WHAT OTHERS SAY: Jay Nixon and the summer of 176 vetoes

Wednesday, May 21, 2014 | 12:09 p.m. CDT; updated 2:32 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 22, 2014

“We’ve made too many compromises already, too many retreats. They invade our space, and we fall back. They assimilate entire worlds, and we fall back. Not again. The line must be drawn here! This far, no further! And I will make them pay for what they’ve done!”

— Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, “Star Trek: First Contact”

A year ago, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer gave her veto pen a workout.

Her fellow Republicans who dominate that state’s Legislature were refusing her request to pass a Medicaid expansion bill, bringing with it billions of dollars in federal investment. So she issued an ultimatum.

She told the Legislature to stop sending her bills until they passed Medicaid expansion.

They didn’t listen. So on May 23, she vetoed every bill that was sent to her that day, including at least a couple of them that she supported.

It’s time for Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon to make like Capt. Picard and make them pay for what they’ve done. He should channel his inner Jan Brewer.

The Missouri Legislature finished its work without even seriously debating a Medicaid expansion plan that is being pushed by Mr. Nixon, by the state’s Chamber of Commerce, by Democrats, by key Republicans including Sen. Ryan Silvey, R-Kansas City, and Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City.

Failing to expand Medicaid will have a disastrous effect on the state’s health care industry and overall economy. Hundreds of lives will continue to be lost because too few poor Missourians have reasonable access to health care coverage.

But key Republican leaders refuse to budge. They think that passing Medicaid expansion, as 26 other states have, is giving in to Obamacare.

Mr. Nixon will soon have on his desk 176 bills passed by the Legislature, as well as the budget bills.

Here’s what he should do: Veto nearly all of them.

Blanket vetoes

Sign the budget, but line-item veto every corporate handout and special-interest freebie.

Sign the legislation that helps children, like the bill that adds pre-K funding for troubled school districts, or the bill that reduces the wait for access to the state’s Children’s Health Insurance Program.

But everything else goes. Even if you like it, or unions like it, or your key supporters like it.

Prove that you’ve got as much courage as Ms. Brewer, who, by the way, won her battle.

Now Arizona’s working poor have access to health care insurance. Missourians are waiting at the emergency room door.

Mr. Nixon owns much of the blame for this problem. Yes, the GOP has nearly a veto-proof majority. Yes, big donors and far-right voters have encouraged the trend toward dangerous, extremist legislation. Moderating this trend is hard. But Mr. Nixon barely even tried.

When he ran for governor in 2008, and re-election in 2012, and, during much of his time in the Governor’s Mansion, he’s followed a bunker mentality that belies his previous reputation as a hard-charging attorney general who stood up for the little guy.

During that 2008 election, he advocated reversing the damaging Medicaid cuts enacted by Gov. Matt Blunt and his fellow Republicans in 2005. It was a strong campaign issue for him.

But when the Legislature pushed back, the issue died without a whimper. The governor has since been accused by both Republicans and Democrats, most notably Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, of being disengaged from discussions with lawmakers.

He has run the executive branch in the same way, making it next to impossible for lawmakers, reporters or citizens to access necessary public information.

Safe haven

Mr. Nixon’s chosen path has been a safe one. He and his political handlers apparently decided that the best option for Mr. Nixon to either rise to the national political scene or otherwise deal with an obstinate Republican Legislature was to stay above, or mostly out of, the fray.

He now finds himself midway through his second term with no legacy. He was just socked with the veto override of Senate Bill 509, the truly dangerous tax cut bill that stands to rob the state treasury of enough money in coming years to properly educate its students, rebuild its roads or serve the public health needs of the state.

Here’s the definition of disengaged: He needed just one more vote in the House to prevent the override, and he couldn’t get it.

About those public health needs: They’re massive.

Just this month, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation issued a report on the state of public health spending in the nation. Missouri, not surprisingly, has the lowest per capita spending on public health of any other state in the nation.

The national median for spending on programs that seek to reduce incidences of low birth-weight babies, diabetes and obesity and other such outcomes, is $27.49 per state resident. In Missouri, the miserable total is $5.86.

Refusing to expand Medicaid will make it worse. Simply put, the changes in how the Affordable Care Act reimburses hospitals for care to the indigent put many rural hospitals in danger of closing. Hospitals and health care providers in St. Louis are already shedding or freezing jobs because of the Legislature’s refusal to act.

This is a crisis. It demands a strong leader to fix it.

Mr. Nixon must be that leader.

Bring the old Jay back

His most powerful moment as governor came last summer when he built a vocal and unified statewide constituency of citizens, school and business leaders and lawmakers to make sure the Legislature couldn’t override his veto of last year’s even more devastating tax cut experiment.

The effort got him on the front page of the New York Times, where he landed again this year, but for the wrong reason. His disengagement led to the 2014 version of that fight being lost.

Now it’s time to re-energize the Old Jay Nixon and come out fighting again.

Here’s what Mr. Nixon told lawmakers in his State of the State address this year:

“I challenge each one of you to think of any other bill that would make this kind of real and immediate difference — the kind of difference Medicaid expansion would make — in the lives of the people we represent.”

Give those words meaning.

Veto a hundred bills, maybe more, including many that you and your fellow Democrats support. Build a coalition of the reasonable, of business leaders, school and hospital leaders, farmers and doctors, to stand up and say they are willing to wait for their legislation until lawmakers pass the one bill they refuse to even talk about: Medicaid expansion. Spend all summer making your case, town to town, voter to voter, from the Ozark County Times to the New York Times.

During the September veto session, call a concurrent special session to pass a Medicaid expansion bill. And tell the Legislature you’ll keep on vetoing until they do their jobs.

They override some vetoes, sure. But the pure volume of so many vetoes will split their caucus and put pressure on them to do the right thing.

Risky? You bet. It’s a fight Mr. Nixon might lose. It is a battle that will be brutal, but righteous.

It’s a fight the Old Jay Nixon would have loved.

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.

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