W. D. Childers

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W. D. Childers
Senate portrait of Childers, circa 1976-78

Florida Senate
In office 1970-2000
Escambia County Commission
District 1
In office 2000-2002

Born November 25, 1933
Crackers Neck, Florida
Spouse Ruth Childers
Children Gail, Jeanna, Karen and Marvel

Wyon Dale (W. D.) Childers (b. 1933) is a former West Florida politician who served 30 years in the State Senate, from 1970 to 2000, including a stint as Senate President from 1980 to 1982 and as dean from 1988 to 2000. He earned the nickname "Banty Rooster" — after the diminutive, swaggering barnyard fowl — and became known for his eccentric mannerisms and colorful, folksy expressions. Childers was popular in his district for the ample state funding and "turkey" projects he sent home, including $12.5 million for the Pensacola Civic Center and the I-110 extension to Gregory Street. Initially a Democrat, he switched to the Republican Party in 1995.

After term limits forced him from the Florida Senate in 2000, Childers ran for the District 1 seat of the Escambia County Commission. He became embroiled in the soccer complex corruption scandal and was found guilty of violating the Florida Sunshine Law and of bribing Commissioner Willie Junior to help push the purchases of two properties, totaling $6.2 million, from Childers' associates Joe and Georgann Elliott.

Childers served nearly three years of a 42-month prison sentence in West Palm Beach and was released on June 17, 2009, after which he relocated away from Pensacola. On June 8, 2010, a federal appeals court overturned the bribery conviction, ruling that Childers' constitutional right to confront his accuser had been violated, as the defense team was not allowed to question Junior on his change of testimony.[1]

Early life & education[edit]

Born on November 25, 1933 in Wright, Florida, then known as Crackers Neck,[2] Wyon Dale Childers attended from Bay County High School and went on to Florida State University, where he met Ruth Adell Johnson. They were married on December 21, 1953, and Childers graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in education in 1955. He became a math teacher and supplemented his salary with roofing work and door-to-door sales. He capitalized on the sale of trendy items — hula hoops in the 50s, color televisions in the 60s — and also practiced real estate.

Florida Senate career[edit]

Childers, center, is sworn in to the Florida State Senate

In 1970 Childers ran for the Florida Senate seat vacated by Reubin Askew, who went on to become a long-serving governor of Florida.

Childers was for many years chair of the General Government Appropriations Committee, which established budgets for most of the state agencies. He was considered a master of so-called "turkey" projects that were tacked on to other bills and sent state funding back to his home district. Some of the local projects that benefitted from his influence included:

He was repeatedly honored by other legislators with Allen Morris Awards: for Most Effective in Debate 1975, '76 and '80; Most Effective in Committee 1978; and Most Effective Member of the Senate, 1979.

In 1980, Childers pushed the state legislature to buy land for the Big Lagoon State Park from Pensacola auto dealer . He was called before a grand jury when it was revealed that he owned another piece of property with Fiveash, and he claimed he had not made the "mental connection" between the two properties. The grand jury cleared him of wrongdoing and praised him as "an example to other public servants who, having sought the public trust, are asked to show that they deserve it."[3]

An argument between Childers and Senator Dempsey Barron nearly comes to blows on the Senate floor

On June 1, 1981, an argument between Childers and Senator Dempsey Barron over a bill nearly resulted in a fight on the Senate floor. Barron later organized a group of legislators that effectively stripped Childers of his power as Senate President.

W. D. Childers
Everybody says they want us to behave like in church. But the truth is, they like to see a good scrap. The most productive things that happened when I was in the Legislature was when we had the most fights. … If you want to make progress and make changes, you've got to get people's dander up.[4]
W. D. Childers

In 1993, Childers worked with attorney Fred Levin to draft legislation that would amend the Florida Medicaid Third Party Recovery Act, enabling the State of Florida to sue the tobacco industry for the costs of treating illnesses caused by cigarette smoking. The bill was pushed through quickly and signed into law by Governor Lawton Chiles before it could attract the attention of the tobacco industry's lobbyists. The legislation ultimately led to a class action lawsuit that yielded a $13.2 billion settlement for the State of Florida.

