JEFFERSON CITY - Democratic Missouri Governor Jay Nixon, 56, is the 55th state governor and took office in 2008 when the unemployment rate peaked at 8.6%. He formerly served as Mo. Attorney General for 16 years, after serving as a Mo. state senator. He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and now resides in Jefferson City with his wife, First Lady Georganne Wheeler Nixon. The couple has two sons, Jeremiah and Willson, in college. If reelected, Gov. Nixon said he would work with both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature to get Missourians back to work and put a hold line on taxes, while advocating a technologically-advanced higher education system.
KOMU: Firstly, I want to set politics aside for a moment and ask you to tell me/tell our viewers, characteristically who is Jay Nixon?
NIXON: I was born and raised in De Soto, Missouri in Jefferson County-went to that school, then came up here and went to the University of Missouri-both undergrad and law school, went back home, went to work, and then was elected to the state Senate in 1986. Attorney General in 1992 and then elected Governor of the state four years ago.
KOMU: And you are married and a father of two boys.
NIXON: Georganne, my wife. My father was the Commissioner of Education of the state of Missouri of 1946 to 1970. My two sons, Jeremiah and Will are both college students.
KOMU: For viewers who may not be familiar with your background and those who may be voting for the first time in this Election, can you tell me truthfully, what inspired you to pursue politics?
NIXON: At one point, my mom was on the school board and rose to the position of president of the school board in De Soto. My dad was mayor. So, at the dinner table, you got to see democracy in action-two people working hard to be involved in their local community, so I think I had...with my mom and dad as involved as they were, kind of a clear signal that being involved in public service was something that was important, and you can make a difference.
KOMU: Briefly, how would you essentially ‘sum up' your first term as Governor? What do you consider your most pivotal achievement?
NIXON: Well, we've worked hard on three things to make a real difference-first of all, maintaining a rigid fiscal discipline, to keep that AAA bond rating. I've had to take $1.8 billion out of the budget, we've had to downsize government by over 4,000 employees, but keeping that AAA bond rating is important, not only for the state's credit rating but also for making an investment here. The second part is focus on jobs and getting those investments, like Ford and GM to make almost a billion dollars worth of investments and thousands of manufacturing jobs. And the third part is to make sure we're working together, bringing people together-Democrats and Republicans, not only to balance the budget but working on things like natural disasters. This morning we were talking about the Autism mandate we passed, the Partnership for Hope that's expanding to thousands of folks across the state, opportunities for developmental disability folks to live a more independent life. All of those require bringing people together in a very diverse state, and I'd like to continue to do that.
KOMU: And both Democrats and Republicans have commended you for your work in Joplin. Is that something you're proud of?
NIXON: We've all been, 2011 was the year of natural disasters, not only for Joplin, but also for the tornado in Sedalia, St. Louis, the snow storm here, the floods in northeast and northwest Missouri. But, we've worked hard to not only make sure we have our first responders backed up but also to make sure that we keep folks calm and we use that faith-based initiative that we've expanded, so I think that when disaster struck, Missourians have gotten to see that working together, Missourians are the toughest people on God's green earth.
KOMU: Both you and your opponent Dave Spence said at the September debate in Columbia that you would NOT expand Missouri's Medicaid program under the federal health care law, which specifies federal government would pay 100% of the cost for making more people eligible for Medicaid starting in 2014...until the states later fund a continued expansion. Why your opposition?
NIXON: What I'd said, not only there but here is that we're going to work to make the best fit for Missouri. We want to look at all of the challenges that are out there. Obviously, the public's going to vote on some portions of this coming up in just a few short days, but I think obviously the Presidential Election has a lot to do with what is gonna happen there. I think once the Election is over, we'll work with health care providers, we'll work with legislators of both parties and make sure we are providing a cost-effective method to move forward but that continues to give the state the ability, that flexibility, but also where appropriate, make sure that we are getting a healthier Missouri.
KOMU: Is there a feasible alternative to Medicaid?
NIXON: I think that Affordable Healthcare has been passed, it's been upheld by the Supreme Court, and so we're looking at what would be best for Missouri under this, and I think obviously with the presidential campaign influx and which sort of path the federal government is going to take that we will respond in that Election, we will bring folks together, and we'll get a best fit for the Show-Me-State.
