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Nixon offers advice to incoming governor

by Bob Watson | January 8, 2017 at 8:20 a.m. | Updated January 9, 2017 at 9:49 p.m.
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon, middle, visits with Sheena Greitens and Gov.-elect Eric Greitens at the Governor's Prayer Breakfast on Jan. 5, 2017. It was Greiten's first and Nixon's eighth and final time as governor at the annual event.

At last Thursday's Governor's Prayer Breakfast, Gov.-elect Eric Greitens thanked outgoing Gov. Jay Nixon and First Lady Georganne Nixon for "how incredibly kind and gracious and thoughtful (you) have been. You have been so helpful and supportive - not just to my team, but also to Sheena and to me."

Greitens added: "We thank you for your service, your kindness, your grace (and) your thoughtfulness."

As of noon Monday, Greitens will be Missouri's governor, and Nixon will join the ranks of the state's former governors.

Nixon has said a number of times since Greitens' election two months ago that - even though he and Greitens are from different parties and have different philosophies - Nixon wants his successor to be successful.

In a wide-ranging interview last month, Nixon told the News Tribune: "I think former governors have a responsibility to our state, in a very small fraternity, to be there when the governor needs them.

"And the best way to do that in my opinion is to establish a level of trust that does not include being an external critique to the decisions."

If Greitens has a question and wants Nixon to answer it, the outgoing governor wants the incoming governor to be free to make that call.

"I'll give him the best of my advice and the best of my counsel," Nixon explained. "And if I'm not needed, that's fine, too. But I want him to succeed. I want the state to succeed."

Republicans in the Legislature and around the state - including Greitens during the campaign - often accused Nixon of playing politics with his proposals, his decisions on bills to veto and his relationships with lawmakers.

But that's not how Nixon sees things.

"When you've been governor of a state, party doesn't mean that much, and you get really into your state," he said. "So, I hope these folks succeed.

"Do I think they're going to make some mistakes or do things that are different than what I'd do?


"And will I mention that in the mirror in the morning when I'm shaving?

"Probably. Quite a few times."

Nixon said during his eight years, he's had support from those who served before him - a small group, including Matt Blunt, Bob Holden, Roger Wilson, John Ashcroft, Kit Bond, and, before they died, Joe Teasdale and Warren Hearnes.

"I've had good discussions with all of them at various times about various things," Nixon said. "On a number of occasions, all of the (former) governors have been helpful to me," Nixon said.

He especially noted help he got from Bond, a Republican who worked with a Democrat-controlled Legislature and faced financial troubles.

"Kit went through, in 1981 and '82, while not exactly the same size of a recession that we had, (it was) not a dissimilar one," Nixon, a Democrat with a GOP-controlled Legislature, explained. "He had lost in '76 then came back in as governor (in '81), and boom, he gets hit with a recession.

"So, I found him to be somebody good to bounce things off of and counsel to talk about that sort of stuff."

The outgoing governor has said a number of times he's offered Greitens advice on handling issues and working with lawmakers and others, and most of that advice will stay between them.

At the same time, Nixon has mentioned some of the advice he gave to Greitens for when he becomes governor at noon Monday.

"Number one, nobody comes to Jeff City, financially, to lobby for a cut. And the Legislature doesn't balance budgets," Nixon said, noting lawmakers already have authorized tax cuts whenever the state's revenues reach certain levels, so he's advised Greitens to "watch the resources.

"Number two, stay focused on the AAA credit rating - it saves us a lot of money."

Missouri's had an AAA credit rating - the top level listed from three different national credit rating agencies - since the Hearnes administration in the mid-1960s through 1973.

During his News Tribune interview Dec. 14, Nixon noted the state's Board of Public Buildings - which is the governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general - had approved bond refinancing that "saved the state $78 million. That's $78 million that we can spend on schools and health care and law enforcement, with a significant portion of it because of our credit rating."

His third piece of advice to Greitens was "get out and listen to people - don't get stuck just here in Jeff City. I just think you've got to get out around the state to listen to people and see people and feel things."

Nixon explained: "I can tell you story after story about how people said things to me out in communities that really affected - in a positive way - the decisions that I made."

And his final advice to Greitens that he's talked about publicly was: "It's not a permanent campaign - this job kind of transcends politics," even when lawmakers and others throw political complaints.

"I'm not saying I spend my time enjoying it," Nixon said. "But, if you're listening to what they are saying from the bleachers, you're not focused on trying to get the play made at the plate."

Nixon said as he leaves public life, he doesn't plan to lobby or to run for another office.

He hopes Missourians remember him for spending time choosing "the high road" and getting bills passed in the next session when they didn't pass the first time around.

He said he'll also miss "the opportunity and the responsibility to speak for all 6.2 million people, (so they can) hear and feel the essence, the core, the values of our state through the voice of the governor."

Nixon also encouraged Missourians to pay attention to the importance of a free and open press in the political process, explaining, "with the incredible sums of money and the incredible shortness of some levels of communication, it is incredibly vital that we have a free, independent and open press that has access and availability to the process, (because) when the doors get closed and there's nobody watching, sometimes the lesser angels of folks have an effect."

And, even after making that comment, Nixon said: "I want people to not be cynical.

"There's nobody who runs for any of these offices, 99 percent of the time, without some really good intents, (and) the biggest fear I have of democracy is complacency, is people thinking it doesn't matter."



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