Term limits[edit]

Due to the "Eight is Enough" constitutional amendment passed by Florida voters in 1992, which limited legislators' terms of office to eight consecutive years, Childers' name was not allowed on the ballot in 2000. He considered running for his Senate seat regardless as a write-in candidate, exploiting a loophole in the amendment's wording — and even received a concession from election officials that would allow voters to write just the letters "W. D." — but later decided to serve as Escambia County Commissioner for one term, until he could constitutionally reclaim his Senate seat.[2]

Escambia County Commission[edit]

Childers ran for the Escambia County District 1 seat formerly held by Mike Whitehead, who was preparing a campaign to challenge Escambia County Clerk of Court Ernie Lee Magaha. Childers' opponents in the race were Democrat Williemae Stanberry and Reform Party candidate Teddy Laviano. Despite a commanding lead over both opponents, Childers ran a series of negative ads in the final weeks of the campaign.

W. D. Childers
They told us that it would cost us 5 to 12 percent if we ran those ads. I had that much to spare. I'd do it again. I like tough campaigning. I imagine I could have raised the percentage points by being Mr. Sweet and Clean, but that ain't W.D., and I've got to be W.D.[5]
W. D. Childers

After the election, Childers appointed Stanberry to an interim post on the Board of Adjustment. She said there were no grudges between them: "We never had a bad relationship — that's just the way W. D. does politics."[4]

On June 7, 2001, Childers replaced Tom Banjanin, who was considering a run against U.S. Representative Joe Scarborough, as commission chairman.[6] He organized a voting bloc with commissioners Willie Junior and Mike Bass that was able to pass any motion over the opposition of Banjanin and Terry Smith. After six county leaders resigned between October '01 and February '02 — county administrator Tom Forrest, assistant administrator Bill Neron, acting administrator Gregg Welstead, county engineer Cindy Anderson, parks and recreation director Mark Thornton, and county attorney David Tucker — many blamed the exodus on Childers' brusque leadership style.[3] It was during this same timeframe that Childers, Junior and Bass pushed through two contentious land purchases that would lead to indictments and scandal.

Corruption scandal[edit]

On October 4, 2001, Commissioner Willie Junior proposed, as an add-on to the commission agenda, to negotiate a purchase price for the Pensacola Soccer Complex. The motion was approved unanimously. On November 1, the commission voted 3-2 to use $3.9 million in local option sales tax funds to buy the property, and they formally closed on November 20. On January 10, 2002, Junior made another add-on motion to purchase the former Stalnaker Mazda property for $2.3 million, which is approved 3-2. In both votes, Childers and Bass affirmed Junior's motion while Banjanin and Smith opposed.

State Attorney Curtis Golden announced on February 7 an investigation into the commission over possible corruption related to the land purchases. In testimony before a grand jury, Childers revealed that he had written around $90,000 in checks to Commissioner Junior, but insisted they were "loans."

On April 30, four commissioners were booked into Escambia County Jail on 27 charges, which included bribery, racketeering, and violating the state's Sunshine Law. Governor Jeb Bush suspended the four indicted commissioners on May 1[7] and appointed temporary replacements on May 10. Former News Journal publisher Cliff Barnhart was tapped to fill the District 1 seat.[8]

Childers was charged with additional counts of money laundering and bribery on June 16, but was released from jail on $50,000 bond.

On June 28, he was convicted on one count of violating Sunshine Law over a call he and Commissioner Smith made to Supervisor of Elections Bonnie Jones over country redistricting. Meanwhile, Commissioner Junior pleaded no contest to 10 felony charges and one

Mugshot of Childers

The Pensacola Soccer Complex had been purchased by Joe and Georgann Elliott for $3.3 million. The county purchased the property for $3.9 million, netting the Elliotts a profit of around $561,000. According to the state's allegations, they paid a bribe of $200,000 to Childers, who in turn paid around $100,000 to Junior. Junior testified that Childers had given him a stainless steel "collard-green pot" full of cash a few days after the county closed on the property, which he transferred to a paper bag at his home. He also claimed to have received $10,000 from Joe Elliott directly, the day before the vote to buy the property. Wanting to deposit some of the money in a bank, but fearful of the government reporting requirements of depositing cash, he returned $40,000 to Childers in exchange for a cashier's check for the same amount.[9] Junior later received several other checks from Childers totaling $90,000.

