JEFFERSON CITY — The General Assembly said yes. The governor said no. Again and again and again.
Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed more of the bills passed by Missouri's Republican-led legislature this year than in any of his four prior years in office. He spiked 29 of the 145 non-budgetary bills sent to his desk — a 20 percent rejection rate.
That seems to indicate Missouri's governor and lawmakers weren't exactly of the same mindset this year. And that may reveal as much about the legislature as it does the governor.
"The Republicans, with such overwhelming majorities in both houses, have passed a lot of legislation which is much more conservative than the governor can probably swallow," said Peverill Squire, a political science professor at MU.
"The governor is probably still trying to figure out what he wants to do after he leaves office, and I think he's positioning himself pretty much in the middle of the political spectrum," Squire added.
There are at least two key political facts to consider.
The first is that the 2013 legislative session came on the heels of an election last fall in which Republicans won their first simultaneous supermajorities in the Missouri House and Senate since the Civil War era.
Legislators often claim a voter mandate after victorious elections, and so may more aggressively push their agenda in odd-numbered years. That can translate into bills that are more partisan in nature and more likely to be vetoed by a governor of the opposite party.
The second political fact to consider is that Nixon — after his re-election in 2012 — now has entered his final four-year term allowed under the state constitution. That means he can veto bills without worrying about the electoral consequences. Or it means Nixon now must consider how his actions affect a potential bid for federal office — perhaps the Senate, presidency or a Cabinet post.
If Nixon has federal aspirations, he may need to distinguish himself from the Republican legislature in order to appeal to voters in a Democratic primary.
Nixon's vetoes include several slap-downs of right-wing ideology, including a gun-rights bill attempting to criminalize the enforcement of federal firearms law. He also vetoed a large income tax cut that had been the crowning achievement of the Republican-led legislature, citing its potential to drain revenues and reduce services.
Nixon vetoed several bills opposed by the traditional Democratic constituencies of labor unions and personal injury attorneys, including ones making it harder for unions to deduct dues from paychecks and limiting punitive damages in some liability lawsuits.
Yet the Democratic governor, who has cultivated an image as a moderate, did not leap to the far left. As he has in years' past, Nixon let additional abortions restrictions take effect as law without his signature — a middle ground that avoids a veto yet stops short of literal endorsement.
"I think he's positioning himself so that if he does want to run for office after he leaves the governorship, that it will be open to him," Squire said.
Nixon denied any political motivations for his vetoes and has given no indication of what he wants to do when his term expires in January 2017. By then, Nixon will be 60 years old, having served in various roles in state government since he was 30.
"At this time in my career," Nixon said at a Friday news conference in his Capitol office, "as you sit here at this table, working hour after hour — trying to make what you think are the best calls not only for Missourians today, but Missourians a year from now and 10 years from now — it just doesn't get in your head: How does this help me?"
Nixon said he carefully reviews each bill without regard to his overall veto statistics. Despite setting a personal high mark for vetoes, Nixon said he doesn't believe it reflects a wider philosophical gap with lawmakers.
Yet viewed from afar, the vetoes still could fit into a national narrative, said David Kimball, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
"The general trend in American politics, both at the national level and at the state level, is the Republican Party in particular becoming more conservative and the Democrats becoming a bit more liberal, and so (there is) just a wider ideological gulf between the two sides," Kimball said.