In inaugural address, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon declares 'Progress wasn't partisan'
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon launched his second term Monday by renewing his call for political compromise and cooperation, arguing in his inaugural address that divided power doesn’t have to lead to constant division.
A Democrat, Nixon sought to add a bit of warmth to the cool – and occasionally, frigid – relationships between him and some of Missouri’s Republican legislative leaders. The two camps already are on opposite sides on such major issues as whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program.
“I am more optimistic than ever about our future,” the governor said in his speech, literally delivered under the shadow of arguably his party’s most revered figure, Thomas Jefferson. “We will put our shared principles ahead of our small differences, and work together for the common good. The people of Missouri deserve – and expect – no less. And that is how I intend to lead.”
But underscoring Nixon’s difficult quest, state House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, issued a somewhat terse statement afterward.
“While I have always anticipated, but not always experienced, this type of bold leadership during the governor’s first four years in office, I am hopeful he will turn his rhetoric into reality in the years ahead,” Jones said.
State Sen. John Lamping, R-Ladue, chimed in on Twitter: "Say nothing speech from a do nothing Governor; business as usual in Jefferson City."
Nixon sought in his speech to avoid specific issues and instead focus on broader themes of how best to move Missouri forward.
Nixon’s 20-minute address capped the state’s major quadrennial inauguration ceremony, which saw five statewide officials sworn in on a massive stage erected in front of the state Capitol.
Sworn in shortly before noon were three other officials re-elected in November – Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, Attorney General Chris Koster and state Treasurer Clint Zweifel – as well as new Secretary of State Jason Kander.
Nixon was sworn in last.
Hundreds of political allies, critics and average Missourians showed up for the public spectacle that often attracts many past -- as well as future -- leaders.
“For me, it just feels really special to share the stage with a lot of people I feel a lot of respect and admiration for,’’ said Kander later, as he hosted a reception in his new office.
Two former governors were on hand – Republican Christopher “Kit” Bond and Democrat Bob Holden – as well as U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who was recently sworn in after a spirited campaign last fall.
Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, was the emcee – giving an aura of bipartisanship to what admittedly was a partisan event. Four of the five officeholders sworn in are Democrats, a sharp contrast to the largely Republican proceedings last Wednesday, when the GOP-controlled General Assembly kicked off its new term.
The upshot was that Monday’s crowd was primarily Democratic.
The partisan tension remained evident, even among the celebrations. House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith, R-Salem, announced that he also had conducted a swearing-in Monday. Smith said that House colleagues had retaken the oath because Missouri Supreme Court chief Justice Richard Teitelman had used the wrong words on Wednesday, Smith said.
Smith said that Teitelman’s oath “asked them to support government,’’ instead of “the United States and Missouri Constitutions.” The written oaths of office signed Wednesday were correct, Smith added.
Teitelman was appointed to the court by then-Gov. Bob Holden, a Democrat, and is looked upon warily by some Republican legislative leaders.
Holden, who served only one term amid partisan rancor, said he understood Nixon’s dilemma and desire. “It’s tough trying to lead in this environment,’’ Holden said.
Nixon cites past as model for future
In his address, Nixon recalled other times in Missouri’s history when divided government was in place – but when cooperation appeared more evident.
The governor noted that when he first came to Jefferson City as a state senator in 1986, “I was just 30 years old – the youngest person in the Senate.”
At the time, John Ashcroft, a Republican, was the governor, and the General Assembly was controlled by Democrats.
“Disagreement and debate were daily fare,’’ Nixon recalled. “But it was possible to disagree, while continuing to advance the public good. Cooperation wasn’t considered a sign of weakness but rather a prerequisite for progress.
“And progress wasn’t partisan.”
Nixon continued, “The arc of Missouri history shows us that even the deepest divisions can be healed.”
“We do not inherit the future. We must build the future.”
Nixon added that he envisioned:
- “A future without limits: Where all our children get an education that prepares them to compete for the best jobs in the global economy;
- "Where the brightest minds in science and technology advance the frontiers of human knowledge;
- "Where business and the arts flourish;
- "Where the bounty of Missouri’s farms and fields will feed, clothe and power the planet;
- "And where the natural beauty of our state is preserved and cherished for all time.”
Afterward, he sought to put his words into practice by holding a meeting in his office with “early childhood education officials, educators and advocates” to promote his effort “to ensure all Missouri children start kindergarten ready to succeed in school and beyond.”
Nixon’s staff noted that he already has announced that his proposed budget for the coming fiscal year is to include more money for preschool education and kindergarten. The details of the budget are to be unveiled in two weeks in his State of the State address.
Church service highlights reconciliation, compromise
The governor and his wife, Georganne, began the day by attending a church service. The Rev. Daniel Hilty, of the Methodist church where the family attends, focused in his sermon on the importance of compromise -- without compromising one's principles.
Hilty said that Jesus had set such an example with his actions in which he reached out to those -- such as Samaritans and tax collectors -- shunned by the public.
Politics required similar skills, the minister said. "To live a life of public service is to deal deeply'' with political disagreements and tension. "It is not easy to live in the tension...but ultimately, well worth the effort,'' Hilty concluded.
About 150 people attended the multi-denominational service, which was held at the First Baptist Church because the Methodist Church nearby is undergoing extensive renovations.
The participating clergy included Father Justin Monaghan of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Joplin, Mo., which had been devastated by a deadly tornado in May 2011.
Most of the officials awaiting their inauguration, along with a crowd of fellow Missouri Democrats, were already partying Sunday night in Jefferson City, beginning with a late-afternoon event in the Governor’s Mansion, followed by a reception and dinner at the nearby Capitol Plaza hotel.
According to the tweets from the private dinner, Nixon signaled that he may become more politically assertive during his second term, even if it means tangling more with Republicans who control the General Assembly.
The governor told the supportive audience that he was committed to pressing his case for Missouri to participate in the Medicaid expansion sought by the federal Affordable Care Act. Nixon was quoted as saying, "It's not just smart, it's the right thing to do."
But at the same time, Nixon also highlighted his quest for more conciliatory times. The dinner featured red and blue lights that, upon the governor's command, merged into purple.
The inaugural celebrations culminated in the traditional ball, held in the rotunda, and which features the "Grand March" of all officeholders -- Republicans as well as Democrats.
Campaign cash pays for some events
All of the non-official parties and celebrations, such as Sunday's dinner at the Capitol Plaza, are being paid for with campaign money, either by the candidates or their party. Nixon's campaign fund, for example, has received a number of major contributions in recent weeks that likely will be used to underwrite some of the inaugural activities.
Despite all the glitz and glamour, one of the hottest topics is the usual one: the weather. Temperatures were in the teens for the outdoor inaugural ceremonies. The grounds were covered Sunday with a thin layer of ice and snow, prompting workers to sprinkle salt over the building’s grand steps.
Low temperatures, and snow, are frequent guests at Missouri's inaugurals, which are traditionally held outside -- regardless of the weather.
Still, the traditional parade through downtown Jefferson City appeared to take less time than usual, perhaps because of the cold temperatures, which appeared to keep down the size of the crowd along the route.
To warm things up after the inaugural ceremonies, Nixon hosted a massive barbecue for the public at the Capitol Plaza hotel. He and his wife then greeted people -- of any political persuasion -- who stopped by the Governor's Mansion for the traditional reception.