On April 9, Childers was found guilty of two charges of bribery and unlawful compensation.

Electoral history[edit]

State and federal elections, 1984
DEM W. D. Childers (i)
REP(?) John Broxson
Escambia County elections, 2000
REP W. D. Childers 18,405
DEM Williemae Stanberry 6,286
REF Teddy Laviano 1,547
Preceded by:
Reubin Askew
Florida State Senator, District 1[10]
Succeeded by:
Durell Peaden
Preceded by:
Mike Whitehead
Escambia County Commissioner, District 1
Succeeded by:
Cliff Barnhart

Awards & recognition[11][edit]

  • Certificate of Appreciation from Pensacola Jaycees and the U.S. and Florida Jaycees, 1972
  • Certificate of Appreciation from National Police Officer’s Assoc., 1973
  • Florida Credit Union Leagues, Inc. Outstanding Legislative Service Award for Distinguished Leadership and Service to our Community and the State of Florida, T.R. Jackson Alumni and Santa Rosa County, 1973-79
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Hobbs Middle School, Billy Helms, Principal, 1975
  • Legislator of the Year for Outstanding Service to Vision Care in the State of Florida, 1975
  • Most Effective in Debate, Florida Senate, 1975
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Department of Education, 1975
  • Operation Involvement Certificate of Appreciation from University of West Florida, 1975
  • Appreciation Award from Independent Insurance Agents of Pensacola, 1975
  • Outstanding Service from Independent Insurers of Pensacola, 1975
  • Awarded Charter Membership in Naval Aviation Association, 1975
  • Commemorative Medal, Commission as Colonel of the NRA (New Patriot Army for Meritorious Service), 1976
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Escambia County Council on Aging, 1976
  • Certificate for Outstanding Service from Licensed Practical Nurses Assoc. of Florida, 1976
  • Recognition Award from West Florida Legislative Delegation RE: New State Office Building and Governmental Center Complex, 1976
  • Most Effective in Debate, Florida Senate, 1976
  • Unified Sportsmen Service Award, 1977
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Kiwanis Club of Pensacola, 1977
  • Documentation for Outstanding Professional and Public Service Achievements, Florida State University and the Florida State University Alumni Association, 1977
  • Certificate of Appreciation of behalf of the Players State Theatre, 1977-78
  • Plaque of Appreciation from Associated General Contaractors, 1977
  • Florida Board of Building Codes and Standards in Recognition for Significant Contribution to Building Construction Standards, 1977
  • Senate Resolution Commending Senator Childers and urging him to remain in the Florida Senate, 1978
  • Honorary Award for Recognition of Outstanding Service to Girl Scouting, N.W. Florida Girl Scout Council, Inc., 1978
  • Florida Institute of CPA’s Distinguished Legislator Award, 1978
  • Most Effective in Committee, Florida Senate, 1978
  • Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mental Health from District 1, Mental Health Board, Inc., 1978-79
  • Most Effective Member of the Florida Senate, 1979
  • Escambia County Medical Society Certificate of Merit for Legislative Excellence, 1979
  • In Recognition of Outstanding Commitment and Legislative Support for Mental Health Services from Santa Rosa County Mental Health and Rehabilitative Facility, Inc., 1979
  • Pensacola Pen Wheels, Inc. Special thanks for concerns and contributions for the handicapped citizens of Escambia County, 1979
  • Honorary Alumnus, University of West Florida in recognition of significant contributions and support of the University, 1979
  • Governor’s Award for the Arts, 1979
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Unified Sportsmen of Florida, 1979
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Democratic Party of Florida, 1979
  • Certificate of Participation from National Career Guidance Week, Woodham High School, 1979
  • Florida League of Cities, Inc., Prominent Personality Salute, 1979
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Florida Highway Patrol and Florida Highway Patrol Auxiliary, 1979
  • Phi Theta Kappa Honorary Member from National Honor Fraternity of the Community and Junior College, 1979
  • Disabled American Veterans Citation for Loyalty, Devotion and Service to the Veteran, 1979
  • Gavel from Monsanto Plant, 1980
  • Exceptional Merit Award for Conspicuous Leadership in restructuring and imporoving Florida’s Workmen’s Compensation Law from Associated Self Insurers of Florida, 1980
