A Bond farewell: Missouri's senior senator winding down after decades in politics

Monday, December 20, 2010
Christopher "Kit" Bond at Cape Girardeau Municipal Airport (July 23, 1986)

With only two weeks until his official retirement from a near record Missouri political career, Sen. Kit Bond isn't slowing down.

Not yet. And not for a while.

In recent weeks, the 71-year-old can tick off a list of things that have kept his plate full: As vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he called for the arrest of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange for espionage. He voted to pass an $858 billion tax-cut package, which also extends unemployment insurance through next year. He attended the 21st meeting of the U.S.-China Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade.

And he even took time to ring bells for the Salvation Army's Red Kettle Campaign at a Columbia, Mo., Walmart.

"They don't kick me off the payroll until Jan. 3, and we still haven't funded the government," Bond said late last week. "There's still a lot of work left to do before I get out of here."

Such is the life of a U.S. senator, which Bond has enjoyed, mostly, for 24 years when he was first sent to Washington when Ronald Reagan was in the White House. Before that, Missouri voters sent the Mexico, Mo., resident to Jefferson City three times -- twice as governor and once as state auditor.

That places Bond in rarefied political air. With his decades of public service and statewide election victories, some have pointed out that Bond's record of political success is topped in Missouri history only by Harry S. Truman.

"There is no greater honor than being given the people's trust, to represent them," Bond said from the Senate floor last week during his farewell speech. "I have done my best to keep faith with my constituents in every vote I have cast and every issue I have worked on."

Bond had the respect of many of his colleagues, including the man who will replace him, Sen.-elect Roy Blunt. Blunt said no one in memory has worked harder for Missouri than his predecessor.

"In my view, he did it because he loved the work and he loved the state," Blunt said. "He has the highest possible degree of knowledge in understanding Missouri."

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, who will become the dean of Missouri's congressional delegation with the retirement of Bond and Rep. Ike Skelton, said Bond never forgot to put Missouri first instead of himself. She also lauded his work ethic as the standard for anyone in public service.

"Normally, when you're getting ready to retire, you don't work at the same pace as when you started," Emerson said. "He hasn't let up one second. He's a good man. His mark on our state is something that all of us would dream to attain."

Bond's political career began after he graduated from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University in 1960 and received his law degree from the University of Virginia in 1963, having graduated first in his class. He was elected state auditor in 1970. At age 33, Bond became the 47th governor of Missouri, the youngest in state history.

"It's far more partisan in Washington than in Jefferson City," Bond recalled.

Bond didn't win every campaign he ever waged, though. He lost his re-election bid for governor but won re-election for the state's top job in 1980. He was also defeated in his first attempt at public office, a shot at Congress in 1968.

He doesn't remember specifically the first time he came to Cape Girardeau but guesses it was probably around 1970. But he will never forget some of the people, especially Gene Huckstep, the former county court presiding judge.

"Gene was always a great friend," Bond said. "He was an adviser and a counselor. Gene Huckstep was always pushing and helping trying to find areas where we could help. I've got a warm spot in my heart for Southeast Missouri."

He also fondly recalls working with the late U.S. Rep. Bill Emerson and, his wife, Jo Ann, who succeeded her husband when he died.

Earmarks issue

Bond has also been criticized for his aggressive pursuit of earmarks, which is a legislative provision that directs approved funds to specific projects. But, even as he stands on the brink of retirement, Bond still defends those decisions.

"Congressional earmarks don't add a penny to the budget," Bond said.

Bond cited several local projects that he says would never have happened without congressional earmarks. Bond worked with Cape Girardeau County Sheriff John Jordan to secure federal funds to fight Missouri's illegal methamphetamine trade, which Bond claims helped to double the overall number of meth lab busts.

Other local projects paid for by earmarks, Bond said, include the Rush H. Limbaugh Sr. U.S. Courthouse, the bridge over Sloan Creek that connects the Riverwalk extension north of downtown, the Mississippi River floodwall and the forensic lab at Southeast Missouri State University.

Bond has been in his share of debates on other matters, too. But he thinks his last term will especially have history-shaping consequences. He points out that the U.S. has faced many challenges in the past six years: the longest recession since the Great Depression, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the continuing battle against terrorism and the fight to be competitive in a global economy, just to name a few.

He hopes the next Congress will learn from mistakes.

"I think the biggest suggestion I can give is for the elected officials to work together," Bond said.

As for his future plans, Bond has joined a law firm, which he says will allow him to continue to work to bring jobs to Missouri. He wouldn't name the firm, saying he was limited by ethics rules until he leaves office. He would only say it's not a lobbying position.

"I want to keep working on developing Missouri's business," he said. "Provide more jobs. It's important work. I don't want to stop working for the people of Missouri."

smoyers@semissourian.com

388-3642

Pertinent address:

274 Russell Senate Office Building. Washington, D.C.

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