KANSAS CITY — Basking in victory after years of campaigning, Gov.-elect Jay Nixon plans to spend some time focusing on football and fishing before launching an effort to expand government spending on health care and college scholarships.
Nixon on Wednesday claimed a voter mandate for an "agenda of progress for Missouri," topped by reversing the 2005 Medicaid cuts, enacting a tuition-free college grant program and expanding job opportunities.
"The priorities I laid out were accepted by the public yesterday, and quite frankly in resounding numbers," Nixon said in a post-election conference call with reporters.
Nixon, Missouri's longest-serving attorney general, easily defeated Republican Congressman Kenny Hulshof in Tuesday's gubernatorial election, gaining more than 58 percent of the vote compared with a little less than 40 percent for Hulshof in complete but unofficial results.
He won not only in the Democratic strongholds of St. Louis and Kansas City, but also in the traditionally Republican areas of Greene and St. Charles counties and in dozens of rural counties, carrying 70 of Missouri's 116 voting jurisdictions.
Nixon's campaign said his was the largest percentage point victory margin of any non-incumbent governor since 1964. Missouri governors didn't have the option of seeking re-election until 1968. Republican Gov. Matt Blunt decided against it this year, becoming the first governor given the chance to turn down a re-election campaign.
Nixon began running for governor — initially, against Blunt — in late 2005. From the beginning, his primary pledge was to reverse the 2005 Medicaid cuts enacted as a budget-balancing move by Blunt and the Republican-led Legislature.
Republicans retained control of both the House and Senate in Tuesday's elections. They apparently added three Senate seats for a 23-11 majority over Democrats while losing three House seats for an 89-74 majority there.
Just as Nixon claimed a mandate from the election, House Majority Leader Steven Tilley said Wednesday that Missourians also gave the Republican-led Legislature a vote of confidence.
Republicans so far have been resistant to reversing the Medicaid cuts. And sagging state tax revenues could make that even more difficult. Nixon's health care proposal has been estimated by the Department of Social Services to cost $265 million in general state tax revenues; his higher education scholarship plan is projected to cost $61 million.
Nixon said he expects to be able to take a better look at the state's financial situation soon.
But "we'll work within the financial restraints we have to restore the health care cuts, we'll work to make college more affordable" and to boost Missouri jobs, Nixon said Wednesday.
Missouri last had a divided executive and legislative branch during the tenure of Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, from 2001-2005. That resulted in frequent spats over spending priorities and veto overrides on hot-button bills relating to abortion and guns.
Rather than laying down a line for potential vetoes of Republican bills, Nixon pledged Wednesday that "folks are going to see a much different tone, a much less strident partisanship and a deep commitment to getting Missourians back to work and to embracing the science and technology of the future."
Nixon vowed to use nonpartisan criteria as he assembles a leadership team in the coming weeks.
First, he plans to spend Saturday at the final home football game of his alma mater as MU plays Kansas State. Then next week, he plans to go fly fishing for trout with his father along the White River in northern Arkansas.
Besides relaxation, the trip provides time for "a little bit of transference from a campaign mentality to a governing mentality," Nixon said.