Over the past couple weeks, our publisher Scott Faughn spent nearly 8 hours with Governor Nixon discussing every aspect of his career from growing up in DeSoto, to the State Senate, as Attorney General, and his time in the Governor’s Mansion. More Missourians cast their votes to elect Jay Nixon as Governor of Missouri than anyone in state history. In the final part of our series, Governor Nixon shared his views on the events of the last year of not only national politics but the changes in the tone of Missouri politics as well.
Faughn: Welcome back to Segment 2. We’re going to talk about Governor Nixon’s second term. Governor, I want to thank you at the top of these segments, I’ve really learned a lot from speaking with members of your administration and from people all around Missouri politics.
Governor Nixon: Well it’s been a lifetime commitment of mine to have the press learn more as to help have the public know more. It seems one of the gaps we’ve got here is an uninformed citizenry, and an uninformed citizenry is a dangerous democracy as they only have the chance to speak every couple years, and can’t do so without information.
Faughn: When we left off it, we were talking about your time in the Attorney General’s Office, you had been a four-time attorney general now setting up for a race in 2008, walk me through it seemed like you came right out of the gate that you were going to run. After the elections in 2004, it seemed like you were going to run for governor. What was the discussion like, I’m sure you had to talk to a lot of folks?
Governor Nixon: I had a lot of direct conversations with people because I wanted to be very clear that I was running and some people had different reactions to that, obviously a vast majority of people were supportive. I felt strongly that it was time, I knew very clearly that when I was re-elected as attorney general it was going to be the last time I sought that office.
Faughn: At what point did you have any suspicions that you were not going to be running against the incumbent governor?
Governor Nixon: I always assumed that I would. There were others who thought he wouldn’t and there was always talk that he perhaps that he wouldn’t but I was legitimately surprised that January evening.
Faughn: Surprised but I’m sure not shocked. If you were around Governor Blunt, I don’t think it was a shock to people that were around him.
Governor Nixon: Some people enjoy this line of work more than others and Matt and I have remained in contact. He has been helpful with the auto industry stuff, I thanked him for coming to Kansas City for an event that we had with the Hawthorn Foundation and he seems a lot more relaxed and a lot more happy than he was when he was governor.
Faughn: You’re part of a very exclusive job where people know what it’s like, people that know the pressures and the toll it takes on your family. Do you keep those contacts up with a guy like Matt Blunt who you guys were at one time potential rivals but he understands more what you went through than what most people in the state?
Governor Nixon: I think a couple things. First of all we tried to protect each other. We certainly have our agreements and disagreements I don’t mean to say we are all the same but I think we all respect the office and respect the challenges of it. Consequently, I thank him for the good transition that we had and hopefully Gov. Greitens feels the same way about the transition that I led when he was coming in.
You get a chance to see some informal things but as far as which former governor I worked most closely with as governor, (Kit) Bond would be by far the closest of them for a couple reasons. That session in 81-82 was somewhat similar to the 2009 and when I reached out to him he had some very specific ideas and was helpful, that was a good process. Kit and I just bumped together for a longer period time on some of these issues but I’m confident that if any these governors called me or if I called them it would be a call that was returned very quickly and whatever we said to each other would not be said to you (Scott).
Faughn: When I’ve spoken to Sen. Bond and he was very complimentary to you. Let me ask you, as far as Matt Blunt goes, would you call Matt Blunt a statesman?
Governor Nixon: Sure, anybody that’s been governor and has done it and served our country and got done some things done that he said he was going to do. I disagree with some of them but he did what he said he was going to do and I respect that.
Faughn: Running against Kenny Hulshof, interesting situation. You’ve got a guy who worked for you before when you were attorney general. He really had to carry a tough mantle being a congressman in a time when Washington was not that popular and I don’t think you ever let him not be called Congressman Hulshof.
Governor Nixon: We tended to remind folks that a few times. Kenny worked for me in the attorney general’s office, continued to work for me when he ran against Volkmer for Congress which was very difficult thing for Congressman Volkmer. We had to backup his caseload a little bit, but Kenny was an accomplished prosecutor and we had work to do.
Faughn: You took some heat from him if I recall, from Congressman Volkmer.
Governor Nixon: He was not enthralled by that.
Faughn: I go back to the story you told us in the last segment how you didn’t need to do the fake thing politicians do by saying, ‘Oh everybody is getting me to run.’” You could always spot maybe a person who maybe not up to the job when they say, ‘People ask me to run.’” You weren’t an establishment pick, do you think things like that help you make decisions, like well Congressman Volkmer I’m going to do what I think is right here, and sorry. Not everyone would have made the decision you made with Kenny Hulshof running for Congress while working for you.
Governor Nixon: I think people don’t doubt when I tell them what I’m going to do that I’m going to do it. I think that clarity is extremely helpful and I think that over a career, built up a level of respect.
Faughn: You won by the most votes of anybody in the history of the state of Missouri for governor. At what point did you see this was a good year for Democrats and this is going to be a good year for me running against a congressman?
