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Nixon says he's not thinking about 2016

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 11, 2012 - It hasn’t even been a week since his latest election victory, but Gov. Jay Nixon is already batting away queries about his next move.

Nixon – who decisively defeated Republican businessman Dave Spence on Tuesday – used his first Capitol press conference Thursday to discuss personnel, an initiative to restructure state government and the impossibility of Missouri setting up its own health insurance exchange.

But near the tail end of Thursday's conference, Nixon – who is limited to two terms – was asked if his latest campaign was his last. He replied, “All I can say is, it felt pretty good.”

When asked by another reporter if he could expand on his thoughts of running for another office, Nixon said, “No.”

“No! I just don’t think about it. It’s hard enough to get through what I got right here today,” said Nixon, with a laugh. “It’s been a lot of years since somebody had what the people have given to me – which is a second term. And I’m really excited about it. I really am. People that know me and have worked with me within this office and have gone around the state know that we’ve got a lot to get done.”

Nixon, a former state senator and attorney general who has run for statewide office eight times, will be 60 years old in November 2016. 

One other possibility for Nixon is challenging U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican up for re-election that year. Nixon ran for the U.S. Senate in 1988 and 1998, losing both times to GOP incumbents. And in his last two gubernatorial runs, Nixon did exceptionally well in GOP strongholds like Greene County and St. Charles County.

In any case, unseating Blunt would be a major undertaking: Blunt possesses a formidable political organization and already won a leadership position in the Senate Republican caucus. He won election to his seat in 2010 over Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, a Democrat, in a landslide.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bill McClellan floated the idea that Nixon could run for president when Barack Obama's term ends in early 2017. And St. Louis License Collector Mike McMillan said earlier this year that Nixon would make an "excellent" president. The next presidential election is 2016.

Nixon mum about Medicaid expansion

In the meantime, Nixon will go into his second term with Republicans holding veto-proof majorities in the Missouri House and Missouri Senate. And both Nixon and the legislature will have to consider whether to expand Medicaid under the auspices of the Affordable Care Act.

Expanding Medicaid to 133 percent of the federal poverty level is a major element of the federal health-care law. Hundreds of thousands of Missourians could receive access to the health-care system for the poor and disabled under expansion.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states had the right to reject the expansion. Under the act, the federal government would cover all the additional costs for the first three years, then Missouri would gradually take over a small percentage of the costs. By 2022, the state’s share would be 10 percent. Many Republicans oppose the expansion, arguing that it will eventually become unaffordable for the state.

Nixon said on Thursday, among other things, that the federal government’s impending debate over taxes and spending could loom especially large in the Medicaid discussion.

“You want to see what happens with our federal partners over the coming weeks and months,” Nixon said. “We’re in a really timely zone here. There are a whole lot of things going on in D.C. right now about how they’re going to balance the budget and what they’re going to do to deal with the fiscal constraints of the country. [And that’s] where all of these things could be on the table.

“We’re certainly going to seek the input of all impacted folks here in Missouri,” he added. “I will make a through and thoughtful decision and then use the full extent of my abilities to communicate and execute that decision.”

Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey – a St. Charles Republican who will become Senate president pro tem next year – said his chamber wouldn’t look favorably at a Medicaid expansion.  Republicans cut eligibility to the program in 2005, which sparked years of political inter-party battles within the legislature.

“I believe from talking to members that would be highly unlikely,” Dempsey said. “The federal government has not passed a budget in three years nor have they done anything in a way without borrowing from our children and grandchildren. I think we’re concerned about federal spending and the $16 trillion in debt that they have.”

Asked if the legislature would be pressured to act on the issue by medical providers, Dempsey said “we’re working first on a jobs agenda – getting people working.”

“So we’re aware of the federal health-care policy,” said Dempsey, adding that senators would be discussing how to move forward with a health insurance exchange. “I think the Medicaid expansion at this time is not likely.” 

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