Transcript Staff Writer
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Somewhere in most modern political campaigns, the candidates accuse each other of slinging mud.
In the race for Oklahoma attorney general, the substance being slung is chicken poop -- lots and lots of chicken poop.
Farm groups, poultry producers, the governor of Arkansas and Republican attorney general candidate, James Dunn, all accuse incumbent Attorney General Drew Edmondson of using chicken poop for political reasons.
The groups site Edmondson's lawsuit against Arkansas poultry companies as proof of their claim, and accuse Edmondson of filing the suit solely for political reasons. Edmondson counters, saying the chicken litter from Arkansas poultry companies is fouling Oklahoma waterways and the producers won't do anything to stop the problem.
Recently Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee -- in town to raise money for Republican candidates -- accused Edmondson of "demonizing" the poultry industry. "Unfortunately, your attorney general is not interested in resolving the situation, he's more interested in headlines," Huckabee said in a published news story. "It's a great political platform for him."
Edmondson's opponent, James Dunn, echoed Huckabee.
Dunn said if he is elected attorney general he would move to immediately dismiss the suit.
"We need to protect our agricultural industry," he said earlier this year. "The attorney general's suit is a threat to that industry."
Edmondson, however, is unfazed.
"The issue is about water," he said. "The issue is simply about making sure Oklahoma has clean water -- nothing more."
Frustrated after several years of failed negotiations, Edmondson said he filed suit against eight poultry firms -- including corporate giant Tyson Foods Inc. -- because the chicken poop used as fertilizer near the Illinois river contains hazardous chemicals, such as phosphorus, which damage the environment and the area's tourism.
"They're not fertilizing, they're dumping," Edmondson said in an interview with the Washington Post. "My concern is for the environment. My concern is for the lake and the river, which I'm watching being degraded before my eyes, literally."
Edmondson also had harsh words for Huckabee.
In a statement released following Huckabee's visit, Edmondson called Huckabee "a poultry company apologist" and said Huckabee "should be ashamed" of the poor job Arkansas has done in regulating the poultry industry.
"It is clear they (poultry producers) run his state," Edmondson said. "Just like me, most Oklahomans care more about clean water than anything Gov. Huckabee has to say."
And, Dunn, Edmondson said, isn't interested in clean water.
"James Dunn has done nothing to help Oklahomans," he said. "He would allow these companies to pollute the water."
Dunn countered, saying Edmondson's suit against out-of-state poultry producers was "just a license to steal...like he did last time."
"The poultry case is about the fees Edmondson wants to pay his buddy, Mike Turpen," Dunn said.
Earlier this year, Dunn said Edmondson's lawsuit "would devastate" the state's agriculture industry. He said the poultry industry, working with state officials in Oklahoma and Arkansas, could use a "cooperative spirit" to clean up pollution. "Oklahoma has a history of fixing problems," he said. "They (the poultry industry) could do like the Oklahoma Energy Resources Board. There, the oil industry cleaned up its abandoned well sites."
Dunn's charges have been echoed by various poultry groups in Arkansas and Oklahoma.
Keith Morgan, a spokesman for Poultry Partners, Inc., claimed a fact sheet presented to the Oklahoma Scenic River Commissioners by state Secretary of Environment Miles Tolbert -- on Edmondson's behalf -- was "a display of inaccurate information."
In an editorial printed this summer, Morgan said Tolbert and Edmondson "failed to do their jobs" in providing current and correct data for the commissioners.
As an example, Morgan cites the number of poultry houses and the tons of litter they produce.
"If the two didn't do their homework and they really don't know how many active poultry houses are in the watershed or how much litter is generated in those houses, that is a display of incompetence on their part," Morgan wrote. "We find it hard to believe they aren't aware of the number of poultry houses or tons of litter they are talking about."
Morgan claims there are only 1,694 poultry houses in the watershed, instead of the 3,057 number used by Edmondson.
The 1,694-house number was a "head count," Morgan said, conducted by the poultry industry as of 4 p.m. on Aug. 29.
Edmondson said Morgan's claim is wrong.
In fact, Edmondson said, he had the actual number of poultry houses counted.
"We sent investigators in the field and visually counted the number of houses," Edmondson said. "And that count was 3,057. I'm not going to go into court without the proper data. That's why went sent people to count the houses."
Surveys show the anti-chicken poop message is being well received.
An Oct. 9 poll from TVpoll.com -- which is owned by OU political science professor Keith Gaddy -- showed 54.9 percent of the voters supported Edmondson, while Dunn's support was listed at 30.2 percent. Undecided voters accounted for almost 15 percent. Those numbers, Edmondson said, prove he's doing the right thing.
"I don't live and die by polls," he said. "I don't make decisions that way. But that data shows me that Oklahomans are concerned about clean water and they want an attorney general who will work for them."
Still the chicken poop continues to fly.
Dunn says Edmondson is a major player in the "good ol' boy" network. "He's just trying to help his friends," the Luther Republican charges.
Those charges, Edmondson says, are bogus.
"Oklahoma politics is a contact sport," he said. "It's not easy, but I figured I've made the conservatives mad with my poultry lawsuit and I've made liberals mad with my stance on the death penalty -- so I believe I'm doing the right thing."
Transcript Staff Writer
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