St. Louis Oracle

St. Louis-based political forecasting plus commentary on politics and events from a grassroots veteran with a mature, progressive anti-establishment perspective.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Democrats should rethink guv candidate

Democrats should reconsider anointing Jay Nixon as the party's nominee for Governor. With Republican Gov. Matt Blunt no longer seeking reelection, it is no longer good enough just to attack Blunt's record, because he's gone. With voters no longer preoccupied with "getting rid of Blunt," the Democratic candidate will be forced to make a case for her/himself. In that context, Nixon looks like a poor choice.

Perhaps most important, Nixon's rapport with the black community has always been very poor. So poor, in fact, that when Nixon challenged Republican Sen. Kit Bond for re-election in 1998, enough black voters crossed over to vote for Bond (against Nixon, really) to make the difference that beat Nixon. Nixon's "black problem" stems from his career-long opposition to school desegregation. He angered black leaders by failing to consult with them when he settled the desegregation case, causing then-Congressman Bill Clay to urge President Clinton to cancel a fundraising trip for Nixon in 1998. Nixon is also a strong supporter of the death penalty, whose disproportionate application to African American inmates is an anathema to many black voters. He was also a no-show last year at an important NAACP that even Blunt attended.

This all gets worse when put in the likely political context. While the year looks to be shaping up as a Democratic year based on Bush backlash, a race-warfare crosscurrent seems to be emerging that could drive a wedge between the Democratic Party and its long neglected African American base. Barack Obama's inspiring non-race-based victory in lily-white Iowa has given way to racially charged rhetoric from the Hillary Clinton campaign that has polarized the electorate. The bitter campaign has driven much of Hillary's formerly substantial black support to Obama, while white Democrats have surged to Hillary, for a net advantage to Hillary, now once again the likely nominee. Adding to that toxic climate is the stormy relationship of Democratic St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay with the city's African American community. In addition, it appears increasingly likely that August's Democratic primary in term-limited Sen. Maida Coleman's 5th District will be won by veteran southside state rep. Tom Villa, eliminating the city's last black-held senate seat. In that context, if Democrats nominate Nixon for governor to share the top of the ticket with Hillary, the party will virtually dare African Americans to revolt.

But there's more to fear in Nixon than just his (and the party's evolving) "black problem." With Nixon cruising along as the consensus Democratic nominee, Republicans have fired off salvo after salvo against him. While it's easy for Democrats viewing the allegations through rose colored glasses to dismiss them as politically motivated (which they are), I think many of the independent voters that the winning candidate will need to win over will be troubled by many of them. Among the more troublesome are these:

  • Nixon's mishandling of politically sensitive cases in AG's office, including his forced removal in litigation brought by political ally Planned Parenthood; ineffective defense of Missouri's campaign finance law revisions, including possible collusion with his former staffers on the opposing side of the litigation; advocacy of opponents' positions when ostensibly defending Missouri's school funding formula; and acceptance of indirect campaign contributions from Ameren during Nixon's investigation of Ameren's fault in the nearly deadly breach of the Taum Sauk reservoir. While some of those actions were politically desirable to progressives like myself, they were ethically questionable in the context of his job, and are not as well received by independent voters.
  • In addition to Ameren, Nixon's campaign has accepted large campaign contributions from affiliates of Charter Communications, the subject of several investigations by Nixon's office for no-call law violations and consumer complaints; also from trial lawyers who prosecute claims against the Second Injury Fund overseen by Nixon; a campaign fundraiser hosted by a Blue Cross executive during litigation by Nixon against Blue Cross; contributions from nursing homes over which he has legal oversight; and from developers seeking business from the Missouri Housing & Development Commission on which Nixon sits.
  • Nixon has lavishly rewarded campaign contributing lawyers by outsourcing litigation in his office to them with lucrative contracts.
  • Ongoing environmental problems, including a lawsuit by the Missouri Public Service Commission, involving a Jefferson County sewage plant owned and represented by the father and other long-time political supporters of Nixon.
  • Nixon's distribution of state funds from the multi-million dollar tobacco litigation settlement through the non-partisan Missouri Foundation for Health (whose purpose is to assist Missourians without health insurance) to finance political allies like Planned Parenthood, Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Jobs with Justice, the National Education Association, and an affiliate of Missouri Pro-Vote. I like these groups personally, but this is public money that was supposed to help folks without health insurance.
  • A federal employment discrimination lawsuit against Nixon by a former disabled employee discharged by Nixon.
  • Inconsistent record on Medicaid cuts: defending Holden Administration cuts but attacking Blunt Administration cuts. As John Kerry would say, Nixon was for Medicaid cuts before he was against them.
  • Similar inconsistency regarding Sunshine Law violations. He was lax during Democratic administrations, but transformed into a Sunshine Law hawk when Blunt took office.
The political motivation behind these accusations don't necessarily mean the charges aren't accurate. I think that, in the minds of independent voters, at least some of the charges will stick And there are so many of them, voters may simply conclude that there's too much smoke for there not to be fire.