KOMU: Despite statistics, you and your opponent(s) have expressed sometimes drastically different views on the current state of the economy. What is your take on the current state of Missouri's economy?
NIXON: The day I was sworn in as Governor, the unemployment rate by all numbers was 8.6. Today, it's 6.9. That's the second-largest drop in any state in the country over four years. We're getting folks back to work, we are getting investments in this state, and we've clearly chartered a path forward. But we've not just been that number. We've also worked to make sure our schools improved, so we have more kids graduating, higher test scores, we have more folks going to college, we've expanded our A+ program, so that more kids get those two-year scholarships. We've had the smallest tuition increase in our four-year scholarships in this state. So we're focused on not only that number, but also getting those investments here and also making sure that even though we've had difficult budget times, we've expanded our worker training program over 50%. So, we feel as if we're on the right path forward, moving to continue to expand investment and opportunities here in Missouri.
KOMU: So let's talk jobs. If you were reelected Governor, how would you create more jobs? Although Missouri's unemployment rate of 7.2% is below the national average, how will you further reduce that rate? What is a feasible unemployment rate we can expect to see in the next few months/years, if you are reelected Governor?
NIXON: I'm not a predictor of rates. I do think that you look at trends, and you want to continue to move forward. You want folks working, and you want them to work up to their God-given potential. You want to have them working the good opportunities, and so we're going to continue to be aggressive, to get investments here, but also get small businesses to expand. One of the things I feel very strongly about-we've moved from 49th to sixth in the entrepreneurial index. That's a significant jump, way more jump than obviously any other state in the country, and getting those small businesses is part of that economy and continuing to expand exports. I mean in 2010, exports were up 34% in the state of Missouri, 2011 up another 17%, up 6.6% in those records we've set in the past, so continuing to make sure we're world competitors and that we're continuing to export on all these fronts, and we're working with our agricultural community to make sure they're continuing to be able to sell their products worldwide. All of those are important. Missouri has a diverse and complex economy, as we do as a state. We're a very diverse state, and making sure that we're working in all of those areas is important to provide opportunities to everybody.
KOMU: Governor, your opponent Dave Spence has argued that the state's low unemployment rate is largely because of the 106,000 people whom the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics reports left the state's work force since January 2009, when the unemployment rate peaked at 9.7%. How do you counter that argument?
NIXON: I counter by saying what the real numbers are. The real numbers are the day I took office, the unemployment rate was 8.6%. These are all statistics that come out every month, that are completely consistent, and there are those that can pick and choose to look down whenever they want, but the role of governor is to lead this state. It's look at the opportunities you have in your state and to do everything you can to move the state forward, whether that's in education where we've expanded A+, or whether it's in exports where we've seen dramatic expansion, or whether it's things like Ford and GM, where we got those investments here, although my opponent was not in favor of going out, reaching out and getting those investments. I had to bring the legislature back into special session, work together Democrats and Republicans, and because of that, there's a billion dollar factory going into Kansas City to build a vehicle that's only made in Europe now and a $380 million factory in Wentzville. The fact that my opponent was against those-he's certainly entitled to those positions, but the bottom line is the job of Governor is not being Statistician-in-Chief and trying to look at numbers and figure out what's good and bad. It's about providing opportunities for Missourians, and that's what I do-I get up every day to try and do and make sure it happens.
KOMU: Dave Spence has alleged you are responsible for the failed Mamtek deal in Moberly. In fact, he gave a press conference at the plant this morning. What's your response to his claims? Let's talk about Mamtek.
NIXON: First of all, the state has paid zero in that matter-zero. No taxpayer dollars. That's much different than the time Dave Spence had an opportunity to deal with taxpayer dollars on a bank that got a $40 million bailout and voted not to pay it back-instead to take insider loans for he and his fellow directors. He's had one time in his life where he's dealt with taxpayer dollars, and he voted not to pay it back and to allow he and other directors to use that money. The state of Missouri's out zero here. That contrast is very clear.
KOMU: Gov. Nixon, you have expanded Missouri's A+ Schools program, and Missouri's high school graduation rate has risen for three years in a row to well above the national average. Tell me whether there's a correlation here and what you're continuing to work on in terms of education.
