With only a few months left in office, Gov. Jay Nixon spoke Sunday on This Week in Missouri Politics to discuss his last eight years as the chief executive of the Show Me State and about the recent elections that finally seemed to have cemented Missouri’s status as a red state.
Nixon began by saying that he was unsure whether or not the Republican Party deserved all the credit for a statewide sweep, but that they rather appeared to come to power riding a surge of populist support for President-elect Donald Trump.
“The folks that got elected statewide Republicans got far fewer votes than he did,” he said, mentioning U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s 3-point victory and Gov.-elect Eric Greitens’ 6-point win. “I think it was more of a Trump move than a conservative move… He hit a nerve – a clear nerve, a populist outsider nerve – that he was able to use both in the primary on the Republican side as well as in the general election.”
He added that Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not do enough to reach out to the same voters that responded to Trump’s message, especially in states like Missouri.
“Missourians never warmed up to Secretary Clinton,” he said. “It was never a race in which she was making progress, and so we always knew the Republican was going to have a wide avenue to run in Missouri with her as our candidate.”
Nixon also spoke about his meetings with Gov.-elect Greitens and whether or not he would be able to adapt from being a strong populist candidate into a statesman capable of handling the intricacies of government. Nixon said he found the campaign messages from the entire election season “stunningly simplistic.”
“As governor, the message field you deal with and responsibilities you deal with are much broader than clips and soundbites,” he added. “As we begin the process, [we’re] trying to make sure that he is a capable and intelligent fellow who understands the breadth of the office and that we’re really open with moving forward with him to maintain fiscal discipline, to keep the progress on things we’re involved in, and to make sure he has the information he needs to make the decisions over the next few years to keep this state moving forward.”
He also said he would be happy to keep an open line of communication with Greitens as they would both one day be ex-governors. He added that former Gov. Kit Bond had assisted him during the earliest days of the Nixon administration because Bond had dealt with a similar recession to 2008’s Great Recession.
Nixon also expressed that he understood the philosophy behind the passage of Amendment 2, which will reinstate campaign contribution limits. He believes that getting large donations stops politicians from going out and doing the necessary work to speak with the constituents they hope to represent.
“Politics is the exact opposite of plumbing: When a plumber comes to your house and fixes something, you pay him and you never want to see him again, but if a politician comes and you give him 25 bucks, you get more invested and interested in what his future is,” Nixon said. “People that actually give something, whether its time, put up a sign or put a bumper sticker on or a small check, they become more invested in the system. They become more invested in the candidate and democracy as a whole.
“If they think the system is rigged or controlled by a few smart people, a few rich people, they’re much more cynical about the democracy that is so important for our country.”
When it came to his legacy, Nixon said he wished that while he was happy with the state’s finances during his eight years in office, especially in reducing spending, he wished he had done more to keep special interest tax breaks low.
“I don’t think that Kansas-style tax cut of saying ‘we’re going to give you a break on LLC money’ has created jobs in Kansas City,” he said. “I think it has instead had people go to their accountants and say, ‘How do I move my income in a way so that it doesn’t have tax.’ I think it hasn’t worked in Kansas, and even though it’s a little smaller here… I don’t think that’s good policy.
“[It’s] going to make it very difficult to fund the necessary services that can move the state forward.”
His proudest moment, however, was when the school opened in Joplin after the 2011 tornado that killed 161 people and leveled 7,500 houses and nine schools.
“I was really fearful that you could lose a town,” Nixon said. “But the people stayed and they had confidence the future of their community was going to be strong. And as I sat there with the principals and everyone else, literally getting accounts from each of the various middle schools and elementary schools and seeing 96, 97, 98 percent [attendance], and comparing that to Greenwood, Kansas where fewer that 20 percent of people still live in that town after that tornado, that was a moment where I felt like everybody tried really hard together, I was able to marshall some resources and work with the will and spirit of Missourians. In a lot of ways, that town was saved.”
The full interview can be viewed here.