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Previously: Governor Jay Nixon at Missouri Boys State: Q and A on Arizona’s SB 1070

Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (D) addressed Boys State participants at the University of Central Missouri on Sunday evening.

Governor Jay Nixon (D): [….] First of all, I think we have to really focus on making sure that education really matters in this state. And when I say education matters I focus for, for talented students like y’all, not just on, you know, getting out of high school. Everybody here is gonna graduate from high school and do it next year and do it real well and all that sort of stuff. But, it’s what do you do after that…

…It’s a much different world than it was when I was your age. When I was your age we could get a job in the summer, go to the University of Missouri, went on to law school, never borrow a dime, pay for school with a little help from your parents, get out with no debt, get your first job you got and buy a car or buy a house, and get going. It’s been fundamentally changed. And it’s something we gotta turn because right now students graduate with tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Tuition skyrocketing, and, and students not in a position to do much about it other than sign the bottom line and spend the next ten years, fifteen years after they graduate being in significant debt. Uh, to get a average middle aged, excuse me, middle class person graduating from law school or med school, graduates from Missouri with, you know, a hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand dollars debt. In essence, paying for education for the next ten to fifteen years. Now, I talked about that when I ran and we’re trying to turn the corner on that. Missouri is the only state, we, we negotiated deals with the higher education community and Missouri’s the only state in the country that in last two years we haven’t seen a single penny increase, I’ve negotiated deals to make sure we didn’t get a single penny increase in tuition or fees., uh, beginning to, hopefully, turn that. But, that, that’s just to kind of, a policy position. I think the more fundamental and more significant thought position is how do we use both economic development tools as well as the education infrastructure, if you will, of our state to make sure that people have careers in the future, not jobs. Let me differentiate between those two and I’ll say two other things and I’ll open it for questions.

It is really important that people, when they complete their higher education, that they have a view towards more independence, financial, intellectual, that they get these tools. That they don’t just show up at the work place and work nine to five and get a paycheck and walk in lockstep. That people have to have that spark, that spark of creativity, that spark of courage, that spark of challenge. And when you think about the show me state, we’ve had a lot of people that have met that challenge.  Go to Marcelline, Missouri. Young kid born there about seventy years ago, very creative, worked his way up, that young man, obviously was Walt Disney, built the largest entertainment enterprise in the world.  Go down to Marshfield, Missouri, as you drive there, there’s a little sign on there, home of Professor Hubble, Hubble telescope is above us. A young man who came from Marshfield, Missouri  to be the outstanding astronomer of our age. You can go on, on down the list, and I don’t need to make that list. But once again, that use of education, that use of opportunity, that use of independence, that not acceding your thought processes to a very quick moving information age in which decisions are made in fifteen or twenty seconds, in which people text each other and do all the other stuff . It’s, we have got to become, once again, more creative, a more entrepreneurial, a more risk taking, education based, futuristic economy.  If we don’t, if we cede that ground to the Chinese, or cede that ground to the Europeans then we will have not carried the torch that has been given to us by folks that came before us.

I want to, I’ve got a piece I want to comment on real quickly here before I start taking questions. But, I’ve been able to speak at Boys State now almost every year since nineteen ninety-three.  And I can tell you that one of the many great things about Boys State is how you are able to experience both politics and governing and come to recognize that they’re different.  They’re not the same thing.  They’re both necessary tools, but they’re not the same thing. To know what politics is you kind of have to understand what governing is. Because if you engage in politics for the right reasons, you play fair and you win, everybody here will run for something this week, the prize for politics is governing. Now governing is service, it’s quite, it’s pretty much that simple.  If you don’t have a deep driving commitment to serve then you should just kind of stay out of the governing piece. And if you have no business in governing you have really no business in politics, because otherwise it’s just an avocation, it’s a game to be played. Governing means serving the public by insuring that the business of government runs smoothly and efficiently. It is a way for the people to do better things collectively than they could do themselves. If governing is service then politics is supposed to be the public debate about what services should be provided and how best to provide it. Everyone pretty much agrees on some of the basic services that government should provide, you know, roads, schools, law enforcement. But even on these basic issues there is and should be constant debate on how to best deliver those services.  But in recent years we have seen a new generation of politicians who have neither the ability nor the inclination to engage in real political debate. Instead they are single issue salesmen or saleswomen hoping they can convince fifty-one percent of the electorate to become single issue voters.  To these politicians, “them” has become a new evil in America because they have no ideas about governance, no real interest in the issues anyway.  They cannot engage in true political debate, instead they use the weakest of ultimate political debate, trying to divide people and say what’s wrong with things. I’ll have to tell you folks we’re very good at it, if I want to, if I want to do that I can, I can criticize, you can criticize, you can say what’s wrong. The more you can demonize your opponent or his supporters the less need there is to debate the issues. Campaigns then to, come to resemble a fight to the death gladiator match, in the old time coliseum, rather than debate about what services government and the people should provide and how. The, the bigger point of this is not to be distracted from the substance.

My golly, y’all are giving up a week of your lives, you’re coming up here in a very uncertain way, to interact with a bunch of goofballs from other cities all across the state, don’t let it, don’t, don’t, when you go back, don’t, don’t, don’t be less substantive for the process of understanding politics, be more substantive.  You didn’t get to be one of those selected to go to Boys State by being someone who didn’t think for themselves. Thinkers analyze and consider all sides of a debate before coming to a conclusion. They don’t let others assign them positions on issues so that they lose the responsibility to think about it.

One of my other pet peeves I talk about each year is do not be a single issue voter. If you fall into a single issue voter then, then, it, it’s, become informed on the issues, especially ones that impact you whether you know it or not. Then transform that information into action. Not only this week, but take from this week, if you’re gon
na leave here with just one skill, one acquired opportunity, is that to not tolerate intellectual weakness and laziness when it comes to choosing the direction of our state and country. Be a participant, be engaged, challenge the status quo if you so desire. But don’t be assigned a position on an issue. Independent thought, don’t be a heard of lemmings heading to the sea. Be individual thinkers….[applause]