NIXON: I do think that continuing to provide better education at all levels is important, and not only those numbers but continuing to move forward, and I do think that challenging folks to finish their education beyond high school does help in more folks graduating and getting better grades, getting more opportunities, getting more dual enrollment, getting more AP classes, continuing to challenge students because the economy we're heading into is a world-wide economy-the one we're in now, and the one we're going to be in in the future. Students are beginning to understand that. I was just down in Owensville this week, and to see a really technologically advanced school-a school that just decided it was going to embrace technology, and you see students really performing well in schools like that that do that, so I think we need to continue to embrace technology, continue to challenge these students, provide a diversity of opportunity, and if we do, I think we'll see our numbers continue to move forward.
KOMU: What is your plan to continue improving Missouri's public school systems?
NIXON: College affordability is very important. A study came out about a year ago about the Federal Reserve that shows we have more student loan debt in this country than credit card debt, and we've taken that very seriously to try to make sure we make college more affordable, not only by holding tuition down and expanding our A+ program, but by funding programs like Bright Flight and Access and others. Even though we've had difficult budget times, we've focused the resources we've had there. And then at the college level, focusing the additional dollars we have on specific, high-performing programs, such as our caring for Missourians, which has added about $40 million to higher education and over a thousand degrees, now that are out there-Training for Tomorrow, which helped specific technical jobs that we can train for at community college, and our new innovation campus, which we put $9 million out in competitive grants to make sure we were getting high-impact internships, getting three-year degrees where possible and making college more affordable. So on all of those fronts, we work collaborative with our college. We'll continue to. Higher education is something we've spent a great deal of time working on, and we're going to continue to-it needs to continue to improve to meet the challenges of the future.
KOMU: Let's talk about unions. In light of what has happened this past year in both statewide in Wisconsin and in Chicago with unions at odds with government, I'm interested in getting your take on unions and how you intend to formulate/maintain good relationships with them and work effectively with them to prevent these types of situations?
NIXON: It is interesting to look at not only Wisconsin and the problems they had. I mean Minnesota shut down for 30, 40 days, you've seen other problems around the country, and quite frankly, up in D.C., nobody appears to be getting along. I'm going to work not only with folks that are organized, but also with Democrats and Republicans who will work things together. But I believe in people's right to organize, and I think it's part of our state, part of our country, and I work with the leaders that they elect and choose to work on issues.
KOMU: In September, the Mo. legislature overrode with barely two-thirds majority your veto with of Senate Bill 749, legislation that would allow individuals and employers to opt out of insurance coverage for birth control, abortion and sterilization. To perhaps prevent situations like this from occurring, if you were reelected, how do you intend to work effectively with both Democrats and Republicans in the currently majority-Republican legislature?
NIXON: I vetoed that bill because I think you shouldn't put an insurance company between a woman and her family's choice as to whether or not they should get contraception. I don't think that's the right policy for the state. We already have a religious exemption that allows religious organization to exempt this, if they want, but I thought putting the insurance company in front of a female or that family in that situation wasn't the best policy for the state because of what's happened. A number of policies have had to make changes. But we'll work to move forward to make sure we continue to have access to those necessary health care opportunities and treatments that folks need and want.
KOMU: And how, again, would you work effectively with Democrats and Republicans to avoid overriding of your vetoes?
NIXON: The vast majority of my vetoes have been sustained, as opposed to overridden, and I continue to use the veto pen when I think it's important. I've used it...almost 50 (times), and there have only been very few times when those have not been upheld.
KOMU: Your opponent has pledged, if elected, to cut the size of the government with zero-based budgeting. Can you explain to me your thoughts on the current size and effectiveness of Missouri governments and whether zero-based budgeting is feasible for our state?
NIXON: We've gone through the last four years, taken $1.8 billion dollars out of the budget. The legislature has not passed a balanced budget. I've had to make restrictions and line-item vetoes and restrictions in line and other things to bring the budget in the balance. We've downsized government by over 4,300 employees. This is not about some sort of slogan. This is about running government better. This is about understanding the role of government and putting resources where they can make a difference. For example, even though we've done that, we've been able to provide record funding for K-12 education, so when folks talk about a five% across the board or zero-based budgeting, we don't need to go back to every school in the state of Missouri, every school that gets any money from the state, whether it's Owensville or Columbia and tell them they have to start over in how they run their schools. So, these phrases that folks can say are fine, but we've been at this a long time. We've dealt with challenging budget times, and we've come out of that stronger and better for it, and we'll continue to hold the line on taxes and use the resources to the public in the way where they can have the most positive impact for the state.
