Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon appears to be offering more political assistance to fellow Democrats competing for seats in the General Assembly, after years of embracing a lower campaign profile that even concerned some within his own party.
Tuesday night, Nixon stopped at a Democratic fundraiser in Frontenac to offer up a rousing endorsement of state Rep. Jill Schupp’s quest this fall for the state Senate in the 24th District, which takes in much of central St. Louis County.
Schupp, D-Creve Coeur, is competing against Republican Jay Ashcroft in one of the region’s few competitive legislative contests.
Nixon's appearance came after he had spent part of the day in Jefferson County, his home turf, to campaign for several other legislative Democrats on the Nov. 4 ballot. The governor said in a brief interview that he had a little more time for such political activities now that the legislative veto session is over.
Nixon told the supportive audience at Schupp’s event that the two locales -- Jefferson County and Frontenac -- reflect the welcome differences within the Democratic base.
It’s Democrats, he said, who “embrace diversity” and understand that Missouri “is a very diverse state.”
“We’re a broad coalition,” Nixon said. “We’re the Democratic Party. We welcome people. We argue with each other for fun…We open our arms for everyone. We do not divide people by what their personal feelings are. We don’t divide people by what their ethnicities are, or what position they hold.”
The crowd chuckled as Nixon observed that Democrats also understand the need “to be welcoming to people’s eccentricities.”
“The folks on the other side,” he continued, “just don’t feel that way.”
In many cases, the governor said, Republicans get elected by relying on “a narrow coalition’’ that often reflects their party’s “far fringe.”
Democrats, he added, also seem to feel less of a need to"say bad things about other people and try to triangulate them” – implying that Republicans do.
Such divisive behavior, the governor continued, appeared to ignore the reality that “the action happens in the middle.’’
Lawmakers often must compromise to get anything done, he said, and can do so without “compromising their principles.”
Unfortunately, Nixon added, the willingness to reach middle ground has been “missed sorely in the state Capitol over the last 18 months.”
Partisan speech a departure for Nixon
Such public observations by Nixon have been rare for years. He generally has avoided combative political speeches, even at political events.
And even Tuesday night, he refrained from using the word “Republican’’ – his standard practice – instead referring to the GOP as “the other side.”
That approach has garnered Nixon his share of private criticism from fellow Democrats who for years have complained that he hasn’t done enough to help his party.
Over the past year, it has been two other Democrats – U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and Attorney General Chris Koster – who have been donated huge chunks of money to the state Democratic Party and installed a new party chairman last year.
However, several lawmakers at the Schupp event said privately that Nixon probably was getting some unfair jabs, since he did have to deal regularly with the huge Republican majority controlling the General Assembly. McCaskill and Koster, they said, did not.
Nixon’s feistier observations Tuesday may reflect the fact that this fall's elections represent the last time he can influence legislative contests before he leaves office after the 2016 election.
But he also may have been responding to last week’s vigorous verbal attacks against him on the floor of the state House during the veto session. Even Republican leaders, including Speaker Tim Jones and Majority Leader John Diehl, loudly accused Nixon of being disengaged and out of touch.
The governor on Tuesday denounced name-calling in general terms. But he mainly focused on the values that he said Democrats need to promote as they woo voters in the coming weeks.
Schupp and many fellow legislative Democrats, he said, share certain important core values that he believes are important to voters and need to be emphasized:
- "A deep knowledge of their districts;”
- “A deep commitment to education;”
- “A deep commitment to individual rights.”
In addition, Nixon added drily, most Democrats “also know they have to work with other people.”