothing governor.”
“Business as usual in Jefferson City,” Lamping added.
House Speaker Tim Jones, a Eureka Republican and frequent critic of the governor, was more complimentary.
“I understand the purpose of inaugural addresses, especially on a day when it’s subfreezing outside,” Jones said. “They are intended to be broad brushstrokes. They are intended to be lofty in nature with a lot of glowing rhetoric.”
Where the “rubber meets the road” will be Jan. 28, when Nixon will deliver his State of the State address to a joint session of the legislature, Jones said. Jones said he expects to hear details of Nixon’s agenda then.
“I welcome the governor’s tone and his lofty rhetoric. I hope his actions match his rhetoric over the next four years,” Jones said.
Nixon concluded his speech by paying tribute to those for whom he serves, from the “waitress pulling double shifts just to feed and clothe her kids” to “the battle-weary veteran … who deserves a job worthy of his skills and sacrifice.”
Nixon said their strength gives him strength.
“Our time here is fleeting, but the work we do will endure,” Nixon said. “Together we can — and we will — build a bright future for the great state of Missouri in the greatest nation on Earth.”