Governor Nixon: I mean the race fit up pretty well in a sense where you had a congressman in an anti-Washington time, you had a fellow, though a good congressman and a good guy and a good prosecutor and all that stuff had worked for me. Quite frankly, he had positioning challenges because of that.
Faughn: And he had a short campaign to run, he came in ran a primary. Would the campaign be different if Sarah Steelman been the nominee? After all Republican women run better, she was not a creature of Washington.
Governor Nixon: I didn’t have a big sample size to make a good determination, but I always felt that Kenny was going to make his way through that primary.
Faughn: Were you ever down in your polling?
Governor Nixon: I never saw a poll for governor that had me down, and that would include against Blunt.
Faughn: When did you know that you were going to have to screw it up to lose?
Governor Nixon: I never really thought that. That’s just not the way I run. We worked our tail off. That’s the thing, the day after the midterm election in 06, the Saturday after that, I had a room of 250 people in a room in Jeff City working on what we’re going to do next in all 114 counties of the state. We had been working it pretty hard. Things can go awry pretty quickly in elections and things can move and people can only vote once. We felt good about the race, I felt good about the race all the time. I’m a superstitious guy during election day and not a good guy to be around.
Faughn: What’re your superstitions on election day?
Governor Nixon: Go to a movie, when I was elected AG I saw ‘A River Runs Through It’, generally by myself but when I was running for governor we drove around the state, voted early then I went to my mom’s grave and went to my dad’s people’s places in Jefferson County where the two governors are tied to Jefferson County were by the Fletcher House in Hillsboro. That sort of stuff and I try to get to the hotel late and I would always try get into the shower around 7:00 or so, so I’d be showered and fresh, clean shirt, shaved, look good. I’m five minutes into the shower my Georgeanne says, ‘You have a phone call.’ and I said, ‘I’ll be out of the shower in a minute,’ and she says, ‘It’s Ken Morley, I think you oughta take the call.’” So I say ok and I take the phone, dripping wet, and Morley says, “The AP has just called the race for you.’ and I say, ‘It’s 7:07.’” I didn’t have a lot of time to get worried about late returns that night lets just put it that way.
Faughn: Let’s talk about the campaign, would you say Jay Nixon is a pro-life candidate?
Governor Nixon: I think that personally I don’t like abortion but publicly, quite frankly I think that it’s a choice a woman should make herself, and I think the construct of Roe v. Wade, is a fair contract, the three trimesters. Me personally, I think sometimes on some issues you have to kind of step beyond so some issues even if you do have a personal feeling. As we move forward, that issue with a couple of others, guns would be the same, your legislating on such fringes of the core that it becomes more a symbolic issue than a significant issue.
Faughn: You allowed some bills without your signature your first term, dealing with abortion, your second term you use your veto pen more. What were your thoughts there?
Governor Nixon: Well again, they kept going further out. When we started passing bills as to what line on a floor you should draw to which side, what can be a handout in a doctor’s office and what a doctor can say to a patient and what they can’t say to a patient — those go beyond merely just pro-choice and pro-life.
Faughn: Your critics will say when you weren’t running for reelection you would veto. Was it truly the bills or the politics?
Governor Nixon: I took it real serious, maybe it was being an Attorney General. When I sign the bottom of something and it became law, that’s something I took real seriously. I tried to look at each one and decide if it was good for the state or not. I’m sure you could pick out some inconsistencies in 30 years of public service and even eight years as governor but on those I felt like, as I said before, I was never comfortable with from a personal level, abortion but I recognized and appreciated that women have a right to make choices about their bodies.
Faughn: Is it a true statement that today the United States federal court sets abortion policy in the state of Missouri far more than the Missouri legislature does?
Governor Nixon: There are certainly attempts to legislate beyond what current case law allows. That’s been a tactic on that side of the equation for a long time to try and continue to push the Supreme Court. The bottom line is yes, but as far as strategy, if your strategy is to try and overturn Roe v. Wade or to undermine some of the things your going to have to do it through the courts. I’m not as critical as some of those folks as others would be.
Faughn: Would you say that Jay Nixon a pro-gun politician?
Governor Nixon: Yeah I’m good on guns. The one area where I got jumpy on guns was, I thought it was a significant mistake to take away the training requirement of conceal-carry. If people are carrying and conceal, that means your carrying a pistol the most likely place you’re going to use that is self-defense or self-offense. Your a sportsman shooting rabbits or whatever, if your out shooting squirrels with a .38 you’re not gonna eat ‘em. All of the deals that we did were going to move forward on conceal carry, which I support, then we’re going to have training because the vast number of the situations that were going to occur where that would be relevant would be defending yourself or coming and helping somebody else. Man, unless you’ve shot a pistol under pressure, unless you been trained as to what can happen with it, I felt that late in the term, where the bill that got rid of the sheriff’s ability to say no on the conceal carries and undermining the power of a sheriff about who should carry and conceal and then saying no training. I’m a pro-gun guy but I’m more of a pro-gun guy that likes to shoot, hunt, and fish and all that sorts of stuff.
Faughn: So you get the call from Ken Morley and he tells you that you’re going to be the Governor of Missouri, I understand that you read the biographies of every other Governor leading up to yourself. When you read those, what did you learn and was there a governor who you could relate to?
