SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — As 2016 approaches, Republicans are focusing huge resources on winning the Governor’s mansion, which they haven’t held since the single term of Matt Blunt. Blunt’s time in office is, for Republican elected officials, the yardstick against which any other serious contender for the office will be measured.
Blunt’s tenure was tumultuous, fraught with staunch opposition from Democrats for budget cuts, particularly to Medicaid and the state’s social entitlement programs. However, Republicans contend those cuts led to the state receiving an AAA Bond Rating from Standard and Poor’s.
“Matt Blunt forged a new path for our state that included significant good government reforms and sound fiscal management,” Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis, said. “His leadership and the tough decisions he made as our Governor continue to serve our state well to this day.”
Gov. Jay Nixon rarely forgets to mention that he has maintained the AAA rating of the state at his public appearances, while his opponents in the Republican party say the rating has been maintained in spite of, not because of, Nixon’s leadership.
“I’m proud that we righted the state’s fiscal ship and that we did those that were structural in nature,” Blunt said. “It was a selfless effort with a lot of people involved.”
“Governor Blunt inherited a $1.1 billion budget deficit, and he balanced the budget with prudent reductions to state spending. He also proposed consistently bold initiatives and worked directly with legislative leadership to steer the state on a new course,” James Harris, owner of J. Harris company, said. “ Even when his proposed policies were not passed, his leadership drove momentum and prompted the legislature to discuss important issues. Leadership and vision are not in Governor Nixon’s repertoire.”
Blunt was the first governor in nearly 80 years to serve with a Republican House and Senate. He said he enjoyed working with the leadership in both chambers particularly Speaker of the House Rod Jetton and Senate President Pro Tem Mike Gibbons.
“I enjoyed working with Matt to reform Medicaid fully fund education and create jobs,” Former Speaker of the House, Rod Jetton, said. “It has been satisfying to see how our reforms have kept Missouri’s economy strong.”
Victor Callahan worked on the other side of the aisle as Democratic Senator when Blunt was in office. He said Blunt was easy to work with.
“Even though we tended to disagree on public policy, he was a consummate gentleman,” Callahan said. “I always found him to be very open to ideas and person who always kept his word.”
Blunt also spearheaded tort reform. A report released in 2009 stated that malpractice claims in Missouri reached a 30-year low as a result of the reforms. Blunt himself takes particular pride in his tort reform work, citing it and workers compensation reform as two of his proudest accomplishments when he was in office. But, naturally, he is frustrated that the Missouri Supreme Court has undone some of that work.
“As governor, Matt Blunt’s assaults on Missourians were incredible,” Rep. Vicki Englund, D-St. Louis, said. “Overreaching tort reform was luckily thrown out by the courts. Unfortunately, the thousands of working Missourians and children who had their health care taken away by Blunt are still living with inadequate coverage.”
Democrats claimed the cuts to Medicaid would be catastrophic, and Blunt and his fellow Republicans suffered in the press. But most of the party recalls the battle as a testament to making unpopular decisions.
“A lot of people were critical of the Medicaid cuts,” Richardson said. “But it’s hard to imagine where the state would be financially without Gov. Blunt’s push for cuts.”
The people who worked with Blunt more closely, including current Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and brother Andy, look back fondly on Blunt’s four-year term.
“He was a great public servant,” Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder said. “He always walked in the pathways of honor.”
“It was a tremendous honor to manage my brother’s campaign for Governor,” Andy Blunt said. “As a candidate and as Governor he provided a tremendous example to me about what you can achieve with hard work and dedication. I was also proud to watch him as he made the decision not to seek reelection. He recognized that once he had accomplished his mission it was time for a new chapter in his life and for new challenges.”
Of course, Blunt’s surprising decision to serve only one term, and Nixon’s subsequent election, have left ambitious party members and their base wanting for another Republican executive. But Blunt always maintains that he does not regret the decision at all, and is happy to spend more time with his family.
“I always do what God wants me to do,” he said.