  • Pine Forest Quarterback Club for your enthusiastic support of Pine Forest High School Football program, 1980
  • Freedom Award from Tampa Women for responsible legislation, 1980
  • Award of Appreciation from the Home Builders of West Florida, 1980
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Pensacola Pen Wheels, 1980
  • Legislator of the Year Award from Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, Inc., 1980
  • University of West Florida United Faculty of Florida Political Action Committee Awards Convocation for support of the State University System and the University of West Florida, 1980
  • Florida International University Certificate of Appreciation, 1980
  • Acknowledgment of Harmonious Representation from Senator Lawton Chiles, 1980
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Rotary Club of Gulf Breeze, 1980
  • Most Effective in Debate, Florida Senate, 1980
  • Local Jaycees Good Government Award, 1980
  • Florida Jaycees Governmental Affairs Seminar Appreciation Award, 1981
  • Kiwanis Club 59th Annual Civic Award, 1981
  • Pine Forest Quarterback Club Award for support of the Pine Forest High School Athletic Programs, 1981
  • Certificate of Appreciation for personal support from Pensacola Fraternal Order of Police, 1981
  • Florida Blue Key Honorary Membership, 1981
  • Certificate for Meritorious Service to Florida Government from Jay High School, 1981
  • Pensacola Civitan Club 1980 Citation for Outstanding Civic Service in the Promotion of Good Citizenship, 1981
  • Certificate of Appreciation for Courtesies extended to the Club from Pensacola Suburban West Rotary Club, 1981
  • Pensacola Jaycees Good Government Award, 1981
  • FEA United President’s Award, 1981
  • Kentucky Colonel Commission, 1981
  • The 3rd Annual Joe Oldmixon Award, 1981
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Governor’s Veterans Advisory Council, 1982
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Operation Involvement, University of West Florida, 1982
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Florida Concrete and Products Association, 1982
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Kiwanis Club of Warrington, 1982
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Kiwanis Club of Greater Pensacola, 1982
  • Appreciation for Dedicated Service from District One Mental Health Board, Inc., 1982
  • Outstanding Legislative Contribution from Florida Council for Community Mental Health, 1983
  • Friends of Education Award from Santa Rosa Professional Educators, 1984
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Florida Federation of Community Development Corporations, 1984
  • Certificate of Appreciation from Kiwanis Club of Greater Pensacola, 1984
  • Certificate of Appreciation for Effort and Support in Establishing the T.T. Wentworth, Jr. State Museum, 1984
  • Ladies Auxiliary #706 Veterans of Foreign Ward and Families, for helping veterans, 1984
  • Radio Club – Certificate of Appreciation, 1984
  • In Recognition of Outstanding Service – by Florida Council of Handicapped Organization, 1985
  • Resolution by Pensacola City Council – for distinguished Service to Citizens of W. Fla., 1985
  • Certificate of Award – Pensacola Board of Realtors, 1986
  • Most Accessible Legislator – by Handicap Council, 1987
  • Transportation Disadvantaged Coordinating Council Appreciation Award, 1987
  • Center for Independent Living Appreciation Award, 1987
  • Pensacola Board of Realtors Appreciation Award, 1987
  • Association of Physicians of Clinics & Hospitals Appreciation Award, 1987
  • Lakeview Center Board of Directors for Valuable Assistance to Youth Mental Health Needs, 1988
  • Naval Aviation Museum Award for Outstanding Support, 1988
  • American Advertising Federation, Inc. – Thank you for carrying out your duty Award, 1988
  • Recognition Award for Service to FSU Center for Employment Relations & Law Center, 1988
  • Award for Outstanding Leadership & Service – University of West FL Government, 1988
  • Honorary Member Tate Quarterback Club for Outstanding Support to the club & Community, 1989
  • 1989 Session Award – Committee of 100, 1989
  • Outstanding Legislative Contributions Award – by FL Credit Union League, 1989
  • Certificate of Appreciation for Dedicated Service to the Disabled & the Center for Independent Living of North West Florida, 1989
  • Organized Fishermen of FL – Legislative Award for Outstanding friendship & dedication concern for Florida’s commercial fishing industry, 1989
  • Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service representing the interest of Northwest Florida in the Florida legislature, 1990
  • Humane Society of Pensacola for appreciation for your efforts & friendship for the homeless pets of our area & your commitment to a better future for all animals, 1990
  • Division of Insurance Fraud – SB955 Father, friend & founder, 1990
  • City of Parker – certificate for appreciation for making the necessary funds available to preserving a parcel of property in Parker, 1990
  • Organized Fishermen of Florida – Award for appreciation for those who make their living by providing others with Florida’s seafood resources, 1990
  • Florida Dept. of Agriculture & Consumer Services – Certificate of Distinction & Appreciation, 1990
  • Pen Wheels, Inc. – Award for appreciation for the disabled in Esc. County, 1990
  • Allen Morris Award – Most effective Senator in Committee, 1990
  • Pensacola Cultural Center – In recognition of y our support, dedication & generous contribution, 1991
  • HRS Entomology Services Programs – Dog Fly Control – Award for appreciation for outstanding support, 1991
  • Lakeview Center, Inc. – Board of Directors Recognizes Senator Childers for his outstanding contributions to increase and improve mental health services in Escambia County & Northwest Florida, 1991
  • Florida Credit Union League Movement in Florida – in recognition for Sen. Childers untiring legislative efforts to preserve the credit union in Florida, 1991
  • Legislative Award – Appreciation – Pensacola Pen Wheels, Inc., 1992
  • American Cancer Society – in appreciation for community support of life saving programs & patient services, 1993
  • Legislative leadership - Florida Medical Assoc. – outstanding leadership, 1993
  • The City of Crestview, Florida – Dedicated & quality leadership, 1993
  • Legislative Award – dedicated support – Pensacola Employ the Handicapped Council – Pensacola Pen Wheels, Inc., 1993
  • National Rifle Assoc. of America – Florida legislator of the year, 1994
  • Florida Assoc. of Realtors – Legislator of the Year, 1994
  • Florida Professional Firefighters, 1994
  • Florida Assoc of Counties – Small County Coalition – For leadership & support during the 1996 session – on behalf of small counties & rural communities, 1996
  • Able Trust – In appreciation for your support and commitment to advancing employment opportunities for citizens with disabilities, 1996
  • City of Gretna, Mayor David Sailor and Commissioners – for outstanding leadership in making Gretna a better community, 1997
  • Holmes County Farm Bureau – for continued support to Holmes County, Florida, 1997
  • Florida Regional Council Association – in recognition of your support, 1997
  • American Heart Association – in recognition of your valuable support during the 1997 session, 1997
  • Patrick Henry Award – National Guard Assoc. of the United States, 1997
  • Small School District Council Consortium, 1998
  • FACT and all parents of children with autism – thank you for making this year an extraordinary one, 1998
  • Builders Assoc. of West Florida “A Salute to WD Childers for his 28 years of Tireless support to the West Florida Housing Industry, 1998
  • American Heart Assoc. – "Recognizing your time saves lives," 1998
  • Shriner’s Hospital for Crippled Children – In grateful recognition of generous support and your investment in humanity, 1999
  • Pensacola Cultural Center –"Walk of Stars" located on Jefferson or Zarragosa St., 1999


References & notes[edit]

  1. "Federal appeals court reverses Childers conviction." Associated Press, June 8, 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Childers Unlikely Poster Boy for Term Limits." Associated Press, March 4, 2000.
  3. 3.0 3.1 "Childers welcomes public scrutiny." Pensacola News Journal, February 24, 2002.
  4. 4.0 4.1 "W.D. shaping up for year 2." Pensacola News Journal, November 18, 2001.
  5. "Sen. Childers now Commissioner W.D." Pensacola News Journal, November 8, 2000.
  6. "Childers replaces Banjanin." Pensacola News Journal, June 8, 2001.
  7. "Ousted: Bush boots 4 Escambia leaders." Pensacola News Journal, May 2, 2002.
  8. "Bush taps 4 new leaders." Pensacola News Journal, May 11, 2002.
  9. "Junior sticks to story of payoff." August 18, 2002.
  10. Senate district numbers have changed along with reapportionment. Childers represented Senate District 1 at the time of his departure in 2000.
  11. http://lasure.googlepages.com/accomplishments