What goes around, comes around in Jefferson City. Former Gov. Jay Nixon surely knew that.
So he can’t be too surprised that Republicans in the state Capitol suddenly are taking aim at an entire squadron of administrative law judges, many of whom were former Nixon aides and colleagues who received appointments from the governor in the weeks before he left office in January.
Handing out good jobs to buddies is a time-honored practice in American politics. The bestowing of these appointments was seen as a way to say thanks for good work during Nixon’s years in public service.
A nice gesture it was. The job pays about $140,000 a year. It involves adjudicating workers’ compensation cases and other labor issues.
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Nixon insider Andrea Spillars was hired in January. Marvin Teer, who worked in Nixon’s administration, was appointed in November. Joel Anderson, who handled legal matters for the governor, came aboard in December.
There were others, too — nine altogether. The administrative law judge positions are seen as one of the last vestiges of Missouri’s once vaunted patronage system that rightfully decayed over the years under pressure from the public and the media.
But Republicans in Jefferson City now have these appointees in their crosshairs. And Jay Nixon, a Democrat, can blame only himself for that.
Shortly after Nixon took over as governor in 2009, he terminated five of the most junior administrative law judges. They included Henry Herschel, who had once served as Republican Gov. Matt Blunt’s general counsel.
To hear Jefferson City denizens tell it, that hadn’t been done before. The move was viewed as a slap at the GOP and a breach of protocol when one governor turns over the keys to the next. Three of the judges sued, but they lost. In a 2010 ruling, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that if money is tight, the judges can be axed through the appropriations process.
In fairness to Nixon, a lower court found no evidence that either he or the General Assembly had targeted any of the judges “for political reasons nor that they acted in a malicious or corrupt manner.”
But a precedent was set. Nixon went after GOP appointees and now, it seems, Republicans want a spot of retribution.
The other day, state Sen. Dan Brown, a Rolla Republican and chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, proposed cutting about $1.5 million from the administrative law judge budget, meaning Nixon’s last 12 appointees would be terminated. That would be fully one-third of the entire administrative law judge staff.
That’s making recent hires nervous, and it should. That Brown choose 12 of the judges and precisely $1.47 million may not be a coincidence, either. Terminating the last dozen hires apparently would end with a Kansas City judge named Larry Rebman. As Department of Labor’s director, he had been the focus of a white-hot age and gender discrimination case against the Nixon administration that cost the state $2 million to settle last year.
Republicans and Democrats were incensed about this for good reason. On the very day that the plaintiff in the case was fired from her job for complaining about Rebman, Nixon appointed him to the administrative law judge job.
Make no mistake about it: What goes around, comes around in the merry-go-round that is Missouri state government.