Do two of the biggest Democratic cheeses in the state think of the Sierra Club’s Ken Midkiff as a cranky old man? Could be.
But Midkiff is just trying to keep our governor and our attorney general honest.
He’s publicly kvetching about Governor Nixon breaking a campaign promise to “protect our state parks and historic sites.” Midkiff contends that “environmental groups supported Nixon, a Democrat, in last year’s election because they believed Nixon would protect state parks and historic sites.”
To understand Midkiff’s rebuke, you have to know the backstory. Nixon spoke last September at the historic village of Arrow Rock, which had been threatened with a 4800-head hog CAFO, and insisted that the role of the DNR was to regulate polluters. That would be a refreshing (excuse the pun) change, because under Matt Blunt, the DNR regularly carried water for Big Ag.
Specifically, the DNR challenged a ruling by Judge Patricia Joyce that could have affected the entire state. She had ruled that no CAFO could be built within fifteen miles of Arrow Rock, then later changed the buffer zone to two miles. The intended hog CAFO was not, in fact, built, but the contentious issue of buffer zones remained.
The DNR, under Blunt, filed suit to appeal Joyce’s decision, not wanting any precedent for buffer zones created. So far, the DNR, under Nixon, has continued the appeal. Nixon’s administration says it is now considering whether to continue its appeal.
What’s to consider? The appeal is nothing but Big Ag being a Big Bully. And Midkiff says:
“Apparently, gubernatorial candidate Nixon’s statements and Gov. Nixon’s actions are two completely different things.”
Midkiff’s other appearance in state news within this last week was his criticism of Attorney General Chris Koster’s ruling that the DNR had not broken the Sunshine Law when it failed to release data showing an E. Coli outbreak last May at the Lake of the Ozarks. Midkiff had filed the complaint that led to Koster’s investigation because Midkiff knew that at least four reporters had requested the information by e-mail and phone calls. The then deputy director Joe Bindbeutel had not released the data to them.
Koster’s rationale for the ruling was that the reporters had not actually used the phrase “Sunshine Law” in making their requests. Although Koster granted that Bindbeutel should have released the data in a timely fashion, Koster didn’t think the DNR had technically broken the law.
What? The reporters forgot to say “Simon says”? This was not a children’s game, and remembering to use the phrase “Sunshine Law” has not been required in the past before someone could get information.
Charles Davis, executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition and an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism, said:
“It raises the question of whether you can violate the Sunshine law at all. … We are getting a little too technical when we are splitting hairs about whether something in a request says ‘Sunshine request.'”
Midkiff went further, allowing as how he was “‘extremely disappointed'” in the conclusions of the AG’s report and adding:
“It now appears that the AG’s Office conducted the investigation in a shabby manner and in a partisan snowjob fashion.”
As a result of the dustup, Bindbeutel was reassigned: he’s now at the Administrative Hearing Commission. Two of the other DNR staff who were involved are still at the same jobs. Koster’s attitude is that Bindbeutel made a mistake but that he has served the state well for fifteen years. Midkiff feels less kindly. His press release says:
Instead of exoneration, we have asked for termination of Earl Pabst, Deputy Director of DNR, and have further asked that letters of reprimand be placed in the personnel files of Joe Bindbeutel and Susanne Medley (There has been no response to these requests, to this date.)
Ken can be such a curmudgeon. Thank goodness.