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Governor Jay Nixon Calls Proposed Ban on Lobbyists Buying Meals for Lawmakers a "Cosmetic" Change

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http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/governorja_5764.mp3

Last January, Jay Nixon was sworn in as Governor of Missouri. KSMU’s Missy Shelton recently sat down with Nixon for a one-on-one interview. They talked about ethics and what he’s learned during his first year on the job as governor.

Sitting in a front room of the Governor’s Mansion in Jefferson City, I had the chance to talk with Governor Jay Nixon and his wife, Georganne.

Shelton: Let’s talk about some of the issues that have brought what’s been called a cloud over the legislature, the indictments and charges filed against a former lawmaker. Is there a crisis of confidence in state government as a result of these things?Nixon: First of all, I’m very glad leaders of the House and Senate in a bi-partisan way are coming forward with ethics bills already. We’ll be rolling ours out in the next few weeks. It will be a comprehensive package. But when you have House and Senate, Democrats and Republicans, all agree it’s time to toughen Missouri’s ethics laws, it’s good for all of us. It will give us the opportunity to strengthen Missouri’s laws, build up a little more confidence in the public in this process of government and give us a chance to show once again how we’re different than what goes on in Washington, D.C. So we’ll look at all the measures that have been introduced but I am very hopeful that this is the year the Missouri legislature will move forward to limit some conduct which has been problematic. It’s just wrong to be a legislator and at the same time be a lobbyist. There are a number of things that are extremely obvious that need to be fixed and it’s my hope and expectation that this will bet he year we do it.Shelton: You were in the senate. Based on your own experience, do you have a sense that a ban on lobbyist wining and dining lawmakers will truly reduce PAC influence on the legislature?Nixon: It may have a cosmetic effect. To make a real difference, you’ve got to get at the money itself, not just the appearance. When you have no limits on contributions, when you have a shady system that can allow committee to committee transfer of dollars so you don’t even know where the dollars are coming from, when you allow a member of the legislature to hire another member of the legislature as their political consultant at the same time they’re asking to get bills out, these are laws that need to be changed, need to be toughened. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples of unacceptable conduct that reflect the weakness of those laws.Shelton: What’s been the biggest surprise of this year for you in your first year as governor?Nixon: A couple of things. People support the state and they want the chief executive and most importantly, the state to succeed. After being in the legislature and then 16 years as the chief law enforcement officer of the state, I was often in a number of contentious matters: suing people, putting people in jail. Not to say that wasn’t rewarding but often times, it was very contentious. I found it interesting people want the state to succeed and Georganne and I we feel that from folks as they interact with us. The second part is I’ve become a much better listener. People value their moment in time in which they get to talk directly to a governor. They will think for a number of hours, days or weeks about what they want to say. So in all the thousands of Missourians I’ve met in the last year across the state, what they have to say is very important and well prepared. When you’re attorney general, you’re an advocate. You were pushing a position. That was a position of contention. This is more of a position of consensus. I think expanding my listening skills, listening to what people say, and actually hearing from them many things that are interesting and useful has been a real eye-opener for me.Shelton: What did you learn from what some have called e Coli-gate?Nixon: Once I heard the information hadn’t gotten out, I said, “Get that information out.” It’s a big government. There are lots of people out there who are under the responsibility of the governor and you’ve got to get information out to the public in an effective way. But the other thing I hope everyone learns from this is we’ve got to clean up our water in the state. We’ve got to make sure our lakes and our streams are protected. I hope the same level of energy that was shown by some folks who wanted to be critical about this will also be used when it comes to critically changing the laws and the rules of the state so we don’t have the problem of this: sewage in a big lake, chemicals or whatever. I’m hoping we can use the problem of this to help clean up lakes and rivers all over the state.Shelton: You’ve been listening to my recent conversation with Governor Jay Nixon.