Nixon backers point to his track record of electoral success. The problem is, Nixon is great at winning reelection with the advantage of incumbency against poorly financed political unknowns. But he lost two statewide elections (1988 and 1998) in which he faced well-known, well-financed Republicans. This is 2008, and (with apologies to The Weather Channel) Nixon loses on the 8's. His only statewide win against a well-financed Republican opponent was his 1992 run for Attorney General, when he was swept into office with less than 50% of the vote in the Clinton-Carnahan landslide.

It isn't as though Democrats have no one else. Robin Carnahan, Joe Maxwell, Susan Montee, Emanuel Cleaver, Charlie Dooley, and Senators Yvonne Wilson, Rita Days, Joan Bray and Jeff Smith would all make better Democratic candidates than Nixon. Even Bob Holden would be better. One needs to step forward, and party leaders need to persuade Nixon that the party needs him to get out of the way and accept a nice judgeship or something.

Filing for office doesn't start for another month or so, and candidates can file as late as March 25. Republicans are starting off fresh looking for their strongest candidate. Democrats should do the same.


Anonymous Rev. Rebecca Turner said...

I believe your comment about the distribution of funds from the MO Foundation for Health is misleading. It implies that all or most of the grants given are to organizations that endorse or have worked with Nixon, or that the grants are only given to liberal or even pro-choice organizations. That is certainly not the case. The Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice does not endorse any candidate and has had no contact with Nixon. Several groups receiving funds are anti-choice and would not likely support Nixon. The funds received by MORCRC are to provide free counseling in a variety of communities. Counseling of any kind is often not well covered by insurance, and these services can be vital to one's health and well-being. Thank you for mentioning MORCRC by name, and for your personal endorsement of its work, but I do think it unfair to your readers and to the MFH grantees to imply we are receiving monies from Nixon for political purposes. #

January 24, 2008 at 11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I guess this is the wonderful world of blogging. Your facts are not clear or flat out wrong in many of circumstances you put forth. So much for the truth... And, everyone is entitled to an opinion, but Nixon took on an incumbant governor who left the race and know he is no longer able to run. Oracle, anyone who steps in now is a cherrypicker.

January 24, 2008 at 10:00 PM  
Blogger St. Louis Oracle said...

So be it. I think Democrats need a cherrypicker if they want to pick off the governorship this year.

January 25, 2008 at 1:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin Carnahan certainly is NOT the answer.

January 25, 2008 at 4:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I totally disagree. Robin Carnahan and her family have done more for us than anybody running. I think she should run. I will vote for a Republican before I vote for Jay Nixon. He is racists or he would not have stopped school desegregation. Why don't he send his kids to an inner city school?

January 26, 2008 at 1:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Robin, Robin, Robin. Her bro is a great congressman, her dad did good, her momma did good, Please do us a favor and don't let the Republicans beat us with this idiotic Jay Nixon. I can't believe that he stopped school deseg.

January 26, 2008 at 2:01 AM  
Anonymous Robin said...

I had really never thought about it, but it do make perfect since that Robin Carnahan run. She do a good job.

January 26, 2008 at 2:03 AM  
Anonymous Rev. Emmett Anderson said...

Me and my people will never support someone that has such a week record on civil rights. I want to reach out to Ms. Carnahan and ask her to run. I think she would do a fine job.

January 26, 2008 at 2:05 AM  
Blogger Michael R. Allen said...

Another factor to consider is the demoralizing effect on progressives of a Nixon for Governor/Koster for Attorney General ticket. That's a sure fire way for Dems to drum up Republican votes.

February 4, 2008 at 2:51 PM  

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