Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon took the first few steps of his post-Ferguson redemption with his State of the State speech Wednesday night.
The Democratic governor told members of his Republican controlled General Assembly that they’d be seeing more of him this year.
“Rumor has it that I don’t spend enough time on the third floor,” Nixon said, referring to the part of the Capitol where the legislative action takes place. “I hear you, and I’ll be coming around more often.”
From this lone-wolf governor, who has lost support from legislators of both parties due to his bungling of the Ferguson situation and other reasons, that sounded like a concession.
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Nixon didn’t dwell on the events that ripped apart the St. Louis area after a police officer in Ferguson shot an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, in early August. But he didn’t shirk the subject either.
“The legacy of Ferguson will be determined by what we do next,” Nixon said, and called for municipal court reform, a review of state laws governing deadly force by law enforcement, more diverse police forces, and “policies that foster racial understanding.”
Apart from that, Nixon’s speech consisted of the usual boasting about economic and educational initiatives, the state’s strong credit rating and other talking points.
He made his annual call for the legislature to expand Medicaid eligibility, which Republicans, unfortunately, have already declared dead on arrival.
As he does every year, Nixon called for lawmakers to “get a meaningful ethics reform bill to my desk,” but he didn’t specify what that would involve.
He said the state should consider toll roads and a gasoline tax increase to repair roads. With the resounding failure at the polls of a sales tax increase to pay for road repairs, those options are not surprising. It remains to be seen whether Nixon will take the lead in putting a package together that voters will find palatable, or whether he’ll simply let the subject drop.
By the end of his speech, Nixon seemed to be having fun. A number of autoworkers were in the galleries, and Nixon spend considerable time touting progress in Missouri’s auto industry.
Even Republicans seemed cheery as the speech wrapped up. But within minutes, lawmakers from both parties were criticizing the governor’s budget, which makes $79 million of additional funding for elementary and secondary education dependent upon the legislature passing Medicaid expansion.
Lawmakers noted Nixon’s lack of specifics in his speech. They said it was good that he intended to communicate with them while they were working bills. But, really, where has he been the last six years?
Good question. Nixon is six years into his eight years as governor, and he needs a better legacy than the way he mishandled the Ferguson situation. If could be the long-deferred highway repairs, but he’s going to have to step up and lead. It could be ethics reform, but he’s going to have to propose something more concrete.
Wednesday’s address was one of Nixon’s stronger speeches. Oratory doesn’t come easily to him, and neither does haggling with lawmakers. But he’s going to have to get better at the art of dealmaking if he wants to redeem himself after a miserable 2014.
To reach Barbara Shelly, call 816-234-4594 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bshelly.