Public service is not only a privilege for those who serve, but it is also one way to get someone else to make tough decisions so you don’t have to. It is one of the hardest parts of the job.
Being elected means making the hard, unpopular decisions whether you want to or not.
Legislators and city councils make tough decisions about budgets, spending priorities and public policy as part of a team, so their vote does not usually stand out or make the headlines. But when you are in the executive branch, your name is the only one on the dotted line.
Last week, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon used an uncommon gubernatorial power known as the pocket signature. The opposite of a pocket veto, a pocket signature is letting a bill become law by not signing it by the annual July 15 deadline.
Three bills became law last week in this fashion: two identical bills increasing the limits on abortion and one bill that would allow Missouri to enter into a compact with other states to ignore the new federal health care law. For this health care law to take affect in Missouri, the U.S. Congress would have to pass legislation authorizing such a compact.
Some might see this lack of action by Nixon as a “cop out” or a way to ignore his responsibility to approve or disapprove everything that comes across his desk. That's what I thought at first. But upon further reflection, I changed my mind.
In the real world (as opposed to the legislative world,) not every decision is black or white. Very few times in life are decisions so precise.
Many of the decisions we make are more shades of gray. Sometimes we have the luxury of never making the hard decisions at all.
When it comes to highly-partisan issues like abortion and health care, I think the governor did what he should have done—tried to lessen the level of intensity.
By using the rare pocket signature, Gov. Nixon was sending a message. I believe the message was: “Let’s just all chill out for awhile.”
If the governor wanted to veto these items, there would most likely be enough votes in the legislature to override his veto. This would have led to more partisanship and political grandstanding during veto session this September. Instead, our state's economic situation and remedies should be at the center of attention.
Unemployment rates in South County are improving, but at a painstakingly slow pace, just like the rest of the nation.
I believe South County voters want attention on the economy, and things that will affect their lives right now. Hearing politicians debate anything else would be annoying—and do nothing to increase trust in government.
If the governor supported these pieces of legislation, he would have signed them happily into law. My bet is that his pocket signature was a tacit way of disapproving of the bills without giving supporters of the bills a platform to talk about the issues ad nauseum.
In the end, our governor made his decision on his own terms. Many times in public office, we are not presented with the decisions we want to make. Yet problem-solving, regardless of the questions before us, is what public service is all about.