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Opinion

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is a national embarrassment

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Beltway Confidential,Opinion,Missouri,Race and Diversity,Jay Nixon,Becket Adams,Ferguson

As new details regarding the death of 18-year-old Ferguson, Mo., resident Michael Brown slowly come to light, some casting doubt on previous media narratives, Gov. Jay Nixon, D-Mo., has proven to be nothing short of a national embarrassment.

Indeed, from his tardy response to an event that occurred nearly two weeks ago to his fumbling remarks regarding Darren Wilson, the police officer at the center of the tragedy, Nixon’s handling of the volatile and often violent situation in Ferguson has been inexcusable.

When he's not shirking his responsibilities and hiding from a situation that requires some form of leadership, Nixon is jamming his foot in his mouth all the way up to the knee.

“From the outset, I have been clear about the need to have a vigorous prosecution of this case, and that includes minimizing any potential legal uncertainty,” the Missouri governor said Tuesday in a statement posted online.

This remark is problematic for two reasons.

First, the governor has not been clear “from the outset” on the situation in Ferguson. As I have noted, Nixon shamefully hid from the initial chaos following Brown’s death, responding only after the outcry from the media became too great to ignore.

“If people got things to say, they’ll say them, and if people from the news media want to cover stuff and take pictures of things, they ought to do it. We live in a free country,” Nixon eventually said at a gathering that took place a full five days after the shooting. “That voice needs to be heard, and we want to help make sure that it is heard. It doesn’t much matter to me how respectful it is, it’s just got to be safe.”

Second, Nixon's “vigorous prosecution” remarks have confused good-faith efforts made by investigators to get to the bottom of the shooting, leading to confusion over whether the Missouri governor had called for the prosecution of Wilson.

Indeed, Nixon’s remarks were so unclear that a spokesman for his office was forced to clarify them.

“The governor’s comments yesterday were not intended to indicate prejudgment in this matter," Nixon spokesman Scott Holste said Wednesday in a statement to U.S. News.

“The governor used the term ‘prosecution’ to refer to all duties and responsibilities of the prosecuting attorney, including the exercise of prosecutorial discretion; whether and what evidence to present to the grand jury; the filing of criminal charges if supported by the evidence; representing the state if charges are brought; and ultimately ensuring that justice is served,” Holste added.

But the damage has already been done: Several media analysts and lawmakers had already seized on Nixon’s remarks and questioned whether the governor had chosen a side in the ongoing investigation.

“It’s really heartbreaking to see a man elected to an office that high in our state government, the chief executive of Missouri state government, come out with a statement like that that does prejudge the case,” Missouri Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, said in an interview Tuesday.

So it appears that when he’s not shirking his responsibilities and hiding from a situation that requires some form of leadership, Nixon is jamming his foot in his mouth all the way up to the knee.

Missouri’s governor has proven in the case of Ferguson to be incompetent, flailing, inattentive, fumbling and paralyzed by the events around him. He has failed entirely to take control of the situation, delegating the heavy lifting to his subordinates, and his feigned "outrage" at the behavior of state law enforcement officials is most likely an act meant to placate an angry press.

Nixon has led from behind, stumbling all along the way, and for this, he is a great national embarrassment.

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