Yael T. Abouhalkah

After Ferguson blunder, the Jay Nixon ‘State of the State drinking game’ debuts

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon got a lot of justified criticism for being slow to react to the police shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in Ferguson.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon got a lot of justified criticism for being slow to react to the police shooting of Michael Brown on Aug. 9 in Ferguson. The Associated Press

Just a year ago, Democrat Jay Nixon’s name was being mentioned in 2016 presidential/vice presidential sweepstakes media coverage.

But as Nixon gets ready to give his State of the State address Wednesday night, he’s been reduced to little more than a bit player when it comes to setting public policies regarding budgets, gun control, health care and other issues.

Sound harsh? Well, some members of his own party have publicly dissed him. And he likely will be ignored on plenty of occasions this legislative session by Republicans, who have veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.

Summed up, this is a good time to take a look at the Jay Nixon “State of the State drinking game” that can be enjoyed during his speech.

Like last week — when I wrote a similar piece about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s State of the State speech — the rules remain simple: Take a big gulp of your favorite beverage (alcoholic or not) every time you hear a certain word or phrase. To handicap this game, let’s use a scale of 0 to 3 gulps.

▪ “Ferguson” — 1 gulp

Nixon would love for people to forget his pathetic response to the Michael Brown shooting last August in the St. Louis suburb. However, given the national attention that incident received, Nixon will have to discuss some Ferguson-related initiatives that confront him, the legislature and Missourians.

Will he push for police to wear body cameras, for instance? Will he ask for changes in how small localities use police forces to harass poor people, forcing them to pay fines for misdemeanors?

The answer, by the way, is yes to both. But what do Republicans want?

▪ “State Highway and Water Patrols” — 3 gulps

It was just last year, in his 2014 State of the State, that Nixon heaped praise on the state-approved merger a few years earlier of the Highway and Water Patrols. “We knew this change would improve efficiency and reduce overhead. It has,” Nixon said.

But just a few months later in May, 20-year-old Brandon Ellingson was arrested for boating while intoxicated and handcuffed. A state trooper placed the wrong kind of life jacket on Ellingson, who died moments later in the water under mysterious circumstances. Investigations ensued, with one preliminary finding: The patrols’ merger led to a lack of good training for highway troopers placed on water patrol.

That’s not something Nixon likely will remind Missourians about in his speech.

▪ “Jobs” — 0 gulps

Like Brownback and other governors, Nixon likes to tout the number of jobs that have been created under his watch. But while doing that, governors often forget to compare the actual rate of job growth with other states. That’s much more telling.

In his speech last week, Brownback touted the gain of 59,400 private sector jobs during his first term starting in January 2011, without mentioning that the 5.5 percent growth rate was below the national average.

Nixon could haul out a number and blow Brownback away, talking about the 117,700 private sector jobs Missouri has added in the same time.

Oops: That’s a growth rate of only 5.3 percent, a tad worse than in Kansas. Missouri “wins” the jobs battle only because it has a far larger population.

▪ “State Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal” — 2 gulps

I’m tempted to make it 3 gulps — indicating Nixon won’t mention one of his most-vociferous critics at all — except for the fact that Nixon might want to look more mature and publicly praise Chappelle-Nadal for her work on post-Ferguson issues, for example.

Then again, maybe not.

▪ “Medicaid expansion” — 1 gulp

Nixon mentioned it a lot in 2014, and it went nowhere. He should mention it — a lot — again this year, given the good it could do for several hundred thousand people. But with stiff GOP opposition to expansion, it’s not likely to happen in 2015.

Among other topics, Nixon will talk about a favorite subject of “K-12 education,” pledging to fully fund it. He will talk about submitting a “balanced budget” — as if there’s any other kind in state capitals, where legislatures can’t print money like the federal government can to prop up endless deficits.

Finally, don’t look for Nixon to be a good friend of the clock and a wise user of time. He likes to talk and talk and talk. And sometimes, politicians who aren’t going to accomplish much can talk the most.

To reach editorial page columnist Yael T. Abouhalkah, call 816-234-4887 or send email to abouhalkah@kcstar.com. Twitter @YaelTAbouhalkah.