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Fears of Political Grandstanding in Ameren Case

August 7 2006 at 12:32 PM
roger  (Login dipper)

Response to Taum Sauk Pumped Storage Reservoir Disaster

Grandstanding muddies Ameren case

Opposing sides should start acting professionally.

Missourians are going to be really tired of the race for governor by the time the November election gets here. Unfortunately, we don't vote for governor in November.
Election day for this race is nearly two and a half years away. We know who the likely candidates will be: incumbent Republican Gov. Matt Blunt against Democratic Attorney General Jay Nixon.

That contest promises to cast shadows over much of state government's work for the next two years. The current unnecessary unpleasantness over the investigation into Ameren Corp.'s liability in the Taum Sauk Reservoir breach is just a bitter foretaste of what's to come.

The story so far:

A dam holding one billion gallons of water collapsed in December, flooding the Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park.

The Reynolds County prosecuting attorney asked Nixon to investigate the matter as an independent special prosecutor. Nixon's investigation may lead to criminal and civil charges being filed against Ameren.

Earlier this month, it was revealed that Ameren Corp. donated $19,000 in campaign contributions to Nixon's gubernatorial campaign.

At that time, Doyle Childers, director of the Department of Natural Resources, asked Nixon to remove himself from the case.

We did not think it was necessary for Nixon to do that then, and we still don't. The solution, which we said at the time, was for Nixon to return the money. He did. He also pointed out that Gov. Blunt had similar financial links to Ameren.

That should have been the end of the spat. The DNR should have resolved to work with the legal professionals in Nixon's office. Instead, this past week Childers announced that since Nixon would not remove himself, he was taking him off the case and lawyers in his office would work independently on the case.

This move does not change Nixon's course of action at all, said John Fougere, a spokesman for the attorney general's office. Fougere stressed that Childers has no authority to take Nixon off the case.

The action produces a duplication of effort that is not in the best interests of Missouri citizens.

Childers explained he isn't satisfied that Nixon gave the money back to Ameren because he expects that Ameren will simply make another donation in the future.

"Why should the citizens of this state count on someone to represent them and represent their interests when it was obvious that it was only with great reluctance that he returned the money?" Childers said in an interview. "It was too much for me to stomach. It just stinks to high heaven."

Yet, Childers' boss Matt Blunt's hands are not clean either when it comes to dealing with Ameren.

The Democratic Party issued a press release on Friday detailing $86,601 that Ameren had donated to either Matt Blunt's gubernatorial campaign funds or Republican committees since 2003. The Democrats also charged that the lobbying relationship between the governor's brother, Andy Blunt, and Ameren is affecting the way the governor is directing his political appointee Childers to handle the situation.

"It is crystal clear that Matt Blunt is doing everything he can to try and seize control of this investigation so that he can protect his brother's client, Ameren UE," Missouri Democratic Party spokesmen said in a statement.

Crystal clear? Hardly.

This whole situation is being muddied through political grandstanding.

We would expect that professionals in the attorney generals' office and the DNR would work most efficiently if they work together. Unfortunately, that's not happening. Meanwhile, people will grow more cynical about Missouri politics.

This is not good for our electoral process. These politicians need to remember they're not just professional campaigners. They are also public servants, and they need to work together.

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