JEFFERSON CITY - Missouri's Medicaid talks turned into a turf war Tuesday, after Gov. Jay Nixon canceled a scheduled meeting with lawmakers in response to their demand for a change in venue.
Early this month, Nixon invited the House and Senate Interim Committees on Medicaid to meet with him and his administration at an administration office across the street from his mansion.
One week before the meeting, the chairmen of the committees -- Rep. Jay Barnes, R-Jefferson City, and Sen. Gary Romine, R-Farmington -- accepted the invitation, on the condition the meeting be held in the Capitol building as part of a regular committee session.
Nixon replied, saying the move was an attempt at turning the talks into a political game.
"I can only conclude that this last-minute change of heart demonstrates that, as we saw last session, you and your leadership have chosen to give politics precedence over the substance of the discussion," Nixon wrote in his letter.
Barnes defended the decision saying that having the meeting in the Capitol building would put lawmakers and the governor on an even playing field.
"We've agreed to meet where legislative committees have always met and to do it in a way that is the same structure that legislative committees follow when they meet," Barnes said. "The Governor has said no to that meeting."
Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, said he wasn't surprised at the governor's decision to call off the talks.
"If we have to meet at a Pizza Hut to get this done then I'm happy to meet at a Pizza Hut," Webber said. "It's frustrating when you politically just can't even set the grounds to talk to eachother."
While legislative committees have met in locations across the state, including a Jefferson City country club, Barnes said the session the governor proposed was different."Nobody can remember a substantive meeting happening outside of this Capitol building," Barnes said.
Barnes had been one of Nixon's best allies among Republican legislators last session in pursuing an overhaul of Medicaid that would include expansion of eligibility, although not as high as Nixon had proposed.
When Nixon first announced his planned meeting with legislators, Barnes had expressed frustration that the governor's staff would not negotiate the format nor the timing of the meeting -- just two days before Thanksgiving and at a time committee members did not plan to be in the statehouse.
Nixon was not available for comment on his decision to cancel the session.
There is only two blocks separating the two venues, but statements from both Nixon and Barnes indicate that in Missouri, this year's Medicaid debate will have to begin with location, location, location.