Governor Nixon: I read them in more detail when I was re-elected because I was trying to make sure the second term was strong and I was trying to learn from those. I was aware of them the first term the real process after the second term was the process of reading them and in that sense, there were a couple that really jumped out. First of all, three governors committed suicide in office, that’s always a little pressure I guess. It’s always nice to remember that there’s a lot of pressure and people have suffered through things. I didn’t want it to analyze the ones that I knew. For example, the two that I looked at pretty carefully were (Herbert) Hadley, I liked Hadley for a lot of reasons. (He) ended up being a president of WashU after he was governor, but he was the first governor to kind of start on the parks and outdoor stuff. 100 years ago he held the first Governor’s float trip on a Current River, brought in congressmen and press from around the world trying to explain what this was, trying to get parks started. While he couldn’t get that done he got a River’s Commission and the beginnings of the form of conservation came from Gov. Hadley. He was also an anti-slavery Republican, which is an equivalent to Democrat now. I just found him to be interesting.
The other one that’s interesting to me, and I’m reading his biography right now, is (David) Francis. The only guy who was mayor, then governor then the World’s Fair and the Olympics here, he got them here — then he was Secretary of Interior. The other thing I learned from reading those biographies, a lot of times you come in with a belief that here’s your agenda, you’re going to get your agenda done. A tremendous amount is shaped by forces external to what you are wanting to focus on.
Faughn: You’re elected Governor by the largest margin in the history of the state, and you get handed one of the worst recessions in American history. When did you know this was bad, and what do you do?
Governor Nixon: It got worse before it got better. It was like on inauguration day the economy said, ‘Oh good, we’ll all get going back again.’” We knew it was going to be challenging and it ended up being more challenging than what we thought fiscally. Basically the first day I was in office I had to take $200 million out of the budget (and) downsize by 800 employees, not exactly a way to create jobs. But I was deeply committed to (that) I wasn’t going to raise taxes, in fact I cut them a few times, I was going to make it work. I was going to balance it.
We began that first year, I think there were six or seven restriction types that we had to do. It’s also one of the reasons why, I didn’t have to, I restricted some in December as I was leaving. I wanted to give Gov. (Eric) Greitens a good enough chance fiscally that he had and I wanted to send a message that there wasn’t going to be milk and honey for everybody. But that first year was challenging fiscally.
Faughn: What was the hardest cut that you had to make?
Governor Nixon: Parents as Teachers was hard. Parents as Teachers had evolved as being used as much more by upper economic and had not progressed as well in some of the poorer areas of the state. What we were trying to do is to get it means tested and using a budget is a hard to way to do that. That was really hard to do. We had to clip libraries a little bit, local library funds. You had to make a decision to what you weren’t going to touch. Some of those were pretty hard.
Faughn: So for your State of the State address, I found a very interesting passage where you laid out five things that you wanted to be judged on and the first one was jobs. You inherited an economy shedding jobs fast before it leveled out. Do you feel like you can look at a Missourian in the face and say, ‘There are more jobs and there are better jobs than when I found it.’?
Governor Nixon: Absolutely, no doubt about it. We re-birthed the auto industry in a fiscally responsible way which when I left was 24,000 jobs. Another thing is that we didn’t forget that the best economic tool there is, is a good education. Its one of the times we doubled up A+. We increased the number of A+ scholarship recipients by 44 percent. Between 2009 and 2015 we increased the number of four-year public college graduates by 36 percent, those are stunning numbers.
Faughn: The A+ program is real.
Governor Nixon: We didn’t forget that you got to build a big workforce. You can’t cut your way to progress, you cut because that’s the responsibility of the position but you still have to invest your way to progress. It was difficult and I think some of the things that we did was that we really accelerated modernization of computers, which is really hard to do. A new system for labor, a new system Medicaid, those sort of things where you can pick up efficiencies. One of the things that I’m really proudest of that nobody ever talks about is the downsizing of MoDOT by over a thousand employees, closing two regional offices, taking $600 million and putting it into roads and bridges which otherwise was in FTEs. As I’ve said several times MoDOT was invented before design-build or computer-aided drafting. Bottom line is that we spent a lot of time working on it and I will forever be appreciative, and indebted to the amount of time my team spent.
Faughn: You said you wanted to balance the budget with any new taxes. You did that, right?
Governor Nixon: Yes yes yes.
Faughn: I find it interesting to see the conservative party in Jefferson City the will pass budgets while they talk about fiscal restraint then fail to pass a balanced budget even in good times.
Governor Nixon: I believe the legislators passed $2.4 billion more than what we spent.
Faughn: Do you think that sometimes when the legislature complains about the administration doing things out of their control and maybe be doing things that they don’t like to be the budget process, do you think sometimes it’s hard to make those claims and be serious about them when you don’t pass a balanced budget?
