JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Gov. Jay Nixon announced Tuesday, just a day before the start of the legislative session, that he was cautiously optimistic the legislature would achieve meaningful ethics reform after months of talk from lawmakers across the state.
“There’s been a whole lot of talk about ethics and a lot of really good talk about ethics,” he said during a press conference. “A lot of people on both sides of the aisle are saying that is the issue that is front and center as we begin this session. Unfortunately, I’ve seen that kind of talk before.”
Nixon said he had concerns that some of the many laws proposed by legislators that tackle lobbying reform could easily be watered down when push came to shove or that language could easily be altered to make them unenforceable. He says he wants bills on his desk that are “not half hearted stuff, not saying you’re for ethics reform and passing some half-hearted measure and thinking that if you call it ethics reform, it really is.
“It has to be significant real and appropriate,” he continued. “I know the Speaker [Todd Richardson], one of his strategies this year is to have a series of bills, which I’m fine with.”
The governor laid out eight measures he would like to see addressed by the legislature, including a restoration of campaign contribution limits, banning gifts from lobbyists, closing the revolving door which allows lawmakers to immediately become lobbyists, enacting “reasonable” limitations on campaign accounts of former officeholders, and shortening the legislative session, a position he has advocated for strongly in the past.
He joked that if he had his way, session would last from Jan. 1 to Feb 1.
“I was around when we had shorter sessions,” he said. “Quite frankly, we got as much done in a short session as we did in a long session. So, I don’t have a specific date here, although I do think we stand to risk of losing one of the risks of our state, and that strength is having a citizen legislature, that’s having people that are much more tied to their local communities than they are tied to the legislature and what goes on here in Jefferson City.”
Nixon added that having a government people did not trust could lead to apathy at best and distrust at worst.
“I think people are getting more cynical about their government,” he said. “We’re seeing that going on at the federal level, I mean, we have Exhibit A right in front of us where people just don’t have as much confidence where they fold directly to the political instead of the substantive in their discussions and where people’s expectations of what can be done by collective action falls to the wayside.”
Nixon said that ethics reforms as a whole were the best way to re-establish trust between Jefferson City and the public.
“The public understands these issues. They understand when politicians are receiving huge checks or when they’re hiring the person sitting next to them in the legislative body or hen years after their service is over, they’re using that money to affect ongoing legislation that those things don’t reflect Missouri values.”