Gov. Jay Nixon (D)
Elected: 2008, term expires Jan. 2013, 1st term.
Born: Feb. 13, 1956, DeSoto .
Home: Jefferson City.
Education: U. of MO, B.A., 1978; J.D., 1981..
Family: Married (Georganne); 2 children.
Elected office: MO Senate, 1986-1992; MO atty. gen., 1992-2008.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1981-1992.
Jay Nixon, the Democratic governor of Missouri, grew up in DeSoto, in Jefferson County, 47 miles southwest of St. Louis. His mother was president of the DeSoto school board and his father was mayor of DeSoto when Look magazine named it an “All-America City.” Jay Nixon graduated from the University of Missouri and its law school and then practiced in Jefferson County. In 1986, when a state senator retired, he ran for the seat and won. In the state Senate, he spoke so often that he was warned he was angering senior colleagues. In 1988, at age 32, he ran against U.S. Sen. John Danforth, a Republican who had held statewide office in Missouri for 20 years. It was not an auspicious foray. His “Nixon ’88” signs evoked memories of the disgraced former president, and his attacks on Danforth for running for a third term fell flat. He was trounced 68%-32%, carrying St. Louis city proper by an unimpressive margin and losing all 115 counties.
|Jay Nixon (D)||1,680,611||(58%)|
|Kenny Hulshof (R)||1,136,364||(39%)|
|Jay Nixon (D)||304,181||(85%)|
|Daniel Carroll (D)||53,835||(15%)|
Nixon did not have to give up his state Senate seat, however, nor his ambition for statewide office. He made a name for himself by investigating a scandal at the State Agency for Surplus Property. In 1992, Nixon ran for attorney general, an office that Republicans had held for 24 straight years, and beat David Steelman. In four terms as attorney general, Nixon developed innovative programs such as No Call, which created a do-not-call list of more than 2.6 million names off-limits to telemarketers. He established the Agriculture and Environment Division to enforce Missouri’s environmental laws. And in a landmark victory, Nixon argued before the U.S. Supreme Court to reinstate Missouri’s campaign contribution limits. The decision was a catalyst for national campaign finance reform. He worked to end the protracted school desegregation cases in St. Louis and Kansas City, eventually reaching settlements.
In 1998, Nixon ran for the U.S. Senate again, against two-term incumbent Christopher (Kit) Bond. But Nixon was criticized by many black leaders for his stands in the school desegregation cases and got lukewarm support from Kansas City Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, a prominent African American who is now a House member. Bond, who had worked on housing and other issues with black leaders, clearly cut into the Democratic Party’s normally near-unanimous African American vote and ended up winning 53%-44%.
As in his first U.S. Senate race, Nixon was in the middle of a four-year term and did not have to give up his state office. He was re-elected attorney general by wide margins in 2000 and 2004. In his second term as attorney general, he launched a political challenge to first-term Republican Gov. Matt Blunt. He criticized Blunt for cuts in Medicaid that removed 100,000 people from the rolls and for the sale of assets of the Missouri Higher Education Loan Authority. He also attacked Blunt’s cuts in the First Steps program for children with autism and other problems; opposed the governor’s limits on damages in lawsuits; and supported the request of a former official to retrieve Blunt’s office e-mails, which were regularly deleted per administration policy. The request was rebuffed by the courts. Meanwhile, Nixon was ordered to reimburse the state $47,000 for the use of state vehicles to attend fundraisers.
Both candidates raised large sums—$6 million for Blunt and $3 million for Nixon by late 2007. But in July of that year, the state Supreme Court ruled that the law that had increased campaign fundraising limits was invalid; both Blunt and Nixon had to refund amounts over the limits, leaving them about equal in November 2007, with Blunt at $1.5 million and Nixon at $1.4 million. At this point, Blunt had low job-approval ratings, and the loss of his financial advantage made Nixon the favorite to win.
Then, in a move that surprised even his top staffers, Blunt announced in January 2008 that he would not run for a second term, saying he had accomplished most of what he had set out to do. Republicans scrambled for a nominee. Peter Kinder, the lieutenant governor, decided to run for re-election, and so the two leading GOP candidates were state Treasurer Sarah Steelman and 9th District Rep. Kenny Hulshof. It was a sharply negative campaign, with Steelman attacking Hulshof as a Washington insider. Hulshof was backed by Kinder and U.S. Sen. Bond, and these endorsements (Bond helped in the St. Louis area, Kinder in southeast Missouri) plus his popularity in his district enabled Hulshof to win 49%-45% despite Steelman’s strength in the Springfield area, the most Republican part of the state.
The result set up a contest between two old friends, Nixon and Hulshof. Hulshof had worked in the attorney general’s office as a roving prosecutor handling murder and other difficult cases. When he became attorney general, Nixon kept Hulshof on, despite his Republican affiliation, and the two men adopted a habit of lunchtime basketball games. Nixon even granted Hulshof a leave of absence in 1994 to run for Congress against the 18-year incumbent in the 9th District, Democrat Harold Volkmer. Hulshof lost the 1994 race, but he left the attorney general’s office soon after to plot a rematch. In 1996, he challenged Volkmer again and won, eventually serving six terms. After Republicans lost control of the House in 2006, Hulshof began looking for other work. In 2008, the governorship came open.
Nixon entered the fall campaign with great advantages. He had good job-approval ratings and a big fundraising lead. Hulshof was short of money after the primary, and Steelman did not endorse him heartily. The national Democratic ticket—Nixon stayed carefully neutral until Barack Obama, the narrow primary winner in Missouri, clinched the nomination—seemed competitive in the state. He called for rescinding Blunt’s Medicaid cuts, for expanding college scholarships for students from families with incomes under $80,000, and for regulation of payday loans. Nixon echoed Steelman’s charge that Hulshof was a Washington insider and attacked him for voting for tax breaks for oil companies. To that, he contrasted his record of suing gas stations that raised prices beyond certain levels. He also attacked Hulshof for supporting school vouchers, in the form of tax credits for those who finance scholarships to private schools. Hulshof characterized Nixon as “old way Jay” and echoed Blunt’s criticism of him for using no-bid contracts to hire lawyers and for seeking a contribution from the utility AmerenUE while investigating the collapse of its Taum Sauk reservoir. Hulshof called for using the state’s “rainy day fund” to finance job-creating businesses, for tax incentives to build an oil refinery, and for bonuses for math and science teachers.
Nixon was the front-runner through most of the campaign season and won 58%-39%. He carried not only the cities but also 66 of the state’s 115 counties, losing only in Hulshof’s 9th Congressional District, in solidly Republican southwest Missouri, and in counties in the far southeast and northwest corners of the state. He came into office facing declining revenues but with a budget surplus. He also faced a Legislature with significant Republican majorities in both houses and a Republican lieutenant governor, his longtime critic Kinder, who had eked out a 50%-47% win.