While the traditional Ham Breakfast offered a hot meal to several of the state’s political figures in attendance at the Missouri State Fair on Thursday, “Governor” was “86’d” from the menu as Gov. Jay Nixon cited the need to travel to Ferguson in the midst of continuing civil unrest related to the police shooting of unarmed teenager Mike Brown.
It is unclear how many times, if ever, the Missouri governor has missed the traditional breakfast during its 62 years. Several of Missouri’s elected leaders, such as U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, Missouri House Speaker Tim Jones and State Auditor Tom Schweich, were at the event and many of them applauded Nixon’s decision to focus on the crisis in the St. Louis suburb.
“We have a very serious situation in St. Louis right now and it seems like it is escalating and then calming down in waves,” said Jones, R- Eureka. “So, a lot of us have been calling on the governor as the chief executive officer of the state to show some leadership on this issue.”
While saying the real tragedy is “the loss of a young man’s life” and that there is no way to restore to his family the loss they have suffered, Blunt also agreed Nixon made the right decision in skipping the ham and eggs and traveling to the troubled community.
“Clearly the problem in Ferguson is a problem and I don’t have any argument with the governor’s decision. That should be his priority today,” Blunt said. “I hope that we can quickly see that community restored to a sense of feeling that they understand what happened and anything that needed to be corrected in the future is.”
Blunt was also asked about one demand of the group Anonymous, an infamous international collective of computer hackers, that legislation titled the “Mike Brown Law” requiring law enforcement to wear a camera while on duty be introduced. There is currently a petition for the legislation on change.org.
“We need to remember here the hard job that law enforcement officers have. You don’t want to make that job needlessly more difficult,” Blunt said. “In this case, you need to make sure that people know what happened, you have an open and transparent investigation. I’ve been doing all I can to encourage an investigation that has parallels going on so that everybody can arrive at the same conclusions and the right conclusions.”
News of the governor’s absence came through a tweet at 10:45 p.m. Wednesday stating, “Canceling all appearances at the @MoStateFair to visit North #STL County tomorrow. Statement to follow.”
A press release was issued from his office later in the evening.
“The worsening situation in Ferguson is deeply troubling, and does not represent who we are as Missourians or as Americans. While we all respect the solemn responsibility of our law enforcement officers to protect the public, we must also safeguard the rights of Missourians to peaceably assemble and the rights of the press to report on matters of public concern,” Nixon said.
“I have been closely monitoring the situation and will continue to be in communication with local leaders, and I will be in north St. Louis County tomorrow. As Governor, I am committed to ensuring the pain of last weekend’s tragedy does not continue to be compounded by this ongoing crisis. Once again, I ask that members of the community demonstrate patience and calm while the investigation continues, and I urge law enforcement agencies to keep the peace and respect the rights of residents and the press during this difficult time.”
The Governor’s Ham Breakfast is a traditional gathering of Missouri elected officials, leaders in agriculture and supporters of the Missouri State Fair. Missouri State Fair Director Mark Wolfe said that while he was disappointed Nixon could not attend, he understood and was pleased with the event overall.
“I think that’s a question of importance. There is an issue going on that they need to attend to and I certainly understand that,” Wolfe said. “We hate for him to not be here, but that was a decision that was up to them and I think it was probably the right decision on their behalf.”
Wolfe said despite Nixon’s absence, he thinks the event was a success, especially the auctions.
“I think it’s a great crowd, absolutely. We set a record on two items so that’s good. A very generous bunch of folks and it goes to a good cause. A lot of fun, a great breakfast and it’s a good opportunity for everybody to get together and visit once a year,” Wolfe said.
Proceeds from the auction of the Grand and Reserve Grand Champion Hams, Grand Champion Bacon and Limited Edition Belt Buckle are used by the Missouri State Fair Foundation to pay premiums to winning exhibitors and to provide scholarships for youth in agriculture.
Several Republican statewide candidates such as Catherine Hanaway, the state’s former House speaker who will run for governor in 2016, and Eric Schmitt, a state senator from Glendale who will run for state treasurer, attended the breakfast. Will Kraus, a Sedalia native and state senator from Kansas City, offered some remarks on his bid for Missouri Secretary of State in 2016.
“The Secretary of State’s Office is very important for elections and small business,” Kraus said. “Two areas I have really focused on in the Missouri Senate are making sure elections are fair and secure and also making sure we reduce the regulations on filings and business startups.”