For years, Gov. Jay Nixon was able to hide in his office, push papers around and mostly ride the fence and try to avoid making political enemies. And then came Ferguson.
He was weak and fairly ineffectual in his response to the initial violence and demonstrations in Ferguson, and now, as the nation awaits the grand jury’s verdict in the Michael Brown case, Nixon is looking even worse.
This morning, an appalling St. Louis Post-Dispatch story was posted on the Kansas City Star’s website.
The story started out like this:
“On a Monday night conference call with journalists from around the country to discuss his state-of-emergency declaration in Ferguson, Gov. Jay Nixon was asked: ‘Does the buck ultimately stop with you?’
“He answered, in part:
” ‘We’re, um, you know, it uh, it uh, you know, our goal here is to, is to, you know, keep the peace and allow folks’ voices to, uh, uh, to be heard. Um, and in that balance, I’m attempting, you know I am, using the resources we have to marshal to be predictable, uh, for both those pillars. I, I don’t, I’m more … I, I have to say I don’t spend a tremendous amount of time personalizing this vis-a-vis me.’ ”
“He continued: ‘I’m trying to make sure that, uh, um, that, that we move forward in a predictable, peaceful manner that plans for all contingencies that might occur so that people of a disparate group of opinions and actions can, can be heard while at the same time the property and, and persons, personal, persons of people in the St. Louis region are protected. So, that, I mean, uh, I’d, I’d prefer not to be a commentator on it.’ ”
“I’d prefer not to be a commentator on it….” Huh?
“…vis-a-vis me.” What?
Appropriately, the national and, in some cases, international press skewered Nixon for that performance. Yesterday, the governor held another news conference in St. Louis, and by then Nixon was able to put together a few cogent sentences.
In his second run at the who’s-in-charge question, Nixon said. “You’re governor…The buck always stops with me. But it’s important to note it’s a team effort.”
Even that wording is tortured — “You’re governor” — and it makes you (me?) want to call a cab and have him immediately shipped back to his hometown of De Soto, MO.
Come to think of it, maybe the fact that he’s from a town of 6,400 people (it’s south of St. Louis) is part of the problem. I don’t think Nixon was ever ready for the big time; he somehow managed to slink his way up the ladder.
And now, here he is, looking like a fool at a time when we desperately need our top elected official to project confidence and leadership. His weakness doesn’t necessarily mean that Ferguson — and perhaps a wider area — is in for more trouble than it would have been with a governor who projected at least the appearance of leadership. But it certainly doesn’t project an air of control and decisiveness.
Fortunately, it appears that a proven, tested leader is on the way to the governor’s office in 2017. U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill made her intentions pretty clear recently when she refused to support Sen. Harry Reid’s bid to become Senate minority leader.
She explained her position on that by saying: “I think this (election) was a message from the American people. Our party got walloped, and I think they’re saying need to change what we’re doing. I think change starts leadership, that’s just common sense, it’s not complicated.”
Now, that didn’t necessarily take a lot of courage, in light of the fact that she has been thinking about running for governor for some time, but, still, that’s a strong stand to take against business as usual.
As regrettable as the entire Ferguson affair has been, we can be grateful that it has helped clarify the highest level of Missouri’s political landscape:
It has exposed Nixon as completely in over his head, and it also helped expose Attorney General Chris Koster, another Democratic imposter, as a first-degree opportunist. (The New York Times finished him off as a serious 2016 gubernatorial contender when, in a recent investigative story, it depicted Koster as a pawn of special interests.)
If things continue to go in the direction they are headed, Missouri will have, in about two years, the first strong governor we have had since Mel Carnahan, who died in an October 2000 plane crash, three months before the end of his second term as governor.
Of course, even if McCaskill is elected, it doesn’t mean that better times are on the way for Missouri. After all, a Neanderthal, rural-dominated General Assembly appears to be glacierized in Jefferson City.
The road to visionary government in the Show-Me State remains long and narrow.