Here’s a phrase I never thought I’d see in a news release coming out of Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon’s office:
“...after agreeing with an alternative interpretation of current appropriation authority offered by legislative leadership.”
In other words: Nixon is acknowledging that his adversaries in the Republican-controlled General Assembly are right about something. Namely, that Missouri has enough money in its accounts to pay for the operations of the state National Guard and Highway Patrol to help keep the peace in and around Ferguson.
On Friday, the governor was talking much differently. He sent a letter to legislators saying he was calling them into special session. “Swift action is necessary to ensure both that these brave men and women can be paid on Dec. 15 for their hard work on behalf of our state and that the resources necessary are available for any additional security and disaster response activities,” Nixon wrote.
He went on to say the state has already spent $4 million on unanticipated National Guard expenses and an additional $3.4 million for services from the Highway Patrol and other state agencies.
Legislative leaders were immediately skeptical. They pointed out several pots of money that could be used for the emergency expenses. Leaders of the House and Senate issued a statement saying “they believe the governor currently has the resources and authority to spend the necessary dollars to provide security to the communities of Ferguson and greater St. Louis.”
Nixon concurred, which was one of the smarter moves he’s made since Aug. 9, when unrest erupted in Ferguson after a white police officer shot and killed an unarmed black teenager, Michael Brown.
Lawmakers had signaled they’d like to use the opportunity of a special session to hold hearings on Nixon’s missteps on Ferguson. Presumably, those would include waiting too long to intervene at the start of the crisis in August, declaring a state of emergency almost a week before a grand jury was expected to announce whether it would indict Wilson, and then not deploying the National Guard in the Ferguson business district as properties were being burned and looted.
And more. Undoubtedly much more. Nixon is intensely unpopular with the legislature. Some of the more delusional lawmakers have suggested the governor resign or risk being impeached. The chance to tee off on Nixon in public would be like letting kids loose in a candy store.
Denied that opportunity, at least for the moment, lawmakers took to Twitter instead.
“The legislator taught him how to read his budget,” gloated House Speaker Tim Jones, who said he still wants to hold hearings about the governor and Ferguson.
It’s probable that Nixon liked the legislature’s interpretation of the funds he’ll have available to cover the expenses of civil unrest because it goes beyond what he originally thought he could spend. Maybe he’s pulling one over on the legislature but can’t say so.
But on the surface, Nixon’s about face on the special session looks like another flub. At least this time the only damage is to the governor’s battered reputation.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bshelly.