Gov. Jay Nixon made a return appearance Thursday to the State Fair's annual ham breakfast, after pulling out of last year's event due to the unrest in Ferguson.
He told reporters at the fair that progress has been made in advancing social justice in Ferguson one year after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by former police officer Darren Wilson.
"These are difficult issues, and when you deal with race and police and poverty and issues of that nature, then they're going to be very, very difficult," Nixon said. "I'm just really proud that the people of our state have said 'We're going to work to move forward on this.'"
Nixon also says he's monitoring events following Wednesday night's fatal police shooting in St. Louis.
"It's a difficult area, we're watching it very carefully. We're in close contact with those folks, and we'll be there and supportive if they need help," Nixon said. "That's tough work, going after and serving warrants, and when folks answer that with a gun pointed at you, officers have to defend themselves."
During the ham breakfast, Nixon delivered a short speech touting his administration's contributions to Missouri agriculture, including recent and past trade missions to Cuba, western Canada, Europe, Taiwan and China.
"We're up to over $10 billion a year (in exports), and this last year was our best year for agriculture exports in Missouri, it's true," Nixon said, "and we're going to continue to present ourselves around the world."
Nearly a thousand people are estimated to have crowded underneath a huge white tent and dine on country ham before Nixon's speech.
Dozens of other politicians were sprinkled throughout the audience, including current officeholders, former ones and wannabes.
Several would-be successors to Jay Nixon were there, including fellow Democrat Chris Koster and Republicans Peter Kinder, Bob Dixon, Catherine Hanaway, John Brunner and Randy Asbury. Koster and Brunner have not officially announced their bids for governor. Republican Eric Greitens, who's also expected to enter the governor's race, was the only potential candidate who did not attend the Governor's Ham Breakfast.
In addition, the two favorites for party nominees for U.S. Senate, Republican incumbent Roy Blunt and Democrat Jason Kander, attended the breakfast. Although Blunt has not officially announced his expected re-election bid, he held a press conference before the event in which he trumpeted Missouri's agriculture potential and blasted the EPA's new rule expanding the definition of a navigable waterway.
Meanwhile, Gov. Nixon took questions from reporters on other topics after the event, including Missouri's shrinking transportation budget. He reiterated his support for turning Interstate 70 into a toll road, saying he believes a user fee for I-70 is appropriate.
"Almost nine out of every 10 pennies that would be spent there would be from folks outside Missouri, with the federal dollars, and then (with) the folks traveling through here," Nixon said. "So you can get a road built, 90 percent (of) a brand new road, by non-Missourians, (a road) that we use a lot. ... I think that's still is something that should be looked at very carefully."
Nixon also voiced support for raising the state's fuel tax to provide more transportation funding.
Last year Missouri voters overwhelmingly defeated a ballot measure that would have created a three-quarters of a cent sales tax to increase transportation funding.