(Updated 11:45 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 22)
Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder’s office in the Missouri Capitol is just around the corner from the official quarters of Gov. Jay Nixon.
But they might just as well be in different universes.
At least that’s the view of Kinder, a Republican, who on Wednesday vented about his long-standing lack of communication with Nixon, a Democrat. Kinder believes their non-relationship has had a negative impact on public policy.
In the five years that Nixon has been in office, “we’ve had one substantive discussion,” said Kinder, as he ate lunch in his office. And that talk was four years ago, when the two tangled over the now-defunct Tour of Missouri bicycle race, a pet project of the lieutenant governor.
Kinder recalls that he initially succeeded in delaying by one year Nixon’s decision to end the state’s subsidy of the race. At a time when he was slashing money from education and other programs because of the economic downturn, Nixon said the race was too costly. Kinder maintained that the event – now in Colorado – brought in hundreds of thousands of tourism dollars.
That fight, and the lack of contact since then, offer context to the duo’s latest tangle over state tax credits for low-income housing projects.
Kinder and state Sen. Jamilah Nasheed, D-St. Louis, have criticized Nixon ever since his chief of staff asked the Missouri Housing Development Commission last month to delay action until March on proposed tax credits for several dozen low-income housing projects. About a quarter of the planned projects are in the St. Louis area.
Kinder, who sits on the commission, cast the sole “no” vote.
The delay was sought in a deal with Republican senators, mainly tax-credit critics. Nixon was trying to woo them during the December special session to craft a tax incentive package to persuade Boeing to move production of a new commercial airliner to St. Louis.
Boeing opted to keep operations near Seattle, and Kinder has been calling for the commission to move forward with the low-income housing tax breaks.
Nasheed, who recently stepped down as chairman of the legislative Black Caucus, renewed her threats this week to block some of the governor’s appointments unless the commission takes action.
“We got ourselves all bollixed up over a ridiculous deal,’’ Kinder said. “Boeing is entirely moot and we should approve these contracts.”
He added that the delayed projects include one for veterans. Unless the commission changes its mind, a vote won’t be taken until March 14.
Kinder has proposed a teleconference for swifter action, but so far his fellow commissioners haven’t budged. Those commissioners include Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster and state Treasurer Clint Zweifel.
“Do they stand with people who need low-income housing, or do they stand with the governor?” Kinder asked.
Kinder contends that the delay is illegal, but he says he won’t go to court. “I’m trying to shake some people so they stop being puppets for the governor,’’ Kinder said angrily.
A spokesman for Nixon disputed any accusations of illegalities, but otherwise declined comment on Kinder’s complaints.
A spokeswoman for Koster said late Wednesday that the attorney general "has reached out to Lt. Gov. Kinder to discuss the scheduled March vote."
Nixon has said little publicly about his relationship – or lack of – with Kinder. But the governor blasted Kinder during a private meeting with the Black Caucus; Nasheed stepped down a day later.
Such strains between Missouri’s governor and lieutenant governor -- who don't run on the same ticket -- aren’t new. In the 1980s, then-Lt. Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democrat, went to court in a fight with then-Gov. John Ashcroft, a Republican, over who was in charge when Ashcroft was out of state.
Kinder, in his third term, has aired similar complaints for years. His longstanding beef is that he’s never officially informed when Nixon is away. “I learn about it from the media,” Kinder said. “And that includes his trips to Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Kinder was in a much more pleasant situation during his first term, when a fellow Republican, Matt Blunt, occupied the governor's office. Blunt allowed Kinder to act as the state's chief executive when Blunt was on overseas trips. Blunt even let Kinder sign a few bills into law.
Now, Kinder is among only two statewide Republican officials; the rest are Democrats. Even so, Kinder complained that Nixon has never convened all of the statewide officials together to discuss substantive issues.
Said Kinder of the governor: “He’s a true loner and avoids human contact whenever he can.”
Nixon’s spokesman declined comment. The governor was traveling the state Wednesday to promote his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which includes major increases in spending for education.
In any case, the two did have a brief – and arguably substantive -- discussion Tuesday night right before Nixon delivered his State of the State address.
Kinder, who shared the stage with the governor, noted with a tone of satisfaction that he showed Nixon how to use the new mike.