JEFFERSON CITY — Using the phrase "new day" 12 times in his 11-minute inaugural speech, Gov. Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon offered promises of "a fresh start" and "a new day for Missouri" after taking the oath of office Monday to become Missouri's 55th governor.
In his speech to a crowd of more than 4,000, Nixon emphasized the innovation and leadership of notable Missourians such as George Washington Carver and Daniel Boone.
"We have a history of overcoming adversity with innovation," Nixon said. "Here in Missouri, we will not only compete. We will lead."
After the bells of St. Peter's Catholic Church rang at noon, Nixon laid his hand on his family's Bible to be sworn in as governor. He then delivered his inaugural speech, used the word "new" 26 times and highlighted the innovation and bipartisanship he wants to see in his four-year term.
"We'll turn this economy around by making Missouri a magnet for next-generation jobs," Nixon said. He then stressed the creation of jobs in the technology, communication, energy and medical sectors. But in his subsequent call for bipartisanship, Nixon said job creation, innovation and economic development would not be possible in a divided government in Jefferson City.
"To bring about a new day in Missouri, we'll need to implement new policies," Nixon said. "But this new day will not be possible unless there is a new tone in Jefferson City, because for too many years, politics and partisanship have stood in the way of progress. And the people of Missouri are tired of it."
Although Nixon's comments might have referred to outgoing Republican Gov. Matt Blunt, state Republican leaders praised Nixon's address and his emphasis on bipartisan cooperation.
"I thought it was a successful speech," said Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder — the only Republican who now holds statewide office in Missouri government. "It struck themes that all Missourians can unite around looking forward to the future."
Charlie Shields, the Senate's Republican president pro tem, had a similar positive impression about Nixon's speech. "He has, at this point, surrounded himself with great staff, and they have a history on this floor of the building of working with legislators."
Nixon is a Democratic governor facing Republican majorities in both the state House and Senate chambers, as well as a projected $342 million budget shortfall — similar to the circumstances faced by former Democratic Gov. Bob Holden, whose 2001-2004 term was characterized by an economic recession and partisan communication breakdowns between the executive office and the legislators.
Since the November elections, Nixon, along with House and Senate leaders, has consistently called for an effectively bipartisan relationship and open communication line between Nixon and the legislators. Nixon also acted quickly to initiate communication between Republican lawmakers and himself by meeting with legislative leaders shortly after his election victory.
With an overcast sky and temperatures hovering around freezing on Monday, some of the Republicans on the inaugural platform said they appreciated Nixon keeping the speech short.
"It was a little brisk out there, but ... I think he knew that brevity in an outside climate was a good thing," said Shields, who presided over the inaugural ceremony.
Republican leaders offered their support in establishing bipartisanship between the governor's office and the legislators.
Kinder said he is optimistic about his working relationship with the new governor.
"I want to believe him," Kinder said of Nixon's message of bipartisanship. "I extended to him the olive branch the day after the election in a phone call, and told him, I said, 'Governor, you know, you're going to need help with these Republican majorities, which are sizable enough to have their way in most instances. I offer you my help.'
"I really think that after my offer of that olive branch, within hours of his election victory and mine, that the ball is in his court," Kinder said. "And I hope that we'll go down the road together sincerely, working together."
House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, said the economic downturn demands a spirit of cooperation between the two parties, as well as the various state offices.
"Unemployment approaching eight or nine percent is probably a good reason to stop the bickering and start getting to work," Richard said. "It's almost like a Franklin Delano Roosevelt calling everyone together and getting everyone organized to move forward against the enemy. The enemy is unemployment and loss of jobs. It's just times demand that we work together. And I will, for one, be a good partner."
Besides announcing a "new day" for Missouri, Nixon called for "public service and volunteerism," and asked Missourians to "step up and do more to make our communities stronger" by becoming more involved in local activities and programs.
"Now all of us await with great interest the State of the State message, which contains the budget proposal, toward the end of this month," Kinder said.
Nixon takes over the executive branch of state government after serving 16 years as state attorney general — the longest consecutive service in that office in Missouri's history. Prior to his election as attorney general, Nixon served six years in the state Senate. Nixon twice made unsuccessful runs for a U.S. Senate seat.
Defeating his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, for the governor's office by more than 20 percent, Nixon ran his campaign on promises to restore health care cuts made by Blunt and to revitalize the economy with job creation and tax policy.
The day was filled with inaugural activities, including Nixon's potluck dinner for the public and the ball.
There was also some business in the middle of the celebration. Nixon held a round-table meeting with 11 small-business entrepreneurs just 30 minutes after delivering his address, and the Senate convened for a short session shortly thereafter.
Other statewide elected officers were also sworn in Monday. Attorney General Chris Koster, State Treasurer Clint Zweifel, Secretary of State Robin Carnahan and Kinder took their oaths of office before Nixon took the stage outside on the State Capitol steps.
At the end of his inaugural speech, Nixon said today is a new day for children, small-business owners, families and workers.
"As your governor, I will work every day to help make this brighter future a reality for all Missouri families," Nixon said. "I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to lead our state during this critical time. As our family moves into the Governor's Mansion, we do so knowing that it's your house – not ours. And we hope you'll visit us often.
"And together, we will make a new day for Missouri," Nixon concluded. "Thank you, and God bless."