Governor Nixon: I think legislators have a hard time passing a balanced budget because they get lobbied. Nobody comes to Jeff City and lobbies for a cut, they lobby for money and the people who are on the front end receiving those lobbies are the legislators. Person after person, after person, group after group, after group comes to your office and at least the folks in Jeff City are aware of it unlike the people in D.C. who just like print money and spend it. I think that I was pretty crafty on what to restrict and how to spend it. I think that some of the best budget work that was done was when Shields was Pro Tem and Rob Mayer was approps chair. Basically year two.
Faughn: Do you think Rob Mayer doesn’t get enough credit for his work as budget chair?
Governor Nixon: Last time I was down in that area I went to his court and had a cup of coffee and thanked him again for his work. If you remember the house passed a budget way out of balanced and said throw the stimulus money in. Charlie said hold on lets reboot. When they were voting on that budget I left my office and stood on the floor and asked Rob Mayer to come over. I shook his hand and thanked him for his work, and I didn’t do that often I just thought it was a high level of leadership.
Faughn: Tell me about the revenue estimate, isn’t that how the budget gets so far off that the revenue estimate never gets right? What can the Governor do in a situation where you’re trying to agree on one?
Governor Nixon: It’s a negotiated term, some days you want the roses to come up and some days they need to be trimmed. We tried to be as accurate as we could and the only person who had to be accurate was the governor. I think a lot of the legislators never really figured out what the core of their power was.
Faughn: What is the core of their power?
Governor Nixon: You can’t spend money unless they appropriate it. Once again there’s only one person in the state that’s required the balance the budget and that’s the governor and I took that responsibility seriously. I appreciated the help of the legislature and getting us close as we could to it, I tried to not play too much politics (and) I do think that they were incredibly irresponsible on the tax side, incredibly irresponsible. Where would we be today if my veto of 253 hadn’t been sustained? Where would we be today if the Friday favor $765 million, if they passed two years later, had not be vetoed and had not been supported? That would be a combined $1.8 billion out of an $8 billion General Revenue Fund budget would not exist, and we would be in essence…
Faughn: Some would say that taxes would be higher.
Governor Nixon: Why, I said I wouldn’t raise them.
Faughn: Let me get to this third point, keeping tuition costs low.
Governor Nixon: Student debt just bothers me in a big way and it’s bad for our economy. You have kids are growing up and the thing we tell them in America is that you need to get an education, if you do you can make money, you can live an independent life and when they walk and graduate from college they get off the podium on the other end and they get a bill. They spend their first eight or nine or 10 years paying off what we said they needed to do. It just bothers me and I was committed to keeping tuition low and I’m glad when I graduated from being Governor we were still number one in the country keeping tuition increases down.
Faughn: That’s a success right?
Governor Nixon: That’s a huge success, but the other thing about it that’s different from what some of the things going on now — we also worked on quality of education. I brought all the colleges in, we redesigned programs, we made transfer easier, we upped scholarships. We wanted colleges to not just be cheaper but better.
Faughn: Let’s talk about healthcare. You wanted more Missourians to have access to healthcare. Success? Maybe not to the extent you wanted?
Governor Nixon: We got 140,000 kids covered. I wish we would’ve passed Medicaid expansion. It would’ve been a lot easier to do some things. Instead, we had to kind of retool and dig in and just use all of the executive branch tools we had. But I’m proud we got 140,000 kids covered that weren’t covered before.
I just think it was a mistake for the state of Missouri not to accept the federal dollars to move forward on Medicaid expansion.
Faughn: So I read these five to every Republican I talked to, which is over two dozen, about your time in office. No. 1, they might qualify but they said you were a success in jobs. No. 2, they give you great credit for how you handled the budget, even the ones when you’d cut and they would know they were sending you stuff unbalanced. They got it in hindsight.
Governor Nixon: I took it seriously.
Faughn: No. 3, they give you great credit on some of the deals you made in higher education. No 4, not an F, but maybe a C+ on expanding healthcare. They didn’t want to expand the healthcare, so they though you expanded it as much as they could try to limit.
Governor Nixon: It turned into a political question for them.
Faughn: Isn’t everything?
Governor Nixon: Well, no, on some stuff you get beyond that, you really do. The money, we got beyond that a lot. We got way beyond politics with a lot of guys on money.
Faughn: When Massachusetts voters vote for a Republican to replace Ted Kennedy to try to avoid this thing, isn’t it political? Trying to avoid Obamacare? That seems political.
Governor Nixon: My only point was I thought their argument was political. Things like ‘let’s repair it before we expand it.’ I kinda was waiting for all those repair bills to get to my desk. They never quite made it. Instead, they expanded the asset limit and added $23 million a year in additional costs because they didn’t want to spend now to hurt people and all that kind of stuff.
We laid out five areas, specific areas. I mean I’m not an entitlement guy. If people could work they should work. I wanted to stretch the edge of the envelope. I was willing to play on all five areas. More work, come off it sooner, some co-pays.
I wanted to play. I thought we had a great opportunity to actually make some reforms. So when I say I’m frustrated by it Scott, I was frustrated that the excuse that they used was let’s reform it before we expand it, but they wouldn’t come to the table and work with me to reform it. Because I sent as many possible signals as I could that I was prepared to do just that.
