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Bond blasts Missouri's term limits for state legislators

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 21, 2009 - Although never known for keeping his views quiet, U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., said Saturday that he's now going to really speak his mind since he's not running for re-election in 2010.

Bond followed through with that promise when he declared during a morning town-hall forum that legislative term limits -- overwhelmingly approved by Missouri voters in 1992 and in place since 1994 -- have been a huge mistake and "should be reconsidered."

"I've seen term limits decimate the leadership of our Missouri General Assembly,'' Bond told Republican activists attending their statewide Lincoln Days festivities held this weekend in Kansas City.

In 2010, the senator asserted, a huge chunk of the Republicans in the state Capitol will be forced out.

Bond, a former governor, emphasized that he did support term limits for the governor and for the president of the United States. But it should not be imposed on state legislators or members of Congress, he said.

"The best term limits is an informed aggressive citizenry,'' the senator said. "I wish the state of Missouri would get rid of term limits on the legislature."

Bond's comments were particularly striking because it came in response to a question posed by a rank-and-file Republican who supported term limits. The man asked Bond what could be done to expand its use.

Later, Bond indicated that it was unlikely that he'd lead a drive to eliminate Missouri's term limits. The two top Republicans in the Capitol -- state House Speaker Ron Richard and Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields -- offered a more measured response.

"If it weren't for term limits, I wouldn't be here,'' said Richard, R-Joplin, explaining that a predecessor in his House seat would likely have stayed in office. Ditto for Richard's quick ascent to the top House post.

Currently, Missouri's term limits restrict legislators to no more than eight years in the state House and the same for the state Senate. But Richard said he was open to considering a bill, by state Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, that would allow legislators to serve up to 16 years, which could be split any way between the two chambers or spent solely in the House or Senate.

That change, said Richard, might curb the heightened jockeying among House members for any open Senate seat.

Republicans acknowledge that term limits helped them gain control of the state Senate in 2001 and the state House in 2002. Now, they fear the restriction could help Democrats in 2010, when many House Republicans are forced out.

Shields said the term-limits dynamic has caused the House to be increasingly populated by people who are still in their 20s, or are of retirement age. There's fewer state House members in their 40s or 50s, Shields said, because they either move into the Senate or leave the legislature for another job.

Shields said term limits haven't had as big effect in the state Senate. However, he'll be term limited out in 2010.

And Shields got his top job because the previous Senate chief, then-state Sen. Michael Gibbons, was forced out by term limits. Gibbons is now a lobbyist, and was mingling with Republicans at Lincoln Days this weekend.

The Post-Dispatch's Tony Messenger ran a story last week detailing how Missouri is one of the leading states where former legislators such as Gibbons have become lobbyists; term limits was cited as the chief cause.

In any case, Richard and Shields said they doubted that Missouri voters would support the idea of repealing term limits, since it passed by almost 80 percent of the vote in 1992. Such repeals have had a difficult time in other states where efforts have been mounted.

Bond can count on at least one well-known Missouri ally in his anti-term limit stance: U.S. Rep. Todd Akin, R-Town and Country.

Akin (a former state legislator) explained that, as he sees it, "Term limits is a wonderful idea if you want to transfer power from someone you elect to someone in government who doesn't face election at all."

But the big question posed later to Bond was why he hadn't mentioned his opposition before. He didn't take a stand on the measure in 1992, when term limits was on the ballot. At the time, Bond was seeking re-election.

Bond sidestepped that question, but said that he made his views known Saturday "because I was asked."

And he isn't seeking re-election.

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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