JEFFERSON CITY — An effort to designate part of Interstate 70 as "Graham's Picnic Rock Highway" crashed Thursday because of the rock's believed role in Missouri's slavery past.
Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation that included designation of a 1-mile stretch of highway where the rock is visible in the median roughly halfway between Columbia and the St. Louis-region.
Nixon said the rock's name is in reference to Robert Graham, who is the former owner of the farm where the rock was located. The governor said in his veto message that a popular outing during the 1880s was to drive with horse and buggy to the Mineola Spring and Graham Cave for a picnic on the rock. But Nixon said the rock also has been called "Slave Rock," which he said comes from the widely held belief that slave auctions occurred at the site.
The highway designation "has the effect, whether intentional or not, of elevating one history of the site above all others, thereby defining this landmark and its historical significance for generations to come," Nixon said. He said there should be more public debate before taking that step.
Designation of the 1-mile stretch of I-70 in Montgomery County received scant attention when Missouri lawmakers approved the broader transportation measure. The legislation includes several sections, including creation of the crime of assault of employees of a mass transit system while in the scope of their duties. Nixon vetoed legislation in 2009 that would have created the crime of assaulting a mass transit system employee because he said it could have weakened an existing law against assaulting law officers by adding a requirement that they be on duty or in their official vehicles.
This year's transportation legislation passed the Senate 29-4 and 146-6, which both exceed the two-thirds majority required to override a veto. State lawmakers return to the Capitol in September to consider whether to attempt any veto overrides.