Faughn: You weren’t a pro-Obamacare person in your first term though.
Governor Nixon: No.
Faughn: You’re from De Soto, you were living in Cole County, could you understand why it was hard for State Senators to support Obamacare? The political aspect of it. I have a sense that you more than most people could relate to the fact that this is really hard to support.
Governor Nixon: I thought Obamacare, if you look at it politically, had two serious problems timing wise. There are these moments in history, these wrinkles in history that become important. Remember they were trying to get it passed before the summer recess in D.C. and that’s when the police came to the door of an African-American professor in Boston and got jumpy. And the very last question in (Obama’s) press conference in the White House, that the president was having to say let’s get healthcare done. He instead talked about Gates — that (professor) — and he said in essence, ‘the cops were wrong, I know this guy.’ The momentum went away.
They didn’t get it done and that was the summer when you had all these town hall meetings and they were actually trying to get it done. His being loose, shall we say, off the topic there led to a cavalcade.
The second piece is in his first debate with Romney. When Mitt Romney turned to President Obama and said, ‘Mr. President, is it OK if I call it Obamacare rather than the Affordable Care Act?’ The president paused for a second and said, ‘Sure’.
When it became personal. When he had to internalize that — I think those two moments as far as the wrinkles in politics — we all see these moments in time when things happen, which cause momentum to be lost or caused it to be shifted.
Once on a stage running for president, he said, ‘No, this is me’, as opposed to ‘this is for people that need healthcare’. I thought the steam came out.
Faughn: No. 5 is one I asked and very few folks thought you could look back and say a success and its ethics reform. I heard you myself in a State of the State address say you’ll put it on the ballot if they don’t pass it. Let me just start from the top, do you believe there’s an unethical culture in Jefferson City?
Governor Nixon: I think that money and politics if it’s not controlled is a problem, both in perception and reality. I think the perception part is just as important as the reality.
Faughn: I think it’s perception, too, I don’t think it’s reality.
Governor Nixon: I don’t think people run for office to be bad people. I think they run for good reasons. I really do. I have never met anybody that says, ‘I want to run for office because I want some cigars and free steaks.’ Nobody does that. They don’t drive up from Winona or Puxico so they can get a cigar and a steak. They run up there because they’re trying to do stuff. I don’t think they come. I don’t think it attracts bad people.
But I think the public perception, with so much money running around, and when campaign contribution limits, which I support, were gotten rid of the promise was that it would all be open. As long as everybody knew in real time what people were getting as money, then it would help. Unfortunately, people have backed up even on that sort of stuff.
Faughn: I’m a more pragmatist than anything else and I understood it, but you were taking large contributions while saying there shouldn’t be. Explain that to a person that’s not political.
Governor Nixon: I play by the rules and what the rules are. If you don’t like that you need to help me change those rules. I support campaign contributions. I laid out numerous times what I would’ve done.
I think also term limits ties into it a little bit too, Scott. Because once term limits came, one of the things that happens with term limits is things become a little more like parliamentary. The dollars move towards leadership committees a little bit more and money is moved that way and it causes things to be a little bit more partisan.
Faughn: When you were in the Senate, did somebody buy you a steak?
Gov. Nixon: I’m assuming they did.
Faughn: Would you have a lobbyist gift report somewhere?
Governor Nixon: I don’t even think we had them. I don’t think we were required to file them.
Faughn: But if there would’ve been, would your name have been on John Britton’s report somewhere?
Governor Nixon: I’m sure it would’ve. I wasn’t a guy that went out to dinner much.
Faughn: I remember working for Mark Richardson right before the Republicans took over. I don’t remember the Post-Dispatch or the Star complaining about ethics when it was a liberal legislature passing what we though at the time were liberal laws. I now see a conservative legislature passing conservative laws and ethics is a huge issue. I don’t recall it being quite the issue previously. Is that a fair analysis?
Governor Nixon: I think that to me, getting rid of contributions after the public passed it in overwhelming after I went to the U.S. Supreme Court and upheld that coming back winning by one vote, getting rid of campaign contributions was a break. It was a thumbing a nose of this electorate and this state.
Regardless of whether you’re conservative or liberal, that legitimately upset both the press and Missourians.
Faughn: So that was the part that ties the logic together? You think that’s the piece that makes it make sense? I can see that.
Governor Nixon: Yes, and once again I see these as kind of times when you come to forks in the road and you go way one way as opposed to the other. This is not a left turn or a right turn, it factors that begin to shift the field.
Faughn: Let me ask you how you’d grade yourself. Issue 1 on jobs, a success?
Governor Nixon: Clearly. I dropped the unemployment rate down to 4.4 percent and kept it in the national average.
Faughn: Balancing the budget a success?
Governor Nixon: It was a lot of work and we got it done. I think that going 29 times and getting reconfirmed as an AAA, the time I spent in New York getting cross-examined by 25 year-olds with suspenders on was incredible. So, yeah, definitely.
Faughn: More Missourians having healthcare. A success to the extent you could?
