Jay Nixon has begun what's in effect his farewell tour across Missouri before stepping down next week as governor.
It began Thursday in Jefferson City at the annual governor's prayer breakfast. The ecumenical event features elected officials and several hundred members of the public who buy tickets.
"As I've neared the end of my second term, I've often been asked what things I'll remember most about my eight years being governor for 6.2 million Missourians," he told the audience. "The answer I frequently give is how I've been impressed that the people of Missouri genuinely want their leaders to do well ... there is a positive spirit there that you have to channel in this job."
Afterward, he told reporters that there haven't been any bumps in the road as he prepares to hand the reins off to governor-elect Eric Greitens, who was also at the breakfast.
"This is not about whether we agree or disagree on issues," Nixon said. "This is about a much more significant power, the peaceful passage of power in a democracy for the next chief executive of our state .. .and especially for me, I've been involved in those before."
At the end of his Jefferson City news conference, he paused, then thanked the reporters in the room for "fair and accurate" coverage of his 30-year career in politics.
"Whenever any people say in stories, 'Yeah, I was misquoted by the press,' I'm here to tell you after 30 years, the times where things came out a little different, there's never been a member of the press that hasn't worked with us to make sure it's right," he said. "The times in which we pick up the newspaper, or watch the evening news, or see something on Twitter from one of y'all that's incorrect, has been basically zero. I really appreciate the accuracy."
He then walked around the podium and shook hands with every reporter in the room.
It was a long way from his first official press conference as governor in 2009. Several Capitol-based reporters, myself included, threatened to boycott the event after being told they wouldn't be allowed to bring their cell phones into his office. He relented.
The policy was likely a holdover from Nixon's days as state attorney general, whose offices are located in the Missouri Supreme Court building, which bans visitors from bringing cell phones indoors.
Nixon stops in St. Louis
After the prayer breakfast, Nixon traveled to Mason Elementary School in St. Louis. He joined political and education leaders to celebrate the likely decision to restore full accreditation to the St. Louis Public Schools.
Nixon said a lot of “naysayers” doubted that the district would ever reach full accreditation, adding that some wanted to “blow up” or “divide the district.” He went onto say that “St. Louis said ‘no, we want to educate our kids.’”
“And they’ve done the long, hard work over the last nine years to put them on precipice of being fully accredited,” Nixon said. “And I couldn’t be prouder of anything that’s happened during the tenure that I’ve been governor than the long, hard work that’s making a difference for these kids, this community and for future generations of St. Louis.”
The State Board of Education will likely vote to make the district fully accredited next week. When asked if that decision will convince more St. Louis residents to attend public schools as opposed to private or parochial schools, Nixon said the accreditation upgrade will change perceptions – especially when completing economic development deals.
“This will be a shot of confidence through economic business community in the region,” Nixon said. “Because, while the micro pieces about a family making a choice about where their kid is going to go here to school or there to school or whether they’re going to buy a house will be affected by this long run, let’s not kid ourselves. The fact that this district has been unaccredited has been used against us in economic development deals.
“And I want to tell you the progress we’ve made has been used for us,” he added.
Before making public remarks, Nixon took questions from students in two classrooms. In addition to asking him about his greatest accomplishments as governor, Nixon was also pressed about his favorite place (the outdoors) and his favorite teacher (a kindergarten instructor named Miss Kissler).
“I didn’t like her at first – she was pretty hard,” said Nixon, referring to his teacher. “But I was kind of lippy, kind of talky. I talked too much. So she kind of made me be quiet. But even though she’s a kindergarten teacher, she kind of watched me. I lived in a small town – so she kind of watched me the whole time. She was always supportive of me.”
At the end of his talk with the second classroom of children, Nixon asked to take a picture next to a “Braggin’ Dragon” board – which commemorated when a student did well on a test. Nixon is a graduate of DeSoto High School, home of the Dragons. Coincidentally, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who was also present at Nixon’s event, is a graduate of a high school (St. Marys) with a Dragon mascot.
On Friday, Nixon's scheduled to make stops in Excelsior Springs and the Kansas City suburb of Pleasant Valley. Two of his scheduled stops, in Strafford and De Soto, were canceled due to winter travel conditions.
Nixon's greatest hits, KWMU edition
We've covered and interviewed Jay Nixon countless times over his eight years in office as governor. Here are some samples: