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At the St. Charles County fundraising banquet Friday night, Jay Nixon told us how he got started in politics. It seems his dad was the mayor in DeSoto and his mother was on the school board, so phone calls at dinnertime were all too common. And when the phone rang, both of them would point at Jay to go answer it. He says that he began his political career in “constituent services” and that it’s no wonder he later pushed the “No Call List” idea.

That’s the humorous side of the story. Jay’s more serious when he explains that his dad became mayor to begin with because DeSoto lacked a sewage treatment plant and the local stream was turning to sludge. When a bond issue for a new plant was walloped at the ballot box, Jay’s dad did some research and learned that federal money was available if the community would apply for a grant and pay a small part of the cost. He ran for mayor on that issue, won, got the grant, got the plant, got the stream cleaned up, and sometimes got fish for dinner that Jay had caught in that stream.  

Nixon says that too many Republicans don’t know the difference between politics and policy. For them, it’s all politics and seldom about helping constituents. He, on the other hand, was raised to take that quaint phrase “public servant” without a hint of irony. And you know what? When he begins to list the issues  that matter to him, his voice vibrates with just that hint of outrage at the way the needs of our citizenry are being ignored that will convince you he’s sincere.

The payday loan industry, for example, made $300 million in profits in this state last year. It’s a slap in the face of Missourians that such usury is allowed to continue.

The way poor people, especially children, were kicked off Medicaid angers Nixon, and he promised to do all he can to provide health care for every child in the state.

But he reserved most of his disgust with Republicans for the travesties they’ve visited on our educational system.

“This war on public education shows a definite and stunning lack of respect for the people who work to educate our young.”

Nixon told us that when his father, who went to school on the GI bill, graduated from college, he had the first dollar he earned signed and framed. Jay himself, likewise, got to keep the first dollar he earned after graduation. OK, it went toward buying a Mustang, but that was his choice.

Nixon hearkened back to the days when the first community colleges were established in Missouri and spoke with pride about his mother, as a local school board member, being one of those who selected the man to head the community college in Jefferson County. Under Republicans, we get, instead of that kind of vision, constant funding cuts in higher education.

And because state universities have been losing funding, tuitions have risen, and many college graduates are saddled with debt.  Monthly payments of $600 for a new graduate aren’t unusual. So Nixon is proposing to expand the A+ program for students whose families earn less than $80,000 a year. As long as those students meet the required academic standards, contribute fifty hours a year of community service, and avoid disciplinary actions, they would be able to graduate from a state school debt free.

They could get the first dollar they earn signed and framed. Or they could start making payments on a Mustang.

I don’t know whether such grand plans can be instituted in the face of Missouri’s coming budget shortfalls. But I believe Nixon is serious about wanting to leave that legacy.