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Missouri Gov. Nixon On Preparing For Disaster (And Getting His 'Chainsaw Rights' Back)

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Elle Moxley
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KCUR 89.3
Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon traded his usual business suit for a ripstop jacket during a stop in Lee's Summit Thursday. 'It's in the car,' the governor joked. 'I can go get it.'

“I love the chainsaw guys,” Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon interrupts.

Dwain Carter, director of disaster relief for the Missouri Baptists, is trying to tell the group what his organization does in the aftermath of a tornado. Often tree limbs and wooden structures need to be removed by chainsaw crews. But Carter lets the governor continue.

“They’re true maniacs,” Nixon says. “I love them. I told someone else, the reason I’m so jealous is because Georgeanne (Nixon's wife), since we’ve been living in the Governor’s Mansion, she won’t let me have a chainsaw. She’s worried I’ll cut down a tree or do something dangerous. So I’ve got 74 more days to be governor, and then I get chainsaw rights back.”

Not that he’s counting.

Nixon was in Lee’s Summit Thursday, part of a statewide emergency preparedness tour. He met with leaders of faith-based organizations that assist during disasters and announced $4 million in funding for Americorps volunteers.

Nixon has led the state through a number of natural disasters, most notably the 2011 Joplin tornado. But the story he likes to tell is about the tornado that swept through Sedalia not long after. A blind woman and her service dog were separated during the storm.

“So this woman just stood in her yard after the tornado passed, figuring that someone would help her somehow, and this little girl brought back that dog,” Nixon says. “The woman asked, ‘How’s my house?’”

According to Nixon, the little girl told the woman she should think about getting a new house.

And while the story got a chuckle, the governor didn’t mean it as a punchline.

“One of the things I’ve learned is there aren’t any good flood jokes or ice storm jokes or tornado jokes,” Nixon says. “This stuff just isn’t that funny.”

Nixon says he’s proud that Missouri is better prepared today than when he took office nearly eight years ago.

“Generally, especially during election season, you don’t see very many ads saying we, the government, are doing a good job,” he says. “But these folks up here?”

Seated on Nixon’s left was Jackson County Emergency Manager Mike Curry, who this summer oversaw a statewide earthquake drill.

Curry says his son once said it must be nice to only work when there’s an emergency.

“That’s like telling a professional football player they only work on Sundays, Curry says. “Nobody sees the training, all the things you go through so you can get to the point where you can play the game.”

Nixon says the state is also working in a lot of areas the public doesn’t necessarily see, especially on health-related issues.

“We were the first certified H1N1 test state laboratory, and also an Ebola regional testing laboratory so we didn’t have to wait for CDC,” Nixon says. “Foodborne illnesses, we do a lot that testing there, as well as potential terrorist acts – anthrax and things of that nature.”

Also Thursday, Nixon announced additional funding for levees to protect Missouri farmland from flooding as part of Safer, Stronger Missouri Week.

Elle Moxley is a reporter for KCUR. You can reach her on Twitter @ellemoxley.