Mo. Gov. Nixon sworn in, calls for cooperation
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Gov. Jay Nixon recalled Missouri’s bloody history in the Civil War during his inaugural address Monday while encouraging Democrats and Republicans in charge of the state’s politically divided government to come together for the common good.
Nixon took the oath of office for a second term shortly after noon with his hand on a family Bible — and his wife and two sons at his side — in a chilly outdoor ceremony at the Capitol. It was the climax of a full day of events that began with a worship service and concluded with the governor and first lady twirling to “The Missouri Waltz” at an inaugural ball.
Nixon, a Democrat, will be working with Missouri’s largest Republican legislative majorities since the Civil War era. Yet he said today’s partisan tensions don’t even come close to what existed during that time, when Missouri had two capitols, two governors and two rival state flags.
For years after the war’s end, Missouri was crippled by political struggles, retaliation and suffering, Nixon said.
“That my friends? That was hard politics,” Nixon said.
Today, “I am more optimist than ever about our future,” Nixon said later in his 13-minute speech. “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,” Nixon said.
The governor’s didn’t detail any specific policy initiatives for his second term; those will come in the State of the State address Jan. 28. But immediately after his speech, Nixon convened a brief public meeting of education officials to emphasize his desire to provide more money to early childhood programs that he called a “smart investment with a big return.”
In addition to citing the Civil War, Nixon spoke about his days as a freshman state senator in the late 1980s, when Missouri’s political control was reversed but still divided — with a Republican governor and Democratic-led Legislature.
“Cooperation was not considered a sign of weakness, but rather a prerequisite for progress,” said Nixon, who drew applause by adding: “And progress is not partisan.”
But not everyone was impressed. Republican Sen. John Lamping, of St. Louis County, tweeted that Nixon’s address was a “say nothing speech from a do nothing Governor; business as usual in Jefferson City.”
House Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, said he welcomed “the governor’s tone and lofty rhetoric” yet asserted that Nixon failed to show leadership during his first four years, sometimes waiting until after legislation had passed to announce his views on it.
“I hope that the actions match the rhetoric over the next few years,” Jones said.
Some of Nixon’s supporters at his inauguration said they also hope for a more aggressive agenda.
Diane Scott, a retired small business owner from La Plata, said she wants Nixon to “stand strong on public schools.” St. Louis attorney Erin Sievers said she hopes for “bold plans,” specifically citing Nixon’s desire to expand Medicaid coverage under President Barack Obama’s health care law.
Republican lawmakers have opposed the Medicaid expansion and pushed their own education agenda, which includes limits on teacher tenure and new evaluation criteria.
“It’s tough trying to lead in this environment,” said former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, who lost re-election in 2004. “Jay’s had to walk a very difficult line between the liberals on one hand and the conservatives on the other, and still trying to do what’s best for the state of Missouri.”
Nixon, 56, easily turned back a challenge from Republican businessman Dave Spence of St. Louis in November’s election. He is just the fourth Missouri governor to win two consecutive terms — a feat that was not possible under the state constitution until about 45 years ago.
A native of rural De Soto in eastern Missouri, Nixon has a long career in Missouri politics. He worked briefly as an attorney in his home county before winning an open state Senate seat in 1986. He won election as attorney general in 1992, and served there for a record 16 years before becoming governor in 2009.
His inaugural celebration, which began Sunday with a dinner for supporters, is projected to cost $180,000, with Nixon’s campaign committee covering $150,000 and about $30,000 coming from state funds.
The governor, first lady Georganne Nixon and their family started Monday with a special church service. They later joined other elected officials in a short parade that wound past the Governor’s Mansion to the Capitol. The Nixons rode in the bed of a red Ford F-150 truck, a model made in Missouri at an assembly plant that is receiving tax incentives from Nixon’s administration.
Attendance at the parade was sparse, and many of the 3,840 chairs set up for the outdoor inauguration remained empty, likely attributable to temperatures in the low 20s. Before the ceremony began, members of Nixon’s administration had to clear frost and ice off the folding chairs. During Nixon’s speech, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder sat with a blanket over his legs, and some chilled audience members left before the event concluded with music and a benediction.
Nixon and other state officials were seated on a raised platform heated from beneath their feet.
The oaths of office were first administered to Missouri’s other executive officials elected this past November — Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster; Democratic Treasurer Clint Zweifel; Democratic Secretary of State Jason Kander; and Kinder, a Republican starting his third term as the No. 2 executive. Only Kander is new to his position.
The day’s festivities also included a public reception at the Governor’s Mansion and free barbecue at a nearby hotel.
Associated Press writers Chris Blank and Jordan Shapiro contributed to this report. Follow David A. Lieb at: http://twitter.com/DavidALieb