►Jay Nixon promises a "new day" as Missouri's new governor. «Entered: 01/12/2009»
After 16 years of service as Missouri's Attorney General, Jeremiah "Jay" Nixon was officially sworn in as the state's 55th governor Monday on the south lawn of the Capitol building in Jefferson City.
With wife Georganne and sons Jeremiah and Will looking on, Gov. Nixon, a Democrat, delivered an inaugural address that centered around the phrase, "A New Day for Missouri."
He used the words "new day" 12 times in the 11-minute speech.
"To bring a new day in Missouri, we'll need to implement new policies. But this new day will not be possible unless there is a new tone in Jefferson City," Nixon told a crowd of more than 4,000 gathered.
"For too many years, politics and partnership have stood in the way of progress. And the people of Missouri are tired of it."
Although Nixon's comments could have been interpreted as critical of his Republican predecessor, Gov. Matt Blunt, top Republican leaders in Missouri praised the sentiment behind his words.
"I thought it was a successful speech," said Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, who also took the oath of office Monday. "It struck themes that all Missourians can unite around looking forward to the future."
Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields and House Speaker Ron Richard, both GOP members, said they agreed.
In addition to Nixon and Kinder, also sworn in to four-year terms were Democratic Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, State Treasurer Clint Zweifel and Attorney General Chris Koster.
The day's events ended with the traditional Grand March and Inaugural Ball in the Capitol.
Nixon is a Democratic governor facing Republican majorities in both chambers of the Missouri Legislature as well as a projected $342 million shortfall this budget cycle.
Since the November elections, the new governor, along with House and Senate leaders, has consistently called for an effective bipartisan relationship and open lines of communication between the state's predominantly Democratic executive branch and a Republican Legislature.
►Nixon: Driver license offices to be competitively bid «Entered: 01/16/2009»
Gov. Jay Nixon on Wednesday announced a plan to revamp how local motor vehicle and driver license offices are awarded in the state, claiming, "The era of license office patronage ends today."
Previously, most of the openings for contract agents who operate the offices were not competitively bid, and Nixon said the appointments were often made on the basis of political favoritism.
Nixon's new plan calls for competitive bidding, a process that began Tuesday when requests for proposals from interested vendors were posted for six of the state's contract offices by the Missouri Department of Revenue. He said the first six locations to be bid are in Columbia, Mexico, Moberly, St. Charles, Liberty and Springfield.
The governor, in his third day in office, told reporters that those six fee offices -- where taxes are collected, drivers licenses are issued and motor vehicles are titled and registered -- netted $2.7 million in processing fees last year.
Nixon's choice to be director of the state Revenue Department, Karen King Mitchell, estimated that bids could be awarded within eight weeks at the six aforementioned locations, with requests for proposals for other offices to be sent out on a weekly basis until all 183 locations, excluding a state-run office in Jefferson City, are competitively bid.
She said that current contract agents would not be excluded in the bidding process.
"There will be folks who currently have these offices that will be bidding; there will folks who have had offices in the past that will be bidding, and we'll be looking at those as well," King Mitchell said.
She referred to a new point-matrix system that would be used to evaluate potential bidders. That system includes 45 points for efficiency of operations, 30 points for personal qualifications and five points each for being a civic or not-for-profit organization, being a woman or minority applicant and being willing to direct a portion of the office's processing fees back to the state's coffers.
King Mitchell also noted that the requests for proposals called for a one-year contract with three additional one-year renewals possible.
In concluding Wednesday's news conference, Nixon said, "This is a big financial step; now is the time to take that step."
With Missouri Senate committees yet to be named, legislators have instead been meeting in informal Senate seminar sessions to discuss a range of topics -- from transportation and health care to economic development and energy policy.
The seminars have been arranged by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph.
A seminar Tuesday focused on AmerenUE's effort to build a second nuclear power plant in Callaway County. Representatives from AmerenUE, the state's largest electric provider, joined members of Kansas City Power & Light, St. Louis-based Peabody Energy Corp., Wind Capital Group and consumer advocate John Coffman in addressing several senators gathered.
