►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 (Jan. 12) 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 with Kinder's assessment that the speech was a success.
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.
In his first full day as Missouri's chief executive, Gov. Jay Nixon issued Tuesday (Jan. 13) three executive orders dealing with job creation in the state.
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."
Nixon's executive order for the business small loans had a small problem -- the governor has no authority to mandate the loans that are issued by the Missouri Finance Development Board. The board, chaired by Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, is independent of the governor. Kinder said he had not been briefed by the governor on his proposal. The board has a meeting scheduled next Tuesday (Jan. 20).
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 a push back from Capitol reporters Tuesday.
Nixon press secretary Scott Holste told the media the request was for security reasons.
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.
The governor's communications director later said the actual reason for the cell-phone ban was Nixon's desire to not have disruptions of attention in his office. While the ban was lifted for reporters, it remains for other visitors to the governor's office.
Just a few hours after the journalist cell-phone confrontation, 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 a unanimous decision Tuesday (Jan. 13) Missouri's Supreme Court struck down a state law that had been used by the state as grounds to deny coverage for personal care assistance to a physically disabled person.
The case involved a 39-year-old woman with both physical and mental disabilities who lives with her mother who serves as her guardian
In 2005 as part of the plan to cut back on Medicaid costs, the legislature approved a provision that essentially denies personal care assistance to any person under the care or living with a guardian.
The state high court found that the 2005 law violates federal laws prohibiting discrimination against the disabled.
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."
Nixon's announcement was not without its own political overtones. One of the agents for the St. Charles County office to be bid out is the father of former House Republican Leader Tom Dempsey, now a state senator. Another fee office to be bid is run by a GOP campaign contributor.
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 County, 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 Republican colleague who has served with Bray on the Senate's energy committee -- 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."
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 with discussions on transportation and agriculture, early childhood and K-12 education and economic development and higher education.