Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nixon's 2009 Final Report Card



On his midterm report card in July, Gov. Jay Nixon earned a solid B for an above average approval rating, his ability to squeak out a jobs bill through the legislature and for dodging substantial criticism on first year budget cuts. But the second half of the year proved to be more challenging for Nixon as his administration battled the slow drip of E.Coligate, which fueled public cynicism about government secrecy and lead to the sacking of a loyal aide. Some of Nixon's best moments of the second half included smooth handling of more budget withholds, a 23-0 override-proof veto session and a renewed focus on job growth through growing successful existing businesses, luring high-tech industries and boosting training at community colleges. But over the last 23 weeks, Nixon also earned his first failing weekly grades. In all, he was awarded three F's, including two in a row at the end of September and the beginning of October, when reporters uncovered that top Nixon aides knew about the high E.coli levels in Lake of the Ozarks much sooner than the administration had previously acknowledged. Cabinet official Mark Templeton had to be placed on leave and Communications director Jack Cardetti came close to acknowledging he mislead reporters. Nixon also saw his public poll position deteriorate throughout the fall. Still, much of the criticism lobbed against Nixon by Republicans seems hallow and has failed to cut through. The GOP has repeatedly griped about a new license fee office system that a Republican legislature helped put into place. They took shots at Economic Development director Linda Martinez's abrupt and questionable departure, but she ended up going out with a whimper, not a roar. Republicans even slapped Nixon for taking credit for a tuition freeze that they claimed would have occurred anyway. But overall, Nixon deftly avoided major partisan fights on policy. When he slashed $204 million dollars in late October, the GOP budget chair's critique was that Nixon didn't go far enough. Meanwhile, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch characterized Nixon as a "warmed-over Matt Blunt." And even E.Coligate lost the legs it had been growing earlier this fall. Politically, Nixon remains relatively healthy. Besides the partisans, main street GOPers seem, if not satisfied, at least comfortable with Nixon's direction so far. And Missouri's neutered progressive movement can bark, but hasn't shown it can bite on holding Nixon to campaign promises like Medicaid enrollment. The Governor continues to pad his campaign coffers and the GOP lacks a leader with the stature to match him toe-to-toe on day-to-day business. Unemployment will be his main challenge as he enters his second year, but he's already signaling a bi-partisan tone for 2010. That agenda will be tested in a mid-term election year where conservatives are energized and Republicans sense opportunity. It's impossible to forecast the unknowns that will inevitably pop up in the new year. But Nixon's moderate sensibilities and his ability to measure the pulse of the state puts him in a better position than other Governors around the country to thrive in a challenging economic environment.

In 49 WEEKS: Nixon won 8 A's, 20 B's, 15 C's, 3 D's & 3 F's

HIGH POINTS: Inauguration Speech, New Jobs in Republic (3/1), 60% Approval Rating (4/12), Jobs Bill Passes (5/17), Bipartisan Praise for Healthcare Training at Colleges; Kinder Bungles Criticism (5/31), Dodging Criticism for Budget Ax (6/28), Rural Broadband Plan Announced (8/16), Public Works/Construction $$$ (11/15), Tuition Freeze Year 2 (11/22), Property Tax Subsidy Passes Housing Commission (12/20)

LOW POINTS: Misses Deadline to Pass Jobs Bill By Spring Break (3/15), Backtracks & Scraps MIAC Report Amid Controversy (3/29), Tourism Money Not Released As Promised; STL Rep. Accuses Gov. of "Ignoring the Plight of Blacks" (5/3), Threatens to Cut '09 Tour of Missouri (7/12), E.Coligate Breaks (7/19), 10-point Approval Rating Drop (9/6), Aides Knew More About E.Coligate Than They Revealed/Templeton on Leave (10/4), Approval Drops to 40s/9.5% Unemployment (12/1)

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