Governor Nixon is going someplace today to announce he’s going someplace.
He just can’t stay in his office at the capitol, can he? Not at a time when legislators are sending him bills on such things as jobs and education, and reproductive rights/freedom of religion, and whether the Association of Squid Lovers can have a specialty license plate and asking for meetings to talk about what kind of changes in workers’ rights or employee healthcare he would be wiling to accept.
Today he’s off to Springfield and Independence to announce that he’s going somewhere else. Brazil is lovely at this time of year. It’s Missouri’s tenth-biggest trading partner.
Before he goes to Brazil, though, he has to go to Springfield and Independence to tell people he’s going to Brazil. We aren’t sure why he has to tell people in those two cities instead of other cities in Missouri such as Hannibal or Carthage or Cape Girardeau or Tarkio or–heaven forbid!–Jefferson City that he’s going. Maybe Springfield and Independence export a lot of things to Brazil.
So Governor Nixon is going to wax eloquent about Brazil. We are resisting a tendency to call his speeches in those two cities today Brazilian waxings.
All of the Governor’s traveling recalls Joe Teasdale’s “Meet With the Governor” sessions in 1979 and ’80.
One day my friend Steve Forsythe, then the United Press International bureau chief at the capitol, called and asked if I knew anything about a boiler room operation Teasdale had going on in the Broadway Building, which is across the street from the capitol. I hadn’t heard about it so Steve and I made an unannounced visit to the basement room where employees from several state agencies were spending their noon hours arranging trips for Teasdale to make to various communities for his “Meet With the Governor” sessions. Our sudden appearance and our questions caused a reaction slightly short of a stroke by the person managing the operation.
Our questions focused on why resources of other agencies were being expended for arranging these trips in the months before Teasdale was running for re-election and whether the visits were entirely gubernatorial. And there were a lot of other questions in the months to come as our relations with the governor further soured. In one of the last news conferences Teasdale had at the capitol (he never held one after the August primary) he got really steamed when I asked him if his campaign was going to reimburse the Highway Patrol for driving him to places where he filmed campaign commercials. He said no.
Governor Nixon’s constant traveling and Governor Teasdale’s community forums have some commonality and they point to an issue that governors, the media, and the voters can think about: when are taxpayer funds used by the travels of an incumbent governor used to promote the governor’s re-election and when are they part of the job of being governor?
And so what?
There is no doubt that Governors Nixon and Teasdale are using or did use state funds in ways that heighten or heightened their visibility and make them or made them more gubernatorial in the eyes of the voters. Teasdale knew he faced a challenge from Christopher Bond in 1980, the man he had defeated in ’76 and he knew it was going to be a tough challenge. Being gubernatorial in the office at the capitol wasn’t going to do him much good. Besides he was the guy who became a populist favorite by walking into towns to meet the folks. His campaign supporters sported lapel pins showing the sole of a shoe with a hole in it, symbolizing “Walking Joe” Teasdale, one of the great campaign gimmicks in Missouri history. Governor Nixon knows that he will be running this year in a state that has been increasingly Republican.
But both of these guys are the governor. That’s a 24-hour job, every day of the week. The governor is the governor of the whole state and it means something when the governor comes to visit in your town. And the governor travels with security people wherever he goes whether it’s for campaign purposes or for those times when he’s being gubernatorial.
Sure there is value in being able to use the governor’s office in ways that help re-election campaigns. It’s an advantage of the incumbency and short of a state law that mandates sitting governors cannot hold meetings outside the capitol during their first terms, there’s nothing that says a governor cannot be gubernatorial and reap re-election points at the same time.
Watching campaign finance reports and looking for reimbursements from the campaigns for use of state facilities, equipment, and people might give us clues to the motivations behind these events. That that’s only if the governor admits there’s a campaign purpose behind things like trips to Springfield and Independence to announce that he’s going on a trip.