Governor Nixon: Not as much as I would’ve liked but I think we got more kids covered which made me feel good. Plus on the mental health side of things we were able to do some really dramatic things. Partnership for Hope, Autism Mandate. We got the Developmentally Disabled waitlist down to zero. It was seven years to wait for services when I was elected Governor. By my last two years, we got that down to zero wait for people with developmental disabilities. Very proud of that.
Faughn: Ethics reform. Grade yourself on it.
Governor Nixon: I don’t even think I made a gentleman’s C. I talked about it a lot and tried to get things done. At the very end, they passed a couple of things, a couple of bills that people wanted to say they’ve solved all the problems, but they didn’t.
Faughn: So you’ve served in the State Senate, you’ve served in statewide office as Governor, what should Missouri’s ethics laws be to produce the best government for the citizens?
Governor Nixon: I believe deeply that campaign contribution limits to the candidate committees are important. I think the public looks at campaign committees differently than they do others. The press looks at them differently. I wrote the check to Scott Faughn or Jay Nixon. I think that campaign contribution limits for those particular committees is important. I also think that if money is used for political purposes, the public should have the ability to figure out what it is. I think we’ve gone backward. When I say I gave myself a C, it wasn’t stuff that I did. It was stuff that happened while I was around.
I just think when the money is hidden, good things don’t happen.
Faughn: Give me a percent of the money you took that was tied to Missouri? A Missouri company, or a Missouri citizen?
Governor Nixon: Really high percentage for me. 90-95 percent.
Faughn: Talk about Joplin Tornado. Senator Ron Richard, somebody from across the aisle that has respect for you said you did everything you could do. State government seemed like it worked after the Joplin tornado.
Governor Nixon: First of all, the people of Joplin are the toughest people on God’s green earth and it’s easy to work with good people.
The thing we were worried about in the front end was what happened to Greenwood, Kansas. When that tornado hit that town in Kansas, three years later only 20 percent of the population was still there. And with Joplin in that quad-state area down there and having health care, people moving in and out, it would have been just as easy for people to move to Pittsburgh, Kansas, or move down to south Arkansas, or even Oklahoma. From Day 1 our goal was to try to keep people’s confidence in their community — that it would be rebuilt and that they would stay there. And if we did that it would work but if you lose the people then nothing works.
We did a whole lot of things to do that and one of the proudest moments I had was sitting there with C.J. Huff and the principles of the school and counting as the students came in from each one of the classes, what percentage of the kids showed up.
On the first day of school on August 17 that year, 98 percent of the kids came back. Really proud of that.
The only low moment was when we had to put the FEMA trailers up in the Webb City school district and with their outstanding football program, they were trying to recruit some of the Joplin players to come play for Webb City. I put a kibosh on it.
Faughn: What so many people kept talking about was that you were there. You were there and people could see you. In the legislature, it was commonplace at that time to criticize you for using the state plane. Obviously, you got there on the state plane. How important is it to use that plane to have a Governor that is seen?
Governor Nixon: Kit Bond flew a lot, John Ashcroft flew a lot and I flew a lot. The only way you can govern a state like this is to be there. And the only way to do that in an efficient way is a small plane. It’s just that simple. If you’re going to go to Joplin and you’re going to drive, then you’ve got to commit a day to it. And as Governor what that means is you’ll go far less often, you just will, because your schedule is so busy.
I went to 159 schools as Governor, sat down with students, shot hoops with some of the basketball players and all this sort of stuff. How would I have gotten to Windsor, Missouri? How long a drive is that from Jeff City, 2 hours? That’s your whole day. Plus when you’re recruiting somebody to economic development-wise, going St. Louis or Kansas City, going to St. Joe or Maryville — I’m really proud of some of those deals — and if you show how much you care…
I really have never understood this. It’s clearly not something the public is that bothered by.
Faughn: Let’s talk about dealing with the President. How do you explain Missouri almost giving their electoral votes to him in 2008 and then an overwhelming defeat in 2012?
Governor Nixon: He’s a very intellectual guy and not a gut-level politician at all.
Faughn: Are you a gut-level politician?
Governor Nixon: I can believe I can listen and talk and hear people. I’m not a gut-level partisan politician, but I think I’m a gut-level people politician.
So I think (Obama) became what a lot of people thought he would become, which is left-leaning, East and West Coast-leaning administration.
Faughn: Would you say most Missourians think he (President Obama) is a left-wing politician?
Governor Nixon: The fact that it’s true helps them have that impression.
Faughn: The stimulus package, though, is something that you had to be a part of. What was it like dealing with that administration in that time?
Governor Nixon: First of all, I’m very very proud of the work that the president and vice president did on making sure that those dollars were moved out — considering how much money there was — and done openly, honestly and fairly, and not by corruption. That was hard to do with the amount of money that’s moving.
The other thing that people don’t understand about the stimulus is that the stimulus wasn’t really a stimulus. What it was was a lot of programs that already existed — putting additional money in them. Like NIH Tom Harkin gets 10 billion put into the NIH.
It was extra money for grants, research, so as Governor that’s interesting. So I had a meeting up at Danforth Science Center with the head of research for Mizzou, SLU, Wash U and some other colleges, saying what can I do to make sure we get more of these grants.