Senators were urged by AmerenUE's representative to repeal a decades-old, voter-approved law that bans increasing consumers' utility rates in order to pay for construction of new power plants.
Sen. Joan Bray, D-St. Louis, who opposes a repeal, said, "I don't see the justification in asking the customers to take on the risk of the private corporation."
She added, in regard to the seminar, "I'm not sure there was enough time to get a really good discussion going."
A former Senate Commerce, Energy & the Environment committee member with Bray, Sen. Brad Lager, R-Maryville, expressed support for repealing the law.
"The consumers in Missouri have benefited from the power producers here being an exporter of energy," he said. "Meaning up until this point, our power companies have been able to generate more energy than they've used, and as a result, they've been able to take the extra capacity and sell it off at a pretty decent premium. And as a result, they've been able to use those profits to buy down the rates for consumers here."
Undoubtedly, energy policy and the proposed Callaway County nuclear plant will receive much attention in the current legislative session. Although construction of the facility would not begin until at least 2010, discussions on it have already been initiated by Missouri legislators. In his first address as House Speaker last week, Ron Richard, R-Joplin, called the proposed power plant a top priority.
Senate seminars are scheduled to continue next week with discussions on transportation and agriculture Tuesday, early childhood and K-12 education and economic development Wednesday, and higher education Thursday.
A request from Gov. Jay Nixon's staff that reporters hand over their cellular phones before entering the new governor's first news conference elicited push back from Capitol correspondents Tuesday.
Nixon press secretary Scott Holste told the media the request was for security reasons, and the ban was then said to be a product of the transition from the attorney general's office where cell phones are not allowed past building security.
When at least one reporter threatened to boycott the news conference if they were forced to relinquish their cell phones, Holste went back into the governor's office and returned, rescinding the cell phone ban.
Just hours later, the office of sole Republican statewide office holder, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, sent out an e-mail offering Blackberry chargers during news conferences put on by his office.
"During capitol newsers, we will gladly provide Blackberry phone chargers for use during your reporting," wrote Gary McElyea, the director of communications for the lieutenant governor's office, in an e-mail to statehouse reporters. "It is my goal to do what I can to allow you to better inform the citizens of Missouri."
In his first full day as Missouri's chief executive Tuesday, Gov. Jay Nixon issued three executive orders dealing with job creation in the state.
As expected, the governor continued a theme of job creation after meeting with young businesspeople and entrepreneurs immediately following his inaugural address Monday.
According to a spokesperson with the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, unemployment had reached 6.7 percent as of November 2008, the most current figure and also the highest rate in Missouri last year.
In the Tuesday morning news conference, Nixon ordered the creation of automotive jobs task force, the formation an economic stimulus coordination council and the allocation of a pool of funds for low-interest and no-interest direct loans directed at small businesses.
The 12-member automotive jobs task force is geared toward recommending legislative and policy initiatives that would foster manufacturing job growth in the long term; the 15-member economic stimulus coordination council will attempt to maximize any funding received from a potential federal stimulus package; and the final order, Nixon stated, would create a pool of approximately $2 million from fees collected on Missouri Development Finance Board loans for small business loans.
"Quick, decisive action is necessary if we are to get Missouri's economy moving forward again," Gov. Nixon stated. "To do that, we have to get Missourians back to work by creating new opportunities and by helping Missouri business grow and thrive."
He was joined Tuesday by director designee of the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Linda Martinez.
►Missouri's legislature begins its 2009 legislative session «Entered: 01/08/2009»
The 95th Missouri General Assembly convened on Wednesday for its first regular session amid a struggling state economy and a strongly Democratic executive branch in Jefferson City.
Republicans hold a 23 to 11 advantage in the Senate -- a veto-proof majority -- and outrank Democrats 89 to 74 in the House of Representatives. But Republican lawmakers must now contend with a Democratic governor in the form of Jay Nixon, who will replace Gov. Matt Blunt Monday, Jan. 12.
A buzzword going into the legislative session was "bipartisanship," and that message was echoed Wednesday.
