The end of Jay Nixon

130507_jay_nixon_ap_605Jay Nixon is a substantial politician. He was elected governor of Missouri in 2008 and 2012. Barack Obama lost the state on both occasions. Nixon carried the state by comfortable margins. A Democrat who can convincingly win a Republican leaning state in the Midwest is worth noting. A couple of weeks ago Nixon was someone to watch. He is term-limited as a governor, but a future run at the Senate or even the White House seemed possible. Nixon did not discourage such talk, telling reporters that “the heartland” needed a voice. It was easy to imagine him as an attractive choice for national office.

The events in Ferguson have changed things and we can safely assume that Nixon is in his last public office. It is probable that he will get to serve out the remainder of his term, but even that is not guaranteed. 

The underlying issues in Ferguson remain unclear. An unarmed – though not necessarily unthreatening – civilian was shot dead by a police officer. This is the type of thing that any governor needs to take seriously. An event such as this requires an investigation. That would have been the case even if it had not sparked demonstrations and riots. 

This columnist has no intention of prejudging what an investigation might have turned up. It would be unfair to assume the police were necessarily in the wrong. But the police have to understand the law. It goes with the job. If someone is shot then questions have to be asked. Justice must not only be done but it must be seen to be done. The community needs to be reassured that the matter is being taken seriously and the police officer has to do something more than merely assure his friends and union representative that it was a righteous killing. 

Such a situation should not be difficult for a politician. It is not hard to say reassuring words and to tell people that you take their concerns seriously while simultaneously refusing to prejudge the issue. Nixon is a former Attorney General of the state, so he really should not find it hard to tread this line, delicate as it is. 

It should not be difficult to make it clear to everyone that he is demanding answers. He wants to know the full circumstances. There will be an investigation. Even without the complicating racial angle – the dead civilian was black, and the black community is mistrustful of the police – and even without the riots it is incumbent on any state governor to show that such issues are important. 

So, why, then, did it take Nixon three days to make his first statement on the matter. If he was too scared of the powerful police union to make a comment on the shooting could he not at least indicate that he is generally against looting and arson? Or would that offend the politically influential community leaders? If silence was meant to avoid offence it has backfired: it offended everyone. When he finally commented he said he was going to the area – a suburb of St Louis, just a couple of hours from the state capital. He also decided to skip the state fair. As one cynic commented on Facebook “so he’s going to miss the pie eating contest. Big deal.” Career over.

qlQuentin Langley is a Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the University of Bedfordshire Business School as well as a freelance columnist published in the UK and all parts of the US. He blogs on social media and crisis communications at brandjacknews.com

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