Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is to leave office Jan. 9 after two terms as the chief executive and 30 years in public office, including time spent as attorney general and a state senator.
He has no plans to run for office again. So the outgoing Democratic governor is taking stock of his public-service career and the legacy he leaves behind as he turns the state’s management over to Republican Gov.-elect Eric Greitens.
“There’s a whole lot of things that we’ve made solid accomplishments on and I’m very proud of,” Nixon said in an interview with The Associated Press.
Here’s a look at some of the actions Nixon has taken, as well as some of the major events that have shaped his tenure.
Nixon took office in January 2009 with the economy in a recession and the budget in a hole. He began cutting spending almost immediately and has made repeated reductions to the budgets passed by the Legislature in subsequent years. By Nixon’s tally, he’s restricted more than $2.2 billion in spending during his tenure and eliminated more than 5,000 full-time state employee positions. Nixon says his fiscal stewardship helped Missouri maintain its top-tier credit rating. Despite the spending cuts, Missouri’s overall budget still grew by about 18 percent during Nixon’s eight years in office.
Basic state aid for public K-12 schools stands at more than $3.3 billion this year, which Nixon notes is a record. Yet even that has fallen hundreds of millions of dollars short of what’s called for by state law. After recession-induced reductions, budgeted funding for public colleges and universities has finally surpassed its previous high set in 2002. Scholarships for community colleges have been expanded. Tuition hikes have been restrained because Nixon negotiated tuition freezes in some years.
Nixon campaigned on a pledge to restore Medicaid health care coverage that had been eliminated or reduced for hundreds of thousands of low-income adults under his predecessor, Republican Gov. Matt Blunt. A full reversal never happened. But Nixon did sign bills restoring some of the reductions and enacted measures expanding mental health services. He pushed aggressively for Medicaid eligibility expansion under the terms of President Barack Obama’s 2010 health care law but was repeatedly shot down by the Republican-led Legislature.
Nixon ended the patronage system of awarding state license offices to political supporters, instead making them all competitively bid. He called consistently for the restoration of campaign contribution limits, though he benefited from large donations. Contribution limits were restored in November by voters, though Nixon had nothing to do with the citizen initiative that put it on the ballot. He signed a law in 2016 requiring elected officials to wait a while before becoming lobbyists.
Nixon used the governor’s office to promote Missouri’s outdoors. The state’s park system grew under Nixon’s watch and set a record of more than 20 million visitors in 2016. Nixon did his best to personally boost those figures, walking hundreds of miles of trails and challenging others to do the same.
Nixon responded quickly when the nation’s deadliest tornado in six decades tore through Joplin in May 2011, killing 161 people and destroying a large swath of the city. He returned repeatedly to mark milestones in the city’s redevelopment. Nixon also managed the state’s response through various floods, droughts, blizzards and storms – generally receiving positive reviews.
Reviews of the governor’s response were not very good after the August 2014 fatal Ferguson police shooting of Michael Brown, a black 18-year-old. The shooting touched off widespread protests, occasional looting and spurred a national discussion about race relations and police. Nixon drew criticism both from those who wanted a more and less forceful police response to the protests. But he was particularly criticized for not more aggressively deploying the National Guard to protect property from arson after a grand jury decided not to indict the officer. Nixon notes that the measured response avoided any loss of life in clashes between law officers and demonstrators.
Paired against Republican supermajorities in the Legislature during his second term, Nixon set an unwanted record as Missouri’s most overridden governor. The Legislature successfully overrode 96 Nixon vetoes of bills and budget items – more than four times the combined total for all other governors in Missouri history. Lawmakers overrode him to enact income tax cuts, relax gun laws and require photo ID of voters, among other things.
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