JEFFERSON CITY — Democrat Jay Nixon was sworn into office Monday as Missouri's 55th governor, promising "a new day" for a state facing historic challenges.
Nixon took the oath with his hand on the crumbling black leather cover of a Bible passed down through his family since the late 1700s. It was held by his two sons, with his wife at his side.
Nixon, 52, served the past 16 years as attorney general. He easily won the Nov. 4 gubernatorial election over Republican Rep. Kenny Hulshof. Nixon succeeds Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, who chose not to run again.
Missouri's new governor takes over with the state facing a projected $342 million budget shortfall and its unemployment rate hovering around its highest mark since 1991. More than 200,000 Missourians lacked jobs and were looking for them as 2008 drew to a close.
"The challenges we face are historic. But so are the opportunities," Nixon said in remarks prepared for his inaugural address. "Ladies and gentlemen: Today marks a new day for Missouri."
Nixon made "A New Day for Missouri" his inaugural theme, repeating parts of the phrase a dozen times in his speech.
He declared it "a new day" for children with big dreams, for small business owners in need of help, for families struggling to pay college tuition, and for Missourians working at job sites ranging from auto plants to laboratories.
Topping Nixon's agenda are various job creation incentives, which he wants to enact by the legislative spring break in mid-March. He already has garnered support from Republican leaders in the House and Senate.
"We'll turn this economy around by making Missouri a magnet for next-generation jobs," Nixon said. "We'll invest in new technology. We'll inspire cutting-edge innovation. And we'll embrace science, not fear it."
Nixon also pledged a bipartisan approach to governing.
"This new day will not be possible unless there is a new tone in Jefferson City," he said. "Because for too many years, politics and partisanship have stood in the way of progress. And the people of Missouri are tired of it."
A native of rural De Soto in eastern Missouri, Nixon comes from a family of public officials. His late mother served on the local school board and city park board while his father worked as mayor and a municipal judge.
Although people call him Jay, he technically is Jeremiah Nixon the 11th. His family traces its American lineage to the late 1600s. One of his ancestors was the Philadelphia sheriff in 1776, who by some accounts was the first to read the Declaration of Independence to the public after the Continental Congress adopted it.
After graduating with his law degree from MU, Nixon 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 has failed twice in bids for the U.S. Senate.
A former saxophone player at De Soto High School, Nixon chose his alma mater's marching band to lead the traditional inaugural parade that wound through downtown Jefferson City on Monday morning.
Although Nixon had said he would walk in the parade, he road in a red Ford Mustang convertible — a change that a spokesman said was made because of a forecast for rain. It did not rain on Nixon's parade, though it was cold, with the temperature around the freezing mark and occasionally gusting winds.
Inaugural day did not focus solely on Nixon. He was joined in the parade by Missouri's other top elected officials. The oath of office first was taken by new Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, new Democratic Treasurer Clint Zweifel, returning Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and returning Republican Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder — all of whom also won election in November.
Nixon took the oath around noon. In a break from tradition, there was no fly over from F-15 fighter jets, because their St. Louis-based National Guard unit is being converted to support the B-2 bombers at Whiteman Air Force Base.
Later on inauguration day, Nixon was hosting what he described as a potluck dinner for the public. However, Nixon's campaign was providing most of the food. It ordered 1,000 hamburgers, 250 pounds each of potato salad and baked beans, 125 pounds of salad and 20 gallons of ice tea. Members of the public were encouraged to bring store-bought deserts; homemade cookies and pies were banned because of health officials' concerns about food-borne sicknesses.
The inaugural festivities were to be capped by an evening ball inside the Capitol. The new governor and first lady, Georgeanne Nixon, planned to follow tradition by dancing to "The Missouri Waltz."
Nixon said his inaugural festivities will cost well less than the $250,000 spent by Blunt four years ago — certainly nowhere near the $1 million bash thrown by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden in 2001. As in the recent past, businesses are picking up most of the tab through contributions to Nixon's campaign fund.