Doyle “hitman” Childers will soon, like the governor who ordered the hits, be history. He has resigned his post as head of the Department of Natural Resources and will be gone from the DNR by January 12, if not before.
So long, Mr. Childers, but I’m not wishing you farewell, auf wiedersehen, or good-bye. You deserve none of those. Seeing the backside of you is one of the rewards of getting Nixon elected.
Ken Midkiff of the Sierra Club published an editorial explaining how the DNR has been politicized. Directors usually let the governor know when they plan a controversial action, but for the last four years, the tail has wagged the dog: Blunt has frequently ordered Childers to do his bidding, sometimes using him as a front man even on matters that didn’t pertain to the DNR:
While, no doubt, Director Childers informed Gov. Blunt of proposed controversial actions (such as awarding an operating permit to a 65,500-chicken operation near Roaring River State Park), there is also little doubt that the governor was calling the shots on the Boonville lift bridge controversy, which pitted our attorney general against the DNR director and the governor.
In other situations, Childers challenged Attorney General Jay Nixon on non-environmental matters – such as the amount of money Nixon had “wasted” on unsuccessful lawsuits. There is little doubt that the governor preferred that Childers take the lead on such issues.
The governor even went so far as to call upon DNR’s legal counsel – Kurt Schaefer, now our state senator – to defend the sexist actions of Fred Farrell, the director of the Department of Agriculture, who called his secretary a “show dog” and said she should enter a wet-T-shirt contest. State Treasurer Sarah Steelman refused to cut a check for the negotiated settlement, saying the taxpayers shouldn’t pick up the tab for a “get out of jail” card for Farrell’s actions.
The bottom might have been reached in this politicization when Blunt and Childers had a meeting with the editorial board of the Joplin Globe, a newspaper in southwestern Missouri. It seems the Globe had taken an editorial stance against concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and, in particular, the aforementioned chicken growing operation near Roaring River State Park. Blunt and Childers saw CAFOs as economic development tools, and the meeting with the Globe editor and reporters was held in an attempt to get the Globe folks to change their position.
In the words of one reporter present at the meeting, “We listened politely and then continued doing what we had been doing.” What is remarkable – and probably unprecedented – is that the governor and DNR director traveled more than 180 miles to speak with the editorial board of a second-tier city newspaper to tout their pro-CAFO position.
While there is little doubt that CAFOs pollute, are economically ruinous and are harmful to humans – many credible scientific studies have documented this – the DNR director knew of these studies and chose to ignore them and to advocate for more CAFOs.
Clean air? Clean water? Land stewardship? All of these suffered mightily during Childers’ tenure as DNR director.
The statutory duty of DNR is to protect our state’s natural resources. In his zeal to protect those who would foul the air, water and land to externalize costs, Childers failed in this duty, and he failed mightily. The legacies of the Blunt/Childers years: more impaired water bodies, air in Kansas City and St. Louis is more foul and rural lands across the state are subjected to pesticides, herbicides, over-fertilization and erosion.
It will take many years for our natural resources to recover. Whomever Jay Nixon nominates to be DNR director will spend much of his or her time cleaning up after Childers.
Will there be dancing in the streets of Roaring River and Arrow Rock when Childers has turned in his keys and the door has slammed behind him? Or just an exhausted sigh, buttressed by the hope that the next DNR director will appreciate the scientific arguments against CAFOs. At least, Childers’ successor surely won’t defile our state parks by allowing atrocities close by them that stink so much it’s like having your nasal cavities augured out with a sewage slimed roto rooter.