I learned two things there. First of all that Wash U is really ahead of a lot of other people. The other schools were like guppies at a piranha convention. With the NIH they are in the top 5 for the last 30 years. But that’s a good example of a program when you say its a stimulus. Well, it’s just putting additional money in a program that already existed that could’ve been cut.
It wasn’t a perfect stimulus bill. It did help us backfill on higher education and K-12 some and I thought we did a really good job in broadband competing. Some of the stuff we’re able to do on MO broadband now is pretty impressive and it will pay off for a long time.
Faughn: Let’s talk about some of the issues and the accomplishments. The Ford plant. Huge economic development project for the state and tough to do. Break down how things worked for an economic development project. How does that work?
Governor Nixon: Two years after I got back from an auto show the No. 3 guy from Ford said he had something to show me. And on his desk was a stack of plans like 2-feet tall. I asked him what’s that and he said I was a senior guy but not where I am now before you got elected, and I was tasked out with the plan to draft the closing of Claycomo and that’s the plan.
So we felt like Claycomo was at risk. We knew that the Escape was moving to Louisville, you saw that coming, and with the gas prices going up you wonder of the F-150 is going to be there. You saw their new vehicle going to Louisville and we were very concerned. So for a period there I felt like I was the Governor of Michigan for as long as I was there. Meeting with Mullaley with their senior team. I was just all over that from the very beginning with a lot of meetings, a lot of straight up work with Ford, then GM comes along kind of at the same time.
Then we were dealing with the White House when they saved the auto industry but yet they let a whole bunch of jobs go to Canada.
Faughn: What’s that incentive package like, the cliff notes on it, that you used to get that plant expanded and built there?
Governor Nixon: It’s relatively simple. That is, we let Ford keep a portion of the state withholdings tax for employees that were working on new products or in a new factory, basically. So the bottom line is when the first transit rolled off the line, and I rode it off the line, at that moment the state of Missouri, through that incentive package, had paid zero because they had to get the stuff done. Now they get to keep what’ll end up being about 17 or 18 percent of what the capital expenditure was. It’ll end up by the time it’s over being north of $100 million.
Faughn: Can you think of a bigger accomplishment that has a more direct effect on people’s lives?
Governor Nixon: For the people that were involved there, that has a direct impact on their lives. I do think that the A+ — if you’re talking about giving 44 percent increase and getting folks 2-year degrees, that’s a pretty big accomplishment.
Faughn: Obviously there’s a lot of drama attached to this in the Senate, how involved were you in that? Did it maybe surprise you that people didn’t want to do this?
Governor Nixon: I had my hands on people but I didn’t hurt anybody physically. That needed to get done and it could’ve been done in a regular session. That thing really got done if you really want to know the whole story about 3 a.m. the night before the last day of the session.
Jason Crowell, who feels very strongly about pension issues, felt that if we could get it paid for out of pension reform, that maybe he might just be able to vote no. So we ran like crazy that last day of the legislative session trying to get it done. We ended up just running out of time.
Faughn: Did the incentives matter here?
Governor Nixon: In the modern world we’re living in they did. If you were going to design the system that is not how it would be designed, but people who are involved in wanting to do only perfect things should not be involved in government. Things are never perfect.
But, yeah, it would not have happened without them. Straight up the CEO to me, it would not have happened without them. GM would not be building the Colorado here without them.
Faughn: Let’s talk about tax credits. A lot of that doesn’t get done without tax credits, right?
Governor Nixon: Yep.
Faughn: At some point, it seemed like the Post-Dispatch turned on them. And now there’s a new thing where they’ll just do the federal credits resulting in just urban projects.
Governor Nixon: That’s on the housing, ya. The Post never really turned on historics.
Faughn: I wonder why.
Governor Nixon: Yeah. You’ve gotta know which way the wind blows.
Faughn: You’ve suggested changes, you didn’t just gut the program in rural Missouri. Why not?
Governor Nixon: I think it has a useful purpose. My feeling was we weren’t getting the push out of the relative of the dollars. Stopping housing programs was not something I wanted to do. They’ve been good and they’ve evolved. We’ve moved a long way from Pruitt-Igoe.
Faughn: But now we’re heading back that way. Do you think it’s a mistake for the state to move back to Pruitt-Igoe?
Governor Nixon: We’ll see where they go, I don’t know that they will. But I do think that there are good programs there and if run correctly it can make a difference for families.
Faughn: You’re tied with state parks intimately. You talk about it even when we’re not talking about it. It looks like you look for ways to work it in. Where does the love affair with state parks come from?
Governor Nixon: I think it’s a couple of things. First of all, it’s what I did as a kid. We’d go fishing at Montauk, go down to Washington State Park. When I was in Boy Scouts, we hiked, we fished and hunted all in state parks. The parks are free, they’re cool and I like them.
As Governor, I think when I started there were 85, and I thought if I wanted to have 85 parks what would I do? Start from zero and have that problem. I always felt like parks were something you could give the future and I just believed from Ken Burns and those guys that parks are one of America’s great inventions. They just are. To have them free and available is for everybody its great.