Following the Pledge of Allegiance and "Star-Spangled Banner" led by his sons Bryce and Brandt Shields, Missouri Sen. Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, was elected the Senate's president pro tem. He then outlined a bipartisan need to increase Missourians' median income, grow the state's college graduation rate and improve its health care system.
In speaking about the state and nation's current economic crisis, Shields quoted David Holl, a Fortune 500 CEO, in saying, "Never let a good financial crisis go to waste. Use it to make the difficult decisions that you refuse to make when times were good."
In the Missouri House, Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin, highlighted his proposed "family recovery plan" and its emphasis on job creation, health care and tax relief during his opening address.
But first he asked representatives to work for and demonstrate a strong work ethic and spirit of bipartisan cooperation.
"Just as I asked the members who have served on my committee to put aside their differences for the common good, I will ask the same of you as a legislative body," Richard said. "We pride ourselves on being the House of the people. This year, we will make that much more than a convenient piece of political jargon."
House Democratic Floor Leader Paul LeVota, D-Independence, and Senate Minority Leader Victor Callahan, D-Independence, also emphasized the need to put political differences aside in times of economic uncertainty.
"Given the seriousness of the economic environment, I don't think the voters are going to have a lot of patience for partisan tag," Callahan said.
The legislative session continues until 6pm on Friday, May 15.
Longtime U.S. Senator and Republican stalwart Christopher "Kit" Bond announced his intent not to run for reelection in 2010 in an address to the Missouri House of Representatives on Thursday. The senior senator from the state also served two nonconsecutive terms as Missouri governor.
Bond told state representatives, "In 1973, I became Missouri's youngest governor. I do not aspire to become Missouri's oldest senator."
Just two months ago, Bond publicly expressed interest in running for reelection in 2010. But Bond told reporters Thursday that it was during holiday discussions with his family that he decided to step aside.
"I've seen some people who've gone for half a century, and I'd like to retire while I'm still at the top of my game," he said.
As vice chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Bond was an influential voice in Missouri's Congressional delegation.
The state's other U.S. Senator, Democrat Claire McCaskill, stated in a news release Thursday that despite party differences, she has "immense respect" for Bond.
"There will be few people who will serve Missouri longer than he has or with such distinction," McCaskill said.
With Bond leaving, speculation swirled Thursday regarding potential candidates that might fill Bond's vacant Senate seat.
Top Democrats appeared to coalesce around Secretary of State Robin Carnahan as their party's candidate.
"Robin would be a strong candidate and a great Senator and Democrats across the state hope she'll run," state Democratic Party Chairman Craig Hosmer said in a statement issued just hours after Bond's announcement.
MU political science professor Peverill Squire projected that U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Springfield, and Carnahan would be strong contenders on the Republican and Democratic side, respectively.
Other names mentioned include Missouri Attorney General-elect Chris Koster on the Democratic side and former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, U.S. Rep. Sam Graves and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder as Republican hopefuls.
"I know there are a lot of people who are thinking about it," Bond said. "We'll see who has the fire to do it, has the commitment and right ideas."
Incoming House Speaker Ron Richard announced Wednesday his support for repeal of the voter-approved provision restricting utilities for charging rate payers for electric plant construction costs before a plant becomes operational.
Supporters say the restriction, approved in 1976, would prevent AmerenUE from building a second nuclear power plant because of the huge cost of the project and the amount of money the company would need to borrow.
Under current law, the company can include the interest costs in electric rates only after the plant becomes operational.
"We must work to make the new nuclear plant in Callaway County a reality," Richard said in his opening address to the House.
During the 1976 debate on the "construction work in process" rate restriction, utility critics charged it was unfair to charge an elderly customer the finance costs of a plant that might not become operational until after the customer's death.
Newly elected Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields spoke about the higher education system being 'disorganized' in his opening speech to the Missouri Senate.
Shields said he would support uniting all universities under one governing body instead of the individual governing body system currently in place.
Columbia Rep. Chris Kelly said he supports the idea but thinks universities will fight against the idea.