Talk about raising the bar.
The usually safe-to-a-fault Gov. Jay Nixon is going for a personal best.
When Nixon outlined his second-term agenda last month, he placed a marker on two issues that will determine the success or failure of a pivotal year: Medicaid expansion and campaign-finance reform.
Both will be extraordinarily difficult to pass, given the topsy-turvy political dynamics in Jefferson City where state government is headed by a Democratic governor and Republicans dominate the Legislature.
Passing one would be huge. Getting both would be like winning the Super Bowl and a Nobel the same year.
Asked when he was in town last week how he’d celebrate, the awww-shucks Nixon demurred at first, then said, “Probably, I would go fishing.”
He probably should toss in a little champagne, too.
Strange as it sounds, passing the Medicaid expansion might be the easier play of the two even though it ranks as most high-profile challenge Nixon has undertaken. He’s putting enormous pressure on GOP lawmakers, who are reluctant to fund a multi-billion-dollar expansion of government by providing health care to legions of poor Missourians.
Nixon is aiming at the heart of the GOP. On Thursday, he came to Independence where he spoke to the typically Republican Chamber of Commerce.
“This is the largest economic development question facing the state of Missouri right now,” Nixon told civic leaders.
Later Thursday, Nixon was in Columbia where he spoke — not at the hospital, the most obvious venue — but at the conservative turf of the University of Missouri’s Trulaske College of Business.
“This transcends politics,” Nixon said.
At his State of the State address, the governor took to introducing Chamber of Commerce members from around the state who backed his plan.
“They know,” Nixon said, “that bringing billions of dollars back to Missouri is good for our state’s economy.”
Notably, Democratic lawmakers stood to applaud the chamber members. GOP lawmakers clapped, but stayed seated.
On Medicaid, Nixon is hustling.
On campaign reform, he’s making his points, but not waging the same day-in and day-out push.
There is no obvious constituency for ending Missouri’s embarrassing predicament as the only state in the country that permits unlimited campaign donations and unlimited lobbyist gifts. Except, perhaps, the voters who back in the 1990s overwhelmingly passed campaign limits.
But voters apparently aren’t clamoring for change. The last election is history. No one’s thinking about limits now.
That’s why Republicans show virtually no sign of getting on board.
Nixon has worked hard over the years to cast himself as productive and successful. The streak’s in jeopardy.
To reach Steve Kraske, call 816-234-4312 or email email@example.com. Follow him @stevekraske.