Faughn: I get the Republicans and legislators complaints about the last park purchases, but do you think that’s something that if it sits on the back burner for long enough will go in and be a positive for the state?
Governor Nixon: The same day Donald Trump got 59% Missourians voted 81 percent for their taxes for parks. Missourians support parks. I think anybody that attacks parks politically is making a mistake. If they want to attack me for giving Missourians more good places to fish and hunt and camp then bring it on.
Faughn: Let’s talk about an issue that you talked about in the re-election campaign — the AAA Bond rating. Not easy, not a lot of states had it after the recession. Why does that matter to an average Missourian?
Governor Nixon: It’s a reflection of our values. I think we’re tight-fisted people. We don’t like to waste money. It doesn’t have anything to do with Democrat or Republican, or urban or rural. Missourians are tight-fisted with their money. They look for good deals and they don’t try to waste money. It’s in who we are and keeping that was important. A lot of people did a lot of good work to get us there to keep it.
No. 2 it’s a signal to folks outside that are invested in your state that we’re a good place to invest. Look at the economic development projects. The fiscal discipline was a big deal.
Faughn: What does Jay Nixon think about Peter Kinder?
Governor Nixon: First of all, I appreciate his service to the state. He spent a lot of years working and I think that he was consistent in his positions. The other thing that he did that he shied away from later in his career that I really appreciated back then was that he used to write a lot. I just really appreciate folks in public office that have the guts to write stuff. Peter was a good writer and is a good writer. In my view, he lays it out there.
We just never had good mojo. With some people, you just don’t have good mojo with them. We just didn’t ever communicate well. There are other people like that with me. People were pushing us against each other sometimes on stuff and he felt the need in his role to bark at me and stuff. I felt the need not to really give a lot of thought to the Lieutenant Governor as the Governor because I just think that the public thinks it’s strange in essence to have the President and Vice President fighting with each other. I just didn’t want to join in that. I think he felt an obligation as a leading elected from his party to be the government waiting for the critics and I just didn’t want to respond to it. I kind of got into the mode of just not thinking about it, not talking about it much.
Faughn: As the season wore on, Peter stepped aside, chose not to challenge you and ran for re-election. No major Republican politicians decided to run against you. When you wake up in the morning, are you looking for that person to announce and they just don’t do it? Who did you assume would be your opponent when Peter Kinder stepped aside?
Governor Nixon: Who it ended up being was not who I was thinking, so that was a surprise.
Faughn: But when you start clicking through senior Republicans, aren’t you assuming one of them steps forward?
Governor Nixon: There’s not a great record of people who had significantly successful state records after I ran against them. I’m a nice guy but I scrap pretty good too.
Faughn: Of the elected people around politics, was there one you were concerned about? Who would you not have wanted?
Governor Nixon: When you’re running for re-election it’s about you. It’s not about the other guy. I was more worried about what we hadn’t succeeded at or where we hadn’t met our obligations, our promises on. I was more worried about myself than who was running against me.
Faughn: I assume at first it’s a little bit concerning at first to have a person with no record and could still fund a campaign. That’s not the ideal situation to get an opponent on. What did you think of Dave Spence?
Governor Nixon: I worked my way up in this line of work. I did a whole bunch of stuff and then I worked my way up. Then these folks just try to come in at the very top, especially in that situation. I don’t mean to say this in a pejorative way, but I would’ve thought there would’ve been more solid, creative ideas. If I was coming in from outside and I wanted to do something like that, I would’ve thought they’d have bigger ideas. I never was behind and never felt like we were going to lose.
Faughn: It looks like the real way you could’ve lost was Barack Obama… you could tell by 2012 he was not popular in this state. Was your real problem being tied with Barack Obama and it being a big Republican year?
Governor Nixon: It was a big Republican year. The wave was pushing that year, but I felt pretty confident that I’d gotten around the state, that people knew me, that I’d be OK. I thought the margin would be a little closer just because of the environment and it was a little bit, but it was still double digits.
Faughn: Did the Akin thing help? Did it demoralize Republicans maybe?
Governor Nixon: I’m assuming it did and it made them seem a little more —
Faughn: Nobody was proud to vote for Akin. Even if they were, I don’t think they were thrilled about it.
Governor Nixon: I’ve not met anybody that’s told me they did.
Faughn: You’ve got a few liars, I’m sure.
Faughn: I remember this ad you ran, one of the better ads I’ve seen in Missouri politics. You’re in a green shirt with a beautiful Missouri background talking about how you don’t do things in Missouri like they do in Washington. Is that not just saying I’m not Barack Obama?
Governor Nixon: We were sensitive to making sure we had good separation.
Faughn: What movie, or what did you do on re-election day?
Governor Nixon: I went back to my mom’s grave in Versailles, spent some time down there. It’s a little more difficult when you’re Governor to sneak around and then we went on to St. Louis. The bottom line is you don’t want to be with me in a car (on Election Day) so we just went to a few different places.
Faughn: Thank you so much for taking us through your first term. We’ll pick things back up in our next segment with the start of the second term.