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Nixon declares love of dogs, judges and historic tax credits

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 9, 2009 - While his wife affectionately stroked a so-far-homeless puppy named Truman on the sidelines, Gov. Jay Nixon declared his commitment Thursday to enforcing Missouri's existing laws governing pet breeders.

Nixon and state Agriculture Secretary Jon Hagler were in town promoting "Operation Bark Alert." Both cited the recent rescue of 1,300 dogs as evidence of their effort to make life intolerable for the state's unlicensed dog breeders.

"There's far too many unlicensed dog breeders in the state'' who are unfairly harming the livelihoods of legitimate licensed breeders, Nixon said.

Said Hagler, "We will lead the nation on cracking down on unlicensed breeders."

The setting was the St. Louis operation of the Humane Society of Missouri, 1201 Macklind Avenue. Nixon, Hagler and the governor's wife, Georganne Nixon, first toured the complex and observed the work of employees and volunteers to make life more comfortable for the dogs, cats and other discarded pets in their care.

The governor noted that his family has one dog, a spaniel named Daniel Boone, and quipped at one point that he had to speedily complete his visit before his wife adopted another one (referring to Truman, who was resting quietly in her arms).

Still, the event wasn't all soft and fuzzy. During the news conference afterwards, Nixon and Hagler took quite a grilling from Associated Press writer Cheryl Wittenauer, who peppered them with a series of questions of what else they might do to improve Missouri's dog-breeding climate.

(Wittenauer wrote a detailed story earlier this week on Missouri's puppy-mill problem.)

Wittenauer held up documents she'd obtained that show most of the 1,300 "rescued'' dogs didn't end up in rescue facilities, but were re-auctioned to other dealers -- including some deemed not-so-great.

In response to her questions, Nixon said he had no plans to increase Missouri's license fees for breeders -- now among the lowest in the country -- or to ask the Legislature to pass other laws targeting Missouri's longstanding illicit puppy mill industry. The current economic environment wouldn't allow that, he said.

Then on to other topics:

-- Nixon declared his support for Missouri's historic tax credits, under fire from some legislators who want to reduce the amount the state hands out. The governor declared the credits "have revitalized'' neighborhoods and business districts in various cities, singling out St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield, Mo.

Referring to the nation's troubled economy, Nixon said, "I don't think now is the time to back off of that."

-- Nixon reaffirmed his opposition to AmerenUE's bill that would allow it to increase utility bills to help foot the financing costs for a proposed new nuclear plant. He called it "too heavy a lift'' to increase consumers' bills during troubled economic times.

At the same time, the governor reaffirmed his call for the utility to try to seek a license for a new nuclear plant.

-- Nixon also underscored his support of the state's current judicial-selection process for choosing judges, known as the non-partisan Missouri Plan. The Missouri House has approved a proposal to ask voters to change the plan to give the governor and the Senate more power in the process, and curb that of the Missouri Bar.

Nixon, a lawyer and former attorney general, said he'd been pleased so far with the three-nominee panels that he'd been presented so far, from which to select a new judge. All the nominees appeared "highly capable and competent.''

Referring to the state's judges in general, Nixon added, "I don't sit here thinking that branch of government is broken."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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