KOMU: Your Jan. 2011 decision to spare Richard Clay from execution seemingly contradicted your 1996 decision as Attorney General to uphold the death row sentence and subsequent execution of Emmet C. Nave. What is your current position on the death penalty?
NIXON: I support the death penalty where appropriate. I've been, as most folks know, Attorney General of the state for 16 years and was involved in that final, difficult act many, many many times. I've been involved in those prosecutions, and as Governor, I continue, where appropriate, to support the death penalty.
KOMU: What is appropriate?
NIXON: I think that's why you have a jury system. That's why you have a prosecutor who makes those choices or the Attorney General's office, if they're the special prosecutor to which cases they think meet the criteria. And that's why you have a strong appellate process. So you need, those decisions are not ones made by the Governor. They're made on a fact base after talking to victims, understanding the difficult situations that arise there, and then when juries make that ultimate decision, that has a great bearing on whether we complete that difficult sentence.
KOMU: Can you remind our viewers of your current opinion on gay marriage? Is it plausible that regardless of who obtains office in November, we could see in the next few years the legalization of gay marriage? Even with a majority Republican legislature is it possible that Missouri will follow suit with Illinois in legalizing at least civil unions?
NIXON: I have not supported gay marriage in the past and don't at this point. I don't anticipate much legislative activity in that area.
KOMU: Let's talk about your views on gun rights under the Second Amendment. You have said you support a ban on the transfer or sale of all forms of semi-automatic weapons and requiring manufacturers to provide child safety locks with firearms.
NIXON: I support the second amendment. Back when I was Attorney General, I signed on the case in which the Missouri Second Amendment is the law of the land. I'm also a very avid hunter and fisherman and look forward to continuing to protect the rights of sportsmen out there and citizens to be armed when they think appropriate and look forward to continuing to work to expand opportunities for youth to hunt. We'll be doing that again this week as we approach deer season.
KOMU: In the past two years, you allowed legislation restricting abortions to become law by letting the constitutional deadline to sign or veto the bills to expire. Regardless of the laws that currently are in place to restrict abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, what is your view on abortions? Late-term abortions?
NIXON: I don't anticipate significant legislative action in these areas, I mean Missouri law's pretty clear and upheld by the courts, and I think now that we've gone through the process of making sure appropriate notifications are there and what not over the last few years that have become law, I don't see this as an area where we're going to see a great deal of movement one way or another in the state.
KOMU: And your personal views on the issue?
KOMU: Let's talk about energy. What's the future of energy in our state?
NIXON: I feel like we've made some real progress here with the Enbridge Pipeline coming across the state to make sure that we become more energy independent with using the Alberta Oil sands to get that in North America. Just yesterday, I spoke to all the potential sub-contractors on the small nuclear reactor application that we have in and to bring a good source in and to build those small nuclear reactors right here in Callaway County to design and build them. I also have worked hard to make sure that clean coal is used to make sure that we continue to provide power in a cost-effective way. I've also seen the expansion of wind and other areas, so I think on all fronts, we've worked hard to make sure we have affordable power across the state of Missouri with the seventh-lowest cost of power production, but also looking for areas where we can expand opportunities.
KOMU: What's the first issue you would tackle if you were reelected into office?
NIXON: Well we want to continue to make sure folks are working together to keep those bedrock fiscal discipline to hold line on taxes and get people to work. And I also think that continuing to build out that network of auto-suppliers is important, and on the higher-education front, continue to see the examples of the innovation campus that can jump us to a technologically-advanced higher education system to get many of those folks that have either not completed their school and are out working back into that higher education pipeline so that folks can get the education they need for the jobs of the future.
KOMU: If you'd like want to give you the opportunity to look into the camera and give some last words to our viewers.
NIXON: (To camera) Hi. Just for many years, I've worked together with folks. We've had a four years in which we've brought Democrats and Republicans together, balanced the budget, moved forward, record-funding for K-12 education, great opportunities as the expansion of A+. And because of that, our economy is moving forward. Unemployment rate under 7% now, significant investments in the state, Ford, GM, IBM here in the Columbia area and others. We're seeing the kind of job growth and drop in unemployment that we need to continue to move this state forward.