Jefferson City, MO – The Governor is stuck in a second term slump that, on a state level, is as bad as Reagan, Clinton, or Bush. It seems that a culmination of recent events have begun to elevate outside of his control. But the question spinning around Jefferson City these days isn’t regarding the laundry list of things stacked against him: republian super majorities, a tough upcoming veto session, racial tension in North St. Louis County, a seeming loss of control of his administration that is now leading to a hemorrhaging of jobs, and a President of his party that is also increasingly unpopular in his second term. The better question is: what can Governor Jay Nixon do to come out of this slump and succeed in his last 30 months in office?
Here are ten ideas we pooled from a roundup of our subscribers:
1. Get a handle on the school transfer issue.
If, in fact, the Ferguson protests and looting are coming under control, the Governor can identify the failing schools in the area as one of the factors that led to the unrest in the community. The legislature felt they put together a fair, bipartisan bill last session and was unusually offended by his veto. He could use the crisis of the past two weeks as a turning point to begin talks about a bill for next year and come up with a solution the legislature can pass and he can sign.
2. Empanel a group to study the policing issues in Ferguson.
The Governor can’t be caught flat-footed once this is over. There needs to be some study put into learning about what happened and why. There are certainly lessons to be learned, and even after Ferguson is calm there had better be some preparation in place to deal with potential unrest as the case unfolds.
3. Embrace veto session.
It’s likely to be a rough week for the Governor. Most expect him having a record number of vetoes overturned, and it won’t be pretty if he loses democrats, but there is little he can do about it now, except attempt to stop the defections among House Democrats. He can take the opportunity to begin a path forward with House Democrats and identify some issues to work on in January, there is little to be gained by a week-long laundry list of complaints, or coming up with some scary billion-dollar number to scare people. When liberal editorial pages like the News-Leader’s aren’t buying the astronomical figures anymore, it isn’t working.
4. Campaign for Democrats.
If the Governor doesn’t like his vetoes overridden, one solution would be to campaign to see more Democrats in the General Assembly voting on them. It’s a truism of Jefferson City that if you want to hear something bad said about the Governor, sit by a Democrat in General Assembly. He could begin to show some good faith by campaigning and donating to some of the Democrats in the House. Let’s be honest, its already Chris Koster’s party, but it doesn’t have to be an anti-Nixon party.
5. Do not lose SD 22.
If you want to see what a lame duck Governor looks like, see a governor lose his home senate district that he himself once represented and that has been in Democratic hands for decades. If the Governor cannot hold this seat it will be a clear indictment of his lack of popularity, and it’s going to take a lot of effort on his part to make Jefferson County voters over look the fact that President Obama also happens to be a Democrat. Just ask former Senators Barnitz and Shoemyer.
6. Build a relationship with Senators Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Jamilah Nasheed.
How do you solve a problem like Maria? It is hard to see the Governor successfully moving forward with such a terrible relationship with senators of his own party. Who knows what it would take, and there is an entire ocean of bad blood here, but if he could form some type of relationship with Senator Chappelle-Nadal it might be worthwhile. If nothing else, then he should do it to remove the term #flatjay from Missouri politics.
Last week while the Governor was in Ferguson, the Public Service Commission full of his appointees was voting to send the one thousand jobs in the bootheel at Noranda out of the state, and many at the commission are not so quietly pointing the finger at a lack of leadership on his and his staff’s part as a reason why. Those that meet with the Governor typically leave impressed, and there is all the trappings of the office and the bully pulpit that could be employed. One of the most common complaints amongst the most reasonable legislators is the difficulty to get the Governor to engage, and when he does he is dramatically effective. Whether the complaints are valid or not, he certainly has the capacity to lead and many are wanting to see a greater eagerness to lead, others just want the Governor’s attention.
8. Work with Tom Dempsey.
One of the things the Governor has going for him is that Sen. Tom Dempsey is the leader in the Senate. Start with him and work on what’s possible, this is his final two years in the senate as well. He is the most respected person in state government, both sides of the aisle commend his pragmatic approach, and if the Governor can’t work with Senator Dempsey then the problem may be the Governor.
9. Don’t lose any more jobs.
The Governor ran on fighting for every job and the strength of the Missouri economy, and let’s just say that while steady there hasn’t been a boom in Missouri job growth the past 6 years. Whether it’s passing Medicaid expansion to keep people working in rural hospitals, figuring out how to keep manufacturers in Missouri, or managing the budget to keep state employees on the job the Governor has been in public service for over 3 decades — does he really want to go out amongst headlines of job losses and plant closings?
10. Keep his staff til the end.
One of the problems that plagues second termers is the call of the big salaries of the private sector, but his key advisers, John Watson, Jeff Harris, and Ted Ardini will be vital to finishing strong. In a legendarily guarded administration, these are the only points of contact many people have to the 2nd floor. Case in point, there was no #flatjay before Daniel Hall left for the PSC he had one of the most difficult jobs in state government and did a lot to keep things together and when he left you noticed it. While he is at it, maybe give more power to his legislative liaisons – he might have to veto fewer bills if they had more authority to negotiate on his behalf what those bills included.
Who knows if all or any of these ideas would help, but it took decades of work to become governor and there is 30 months left – why not go all in to finish strong?
Scott Faughn is the publisher of The Missouri Times, owner of the Clayton Times in Clayton, Mo; SEMO Times in Poplar Bluff, Mo.; and host of the only statewide political television show, This Week in Missouri Politics.