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State House Speaker Steve Tilley
State House Speaker Steve Tilley

JEFFERSON CITY - State House Speaker Steve Tilley found himself in hot water this week after saying that he would rather flood an Illinois town than Missouri farmland.

The comment came in response to a plan by the Army Corps of Engineers to breach a levee on the Mississippi River in an effort to control floodwaters.

That plan would help ensure that the small town of Cairo, Ill. doesn't flood, while flooding about 130,000 acres of Missouri farmland.

When Tilley was asked Tuesday whether he would rather see Cairo or the farmland underwater, he told reporters, "Cairo. I've been there, trust me. Cairo."

"Have you been to Cairo?" he added. "OK, then you know what I'm saying then."

Tilley, R-Perryville, has since received threats in response to the comment, and even had a Capitol security guard stationed outside of his office door today as an added precaution.

Responding to the firestorm over his words, Tilley issued a prepared apology.

"In a recent interview I was asked about a proposal that would blow up a dam in Missouri and impact Mississippi County and Cairo Illinois. As the Speaker of the Missouri House I came to the defense of Missouri, but in doing so I said some inappropriate and hurtful comments about the community of Cairo," the statement read. "I first want to apologize for my insensitive remark and personally apologize to anyone that I offended."

The statement added, "My commitment to the residents and farmers of southeast Missouri should not have led me to insult another community and for that I am sincerely regretful."

The plan to flood parts of southeast Missouri has not been well received by a number of Missouri elected officials.

Earlier this week, Attorney General Chris Koster sued to block the Army Corps of Engineers from blowing a hole in a levee at Birds Point, south of Cairo. Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Nixon warned that "intentionally breaching this levee would be a harmful and inappropriate action."

Cairo, a city of 2,831 as of the 2010 Census, sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

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