March has been a miserable month for me when it comes to dealing with Republican Party officials in my own backyard.
While most of my interaction about “things Republican” has revolved around the 2012 St. Charles County (Mo.) Republican Presidential Caucus, other interactions have involved GOP members of the Missouri House of Representatives.
During the first week of March, I made multiple attempts to contact several of those representatives with questions I had regarding the “2011 Weldon Spring Cancer Inquiry Report,” a four-page document published by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that was the subject of an exclusive article I broke Jan. 23.
The Weldon Spring Site in St. Charles County, Mo., was contaminated during the production of 2, 4, 6 – trinitrotoluene (TNT) and 2, 4 and 2,6 Dinitrotoluene (DNT) by the U.S. Department of Army from 1941 to 1945 and from enrichment of uranium ore and thorium processing by the Atomic Energy Commission from 1958 to 1966, according to an earlier MDHSS document, the 2005 Weldon Spring Cancer Report.
EDITOR’S NOTE: To learn more background information about this matter, you might want to read my article, Missouri Health Agency Officials Refuse to Answer Questions About New Weldon Spring Cancer Report, before reading the rest of this piece.
Those initial contact attempts, made between March 2 and March 6, involved sending three separate Facebook messages to five state representatives – Kurt Bahr of O’Fallon, Kathie Conway of St. Charles, Chuck Gatschenberger of Lake Saint Louis, Mark Parkinson of St. Peters and Anne Zerr of St. Charles. My goal was to find out what each is doing, or planning to do, to obtain answers for their constituents about the controversial report.
To their credit, Representatives Bahr and Conway replied soon after being contacted. Both admitted they were not extremely familiar with the topic, both explained they were very busy with legislative matters in Jefferson City, and both gave me the initial impression that the matter isn’t likely to become a “front-burner issue” anytime soon.
Sadly, three of the state representatives – Gatschenberger, Parkinson and Zerr (shown below) — chose not to reply, leading me to come up with several possible reasons for their failures to respond:
• They place a low priority on the health and well-being of their constituents who live in the shadow of the Weldon Spring Site 30 miles west of St. Louis;
• They haven’t been asked often enough by their constituents to look into the matter;
• They place a low priority on inquiries from non-mainstream media reporters like me;
• They don’t want to have their names attached to such a potentially-volatile political “hot potato” during an election year;
• They believe ignorance is bliss; or
• Last but not least, it’s possible they don’t check their Facebook messages very often.
On March 7, I decided to give them the benefit of the doubt regarding the Facebook possibility and send the same basic inquiry to all five state representatives via their official state email addresses. Interestingly, the same two representatives who had replied to my Facebook messages replied to the email, and the same three representatives who had not replied to my Facebook messages did not reply to the email.
On the positive side, Representative Conway‘s reply came the same day and seemed to display genuine interest in the issue.
Not so positively, Representative Bahr‘s reply came the following day, was copied to all four of his colleagues, and didn’t leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
After he labeled me “the expert” on the matter at hand, Representative Bahr demanded I offer a solution before he would devote time to the matter. In a “Reply to All” message, I refused the expert label and went on to share my beliefs that elected and unelected state officials must be responsive and that the issues raised in the report are not the kind to be solved quickly. I closed by explaining what, at a minimum, officials at the state health agency should be required to do.
My short to-do list included requiring MDHSS officials to explain how they reached the conclusions they had reached in the report, to answer why they’ve refused to answer any questions from reporters — including Blythe Bernhard at the Post-Dispatch and me — about the report, and to respond to criticism of the report, such as that offered by Washington University Professor Robert Criss in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch article, Report on cancer report from Weldon Spring site assailed. It was published Feb. 20, four weeks after my initial article.
Interestingly, I ran into Representative Parkinson Saturday at the aforementioned caucus (a.k.a., “St. Patrick’s Day Massacre”), a topic about which I’ve written and published nine posts to date (not including this one). He was manning the first chair at a long table of GOP officials processing caucus registrations.
When my turn to register came, I asked Representative Parkinson why he had not responded to any of my messages about Weldon Spring. He said he had not seen them and acted like he didn’t know what I was talking about.
The conversation continued, and Representative Parkinson asked me to provide details about the issue. I told him it was Weldon Spring, that he should read his email from me and — cognizant of the fact that 300 people were waiting behind me in the long caucus registration line — that “now” wasn’t the time or the place to discuss the matter.
As I started to walk away, Representative Parkinson asked if I, as “the expert” on the Weldon Spring matter, would like to discuss it over coffee. I replied by telling him I would prefer to handle the matter more expediently, without wasting more time, via his response to my email message.
Later, while waiting for the caucus to begin inside the larger of two gymnasiums at Francis Howell North High School in St. Peters, Representative Parkinson approached me and again assured me that he had not seen any of my messages. In response, I told him I found it odd that he had referred to me earlier as “the expert” – in much the same way Representative Bahr had in his aforementioned email — even though he said he had not seen any of the messages related to me. The conversation ended there, and I went back to my seat in the bleachers.
A few hours after the caucus ended, Representative Parkinson sent me the Facebook message below, shown verbatim:
Bob…after an exhaustive search of my inbox (email@example.com) I can not find any corresoondence from you on this issue. I don’t check facebook mail often (or at all). Please direct any official correspondence to the above email address.
We can discuss this issue when we sit down to discuss the other.
My response — “Mark – Perhaps you should look more closely. See screenshot of the message to you from my email “SENT” folder. – Bob” — was accompanied by a screenshot (taken March 18 and shown below) as evidence that Representative Parkinson had received the same message that all of his colleagues received.
Is it possible that Representative Parkinson is just computer illiterate? Sure, it’s possible. But I think that’s a stretch.
Instead, I believe he received my message but chose to ignore it. My belief is augmented by the fact that my email message sent to the five state representatives did not produce any bounce-back messages like those I received on a handful of occasions in the past after I had used incorrect email addresses when trying to communicate with Missouri legislators. [FYI: As of this publication, I have still not received any email response from Representative Parkinson.]
Finally, it’s certainly worth noting that I ran into Representative Conway at the caucus, too.
During two brief discussions, she (1) seemed to express genuine interest in the matter, (2) told me she had read the materials to which I had provided links, and (3) gave me the feeling she would follow up on the matter. Then, lo and behold, she contacted me via Facebook message to let me know she had contacted MDHSS and had more questions. So much for that “initial impression” I mentioned early in this piece.
Sadly, the other state representatives’ responses and failures to respond raise more questions then they answer.
That in mind, I would like to offer a suggestion to readers (1) who live in one of the zip codes (63301, 63303, 63304, 63366 and 63376) covered by the cancer report, (2) who live in a zip code near the Weldon Spring Site or (3) who simply think these state legislators should be interested in this matter. Use the information below to contact them in Jefferson City and let them know:
Rep. Kurt Bahr — 573-751-9768 or Kurt.Bahr@house.mo.gov;
Rep. Kathie Conway — 573-751-2250 or Kathie.Conway@house.mo.gov;
Rep. Chuck Gatschenberger — 573-751-3572 or Chuck.Gatschenberger@house.mo.gov;
Rep. Mark Parkinson — 573-751-2949 or Mark.Parkinson@house.mo.gov; and
Rep. Anne Zerr — 573-751-3717 or Anne.Zerr@house.mo.gov.
UPDATE 3/28/12 at 5:12 p.m. Central: Though they don’t have time to investigate serious public health issues, members of the Missouri House of Representatives voted today in favor of making jumping jacks the official state exercise. Hmmm?
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