I’ve never seen Jay Nixon as jolly as he looked on television Wednesday night. He was relentlessly upbeat as he delivered his State of the State address and sketched his “long-term strategy to create a vibrant future” for a state he characterized as clearly the best-managed, most forward-looking and prettiest in the union.
OK, maybe I exaggerate a little, but not much. He described himself as “an optimist by nature” (as well as a lifelong fisherman and knowledgeable Cardinals fan). Then he demonstrated the truth of that description by suggesting that, if only his fine Republican friends in the legislature will adopt his proposals, we’ll find ourselves “leading the nation to recovery.”
He did mention that state revenues took their largest fall in history in 2009, and he noted that he has cut or plans to cut 1,800 state jobs. But if he said anything about the $253 million in reductions, nearly half of it from Medicaid, that his actual budget proposes, I missed it.
Instead, my attention was glued to our grinning governor and the two glowering Republicans behind him on the dais. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder looked especially grim, I thought, as though it pained him when protocol required that he stand or applaud.
When it came time for Mr. Kinder to deliver the response to the governor’s speech, he made clear that he was not only grim but angry. He snarled that Gov. Nixon had “cooked the books,” misled the electorate and conspired with Democrats in Washington to pick taxpayers’ pockets.
He probably didn’t realize how much he sounded like a parody of the classic line in the film “Casablanca” when he declared himself “shocked” to learn the size of the governor’s staff.
While Gov. Nixon repeatedly called for “bi-partisan” approaches, his No. 2 – and likely opponent in 2012 – scorned the very idea. We can only hope Mr. Kinder isn’t as angry all the time as he appeared Wednesday. That can’t be good for his health.
Gov. Nixon, by contrast, was folksy as he confided that the Missouri soldiers he visited on his trip to Iraq and Afghanistan asked two things: “How’s Pujols doing, and will there be a job when I get home?”
He didn’t need to remind us that Albert Pujols did very well, winning the league’s Most Valuable Player award. The job prospects are a good deal dicier, but the governor promised that his “Put Missouri First” plan will bring new businesses to the state, help those already here expand and provide job training, especially for veterans.
Before the evening was over, of course, those Republicans whom the governor had thanked for their cooperation last year made clear that they have no intention of cooperating this year on any such scheme. (I didn’t remember much hands-across-the-aisle last session; but then politicians, like relief pitchers and placekickers, are required to have selective memories.)
It’s possible, even likely, that there will be some legislative action this spring to toughen drunkdriving enforcement and to limit payday lenders. Insurance companies will probably be required to cover autism.
And ethics legislation of some sort appears almost inevitable. Whether it will meet Gov. Nixon’s definition of “meaningful” is less certain. Republican leaders have already rejected his goal of limiting campaign contributions.
The governor introduced his ethics proposals by pledging to restore, or create, for Missourians “state government as honest and straight-shooting as they are.” As I changed the channel back to basketball, I felt a twinge of worry that despite his depiction of our virtues we may already have what we deserve.
George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism.