JEFFERSON CITY — As the leader of a pro-gun, anti-tax state, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon has prevailed against the odds — and sent a sobering reminder to legislators nationwide that single-party legislative dominance is no guarantee of results.
The Democratic governor successfully defended his vetoes of a sweeping income tax cut and an aggressive gun-rights bill in the state's Republican-dominated Legislature. Lawmakers overrode a record 10 vetoes during a Wednesday session that ran until midnight — but they failed on more than 20 others, including the biggest issues at the core of Republican Party philosophies.
All but four states now have single-party control of their legislatures, the highest amount in three decades, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. But Missouri and Arkansas are the only states where one party holds a technically veto-proof majority while another party controls the governor's office.
In Missouri, "the Republican Party's divisions weighed down on it, and the office of the governor remains a very potent block to the committed agenda of even a supermajority in the state Legislature," said Dave Robertson, a political science professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, on Thursday.
Missouri's GOP legislative leaders thought they would be able use their first supermajorities since the Civil War era to reshape Missouri's economy. Their marque legislation would have enacted Missouri's first income tax rate reduction in more than 90 years. But 15 of the 109 House Republicans broke from their party to side with Nixon, who had warned that the tax cut could jeopardize funding for education.
On Thursday, House Speaker Tim Jones attempted to put a positive construction on the veto session while simultaneously expressing his disappointment.
"I have to take great satisfaction that we overrode this governor 10 times and created history," Jones said.
Since Missouri began requiring a two-thirds majority for veto overrides in 1875, the previous single-year high mark was three overrides set in 2003.
Still, Jones said he plans a "personal, heart-to-heart" conversation with each of the GOP dissenters and warned that they could face difficulties winning re-election.
"Being that I believe every single member of my caucus ran on reducing tax burdens and the overall size and scope of government, they're going to have to answer to potentially breaking a campaign promise and a policy promise, and an issue that is a central plank of our party's platform and ideology," Jones said.
The bill nullifying some federal gun-control laws was shot down when the Senate's top two Republican leaders broke with the rest of their caucus, causing the veto override attempt to fall one vote short. Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey and Majority Leader Ron Richard both cited concerns about provisions allowing criminal charges or lawsuits against police who aid in enforcing certain federal firearms laws and journalists who publish gun owners' identities.
Had the veto overrides succeeded on the gun and tax-cut measures, Missouri Republicans could have rightfully challenged neighboring Kansas for the distinction as one of the nation's most conservative capitols. Kansas, which has a Republican governor and legislature, enacted an even deeper income tax cut than Missouri's measure but passed a milder version of the gun-law nullification bill this year.
Nixon prevailed against a multimillion-dollar advertising campaign by tax-cut supporters and a strong grass-roots network of gun advocates. He did so by holding news conferences across the state against the tax cut and relying on locally influential leaders, such as school superintendents and sheriffs, who warned their lawmakers about the bills' potentially negative consequences.
"Today is a real defining moment," Nixon said Wednesday while relishing in victory on the tax-cut bill.
Republicans were left to boast of veto overrides on bills that had garnered significantly less public attention, including a symbolic measure meant to reaffirm governmental celebrations of Christmas and Thanksgiving and a trio of bills limiting liability lawsuits in certain circumstances. Their record number of veto overrides also included a $1 million appropriation for a burned-down school, a bill allowing elected officials to vote via video conferencing, and a measure meant to help a rural county that made a clerical error on its state tax paperwork.
"The majority party was going to run up the numbers one way or another," House Minority Leader Jake Hummel said Thursday. "They wanted to have a historic day.
"They did. But they didn't pass any of their really important legislation."