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Government, Politics & Issues

Dueling visions for Missouri likely to be on display as GOP leaders, Nixon get sworn in

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 7, 2013 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is planning to deliver his annual State of the State address on Jan. 28 – an event that will cap a month filled with high-profile dueling visions for the state.

The first will be offered on Wednesday, when the Republican-dominated General Assembly will be sworn in and kick off a new legislative session. Democratic lawmakers will be taking part, but Wednesday’s focus will be on the GOP leadership, notably Speaker Tim Jones, R-Eureka, and Senate President Pro Tem Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles.

At next Monday’s inaugurations of statewide officials, Missourians will see the opposite.

Gov. Jay Nixon will lead a parade of Democratic officeholders – including Attorney General Chris Koster, Treasurer Clint Zweifel and new Secretary of State Jason Kander – who will offer their plans for governing.

The only Republican to take the stage next Monday for the swearing in will be Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, who is campaigning on the sidelines to be the next member of Congress from southeast Missouri.

(Auditor Tom Schweich, the other Republican holding statewide office, is not up for re-election until 2014, so his presence Monday would be as an observer to the inaugurations, not as a participant.)

The upshot is that the audience on hand for Wednesday's event will likely be Republicans, while Democrats will pack the festivities next Monday.

Nixon, in particular, is expected to use his inaugural address to underscore his commitment to Medicaid expansion, as encouraged by the federal Affordable Care Act, and to lay out his plans for improving the state’s economy and creating jobs.

On Jan. 28, the governor will lay out his budget proposals -- which also could contrast with the GOP's ideas, which are likely to be presented in the traditional "rebuttal" after the governor's state of the state address.

Both sides are gently sparring over what to do with a possible small surplus in the FY2014 budget to be crafted by the General Assembly over the coming months.

Visions differ on health care, economy

In next Monday’s remarks and in his State of the State address, Nixon is likely to emphasize, as usual, working “across the aisle.” But following through will  be difficult because of stark philosophical differences.

The two top Republican legislative leaders – Jones and Dempsey – have made that clear. Both oppose any expansion of the state’s Medicaid program, even if the federal government would pick up most of the tab. And both have offered economic proposals – Jones, in particular – that differ from Nixon’s expected approaches.

Jones, for example, has called for curbs on union clout in the workplace. Among other things, he has said, he plans to press for legislation to bar payroll deduction of union dues, which all sides agree would reduce labor’s effectiveness.

Nixon has promised to veto such proposals. The House and Senate will have veto-proof majorities as of Wednesday, if all Republican legislators stick together. But internal party differences on some issues, such as the labor proposals, could erupt – bolstering the governor’s clout.

George Connor, head of the political science department at Missouri State University, said that – policy differences aside – he expects much of the public comments from Jones, Dempsey and Nixon to be devoid of partisan jabs.

“I’m not sure you’ll get much more than generalities from the Democrats and platitudes from the Republicans,” he said.

Connor noted that in his first term, Nixon sought to avoid the partisan battles that had engulfed the last Democrat in the governor’s mansion, Bob Holden. Nixon’s public addresses this month could signal whether he’s changing his approach.

Martin's emergence could affect dynamics

Connor said the political tone in Jefferson City, from Democratic and Republican camps, could be affected by last Saturday’s election of St. Louis lawyer Ed Martin as the new chairman of the Missouri Republican Party.

Although the party chairmanship is often a behind-the-scenes post, Connor said that Martin – who has run several times for public office – may embrace a higher profile. Martin is known for his blunt conservative rhetoric, such as his fiery repudiation of the federal health-care law, known as the Affordable Care Act. Martin also is close philosophically to Jones.

Martin’s demeanor “sends a signal statewide” as to how Missouri Republicans will press their case, Connor said.

Meanwhile, Missouri Democratic Party chairman Mike Sanders – who’s also Jackson County executive – has been issuing statements over the past few days that blast Martin over various controversial comments and views.

Any heightened back-and-forth between Sanders and Martin could affect how Missourians view the different approaches taken by Nixon and the General Assembly.

In any event, Missourians will have an opportunity over the next few weeks to learn details of the dueling visions that will likely vie for influence – and legislative votes – over the next two years until the 2014 statewide elections.

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