"First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Guest Op Ed: Will Jay Nixon Uphold His Constitutional Duties as Governor, Or Will He Be Swayed By Political Self-Interests?

October 30th, 2008 by mopns · No Comments

By Bernie McCann

Before you go to the polls Tuesday and vote for a governor candidate, you should ask one question about Attorney General Jay Nixon: If elected, will he uphold his constitutional duties as governor, or will he be swayed by political self-interests? For guidance, you need to look no further than what has become known as the school funding adequacy trial.

In 2004, about half of the state’s school districts, represented by two coalition groups, sued the state saying its level of school funding was too low. This was a complex case, requiring a deep examination of statutory and constitutional questions. At the heart of the case is the state constitution’s requirement that 25 percent of revenues be dedicated to public school funding. The schools argued that the constitution also required that the state provide adequate levels of funding. In other words, if 25 percent isn’t enough, the legislature is compelled to provide more funding.

If the schools prevailed, taxpayers likely would have been required to pay more than $1.3 billion in funding each year – a potentially huge burden.

In such suits, Nixon is supposed to defend the constitution, Missouri taxpayers and the legislature. But what did Nixon do in the years following this case? Not much. For a nearly three-year period, starting when the case was filed on Jan. 4, 2004, Nixon’s office took depositions from only two people. And both of those were held in the summer of 2004.

Concerned that the case was soon scheduled to go to trial with an unprepared defense, three individuals, Bevis Schock, Rex Sinquefield and Menlo Smith, filed a motion on Oct. 19, 2006, to intervene as defendants. In the petition, the three noted that while the school districts had designated seven or eight experts, the attorney general’s office hadn’t designated any experts.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan granted the motion on Nov. 8, 2006. It didn’t come without a fight from Nixon’s office, which did not want to share documents with the interveners. Two weeks later, Judge Callahan ruled that the attorney general had to turn over all documents.

The results were almost immediate. Over the next three months, lawyers representing the trio of interveners held more than 52 depositions. The defense of taxpayers finally was in proper hands: Three private citizens who stepped in because Nixon wouldn’t do the job he was elected to do.

In August 2007, Judge Callahan ruled against the schools and in favor of taxpayers. The constitution, he said, required only that the state spend at least 25 percent of revenue on education. The decision was finalized in October 2007 when it was determined that the state was meeting the 25 percent threshold.

Ultimately, Sinquefield put up $800,000 for the interveners, rather than let taxpayers get stuck with that portion of the bill. Despite putting in a half-hearted effort, the attorney general’s spent $1.4 million. The schools spent at least $3.2 million on legal bills – funds that more properly belonged in the classroom. A more vigorous defense from Nixon and his staff might have prompted the schools to drop this faulty lawsuit sooner, and keep more money in schools.

Bernie McCann
Wentzville, MO

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Tags: Decision '08 · Jay Nixon

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  • 1 calle // Nov 2, 2008 at 6:08 pm

    I think this issue is one of the most under-reported issue in the entire Governor’s election. This is the height of cronyism and special-interest pandering–if this doesn’t throw Nixon’s ability to govern fairly into question, I don’t know what does.

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