JEFFERSON CITY — In an announcement that caught even some of his closest supporters by surprise, U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond told the Missouri House of Representatives he will not seek re-election when his term expires in 2010.
The 69-year-old senior senator said that what will be 40 years in political office is enough. Bond entered the U.S. Senate in 1986 after serving two nonconsecutive terms as governor and two years as state auditor.
"In 1973, I became Missouri's youngest governor," Bond said in his address to the House. "I do not aspire to become Missouri's oldest senator."
Just two months ago, Bond publicly expressed interest in running for re-election in 2010. But Bond told reporters Thursday that it was during holiday discussions with his family that he decided not to seek re-election. When asked whether it was his decision or a result of pressure from his family, Bond simply responded: "Yes."
"I've seen some people who've gone for half a century, and I'd like to retire while I'm still at the top of my game," Bond told reporters. "Boy, I've got a lot of things to do in these next two years. I don't know how long I'm going to be there, but I've got things I would like to do with Linda (Bond's wife) after we finish this service."
Bond dismissed several questions from reporters about other possible factors in his decision. When asked if his health impacted his decision, he joked about his many operations. He also suggested that the Republican Party's continuing minority status in Congress did not play a role.
But he said his choice was not influenced by the guilty plea of one of his former staff members, Trevor Blackann, who received more than $4,100 in illegal gifts related to the corruption scandal involving former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Although he is stepping out of the political arena, Bond said he will remain active.
"I have decided to step aside, not to retire, but to pursue other things and do things which I think can be worthwhile," Bond said. "I don't have any plans now. I'm going to finish my official duties, and then I'll see what pops up."
Bond acknowledged he had kept his decision a secret from even his closest supporters to avoid a leak. His decision was first communicated by a conference call to his staff early Thursday morning, followed by a closed-door session with state House Republicans before his public address to the House chamber.
"I was very surprised and shocked and saddened. This is a major loss for all of Missouri," said Catherine Hanaway, U.S. attorney for Missouri's Eastern District and a former member of Bond's staff. She said she learned of Bond's decision just a few hours before his formal announcement.
In the interest of keeping one of Missouri's two U.S. Senate seats in the Republican Party, Bond said he would work "to make sure it's one of our team." Bond did not rule out a primary endorsement for his seat sometime in the future, but he did not indicate any preferences.
"I know there are a lot of people who are thinking about it," he said. "We'll see who has the fire to do it, (who) has the commitment and right ideas."
Among the possible contenders for Bond's Senate seat in 2010 is a long list of Republican leaders, including outgoing Gov. Matt Blunt, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, former U.S. Sen. Jim Talent, state Rep. Sam Graves and former U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof.
Hanaway, also a former House speaker, declined to comment on whether she might seek Bond's seat, saying her position with the Justice Department precluded her from discussing political matters.
Following Bond's announcement, Republicans may not have clarity for a while, said Peverill Squire, MU professor of political science.
"I think many Republicans were caught by surprise by Sen. Bond's announcement," Squire said. "On the Republican side, I think things are still unsettled and probably will be for a few weeks."
Squire does project Roy Blunt as a strong Republican candidate for the Senate seat.
"Most of the discussion at this point seems to center on Rep. Blunt, who clearly has the name and financial resources to enter the race," Squire said.
Blunt, who represents southern Missouri in the U.S. House, issued a statement Thursday praising Bond's service to Missouri. But he has not officially declared interest in or an intent to run for Bond's seat in two years.
While the Republican field for 2010 appears open, a few top Democrats were closing ranks behind Secretary of State Robin Carnahan.
"Robin would be a strong candidate and a great senator, and Democrats across the state hope she'll win," said the state Democratic Party Chairman, Craig Hosmer, in a news release issued just hours after Bond's announcement.
Democratic Attorney General-elect Chris Koster also released a statement in support of Carnahan as a candidate for Bond's seat.
State Auditor Susan Montee's office refused to comment on any interest she might have.
Carnahan, Matt Blunt and Gov.-elect Jay Nixon each released laudatory statements about Bond's political career and achievements, but none of the releases indicated any interest in his seat.
Bond has been a political leader in Missouri longer than any of the current statewide officers or legislators.
After his election as governor in 1972, he led efforts to restructure state government and adopt a package of ethics-reform legislation, including the state's first open meetings law. His aggressiveness for change, his relatively young staff and his own youth triggered criticism from some older Republicans, including the late Sen. Richard Webster, who caustically labeled Bond's gubernatorial staff the "kiddy corps."
On Thursday, Bond returned to that reformist theme: "Reform is a process that never ends and must be continually renewed. We still see too many people in public life who are in it for themselves."
In his second gubernatorial term, Bond adopted a more conciliatory approach with the state legislature, forging alliances with Democratic leaders. In his announcement speech to the House on Thursday, some three decades later, Bond stressed the importance of bipartisan cooperation.
"Dedicated public servants on both sides do have to reach consensus," Bond advised the House. "Partnership is healthy when it presents Americans with different ideas about how to solve problems."
Bond's political career has helped solidify the Republican Party's foundation in Missouri over the past few decades, as he held a statewide office in Jefferson City for 10 years and served more than 20 years in the U.S. Senate. As vice chairman of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, Bond counts his efforts to gather a bipartisan majority to renew the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act among his greatest accomplishments.
Bond's legislative work also helped bolster MU's standing in the agriculture and biotechnology sectors as recently as July 2008. He said he is satisfied with how MU is functioning as a recognized research institute.
"I really believe the key to the university's success is (that) the university has developed a reputation," Bond said. "It has the resources to compete on its own successes and that was my goal to help them."
Claire McCaskill, Missouri's other U.S. senator, said in a release that despite party differences, she has "immense respect for (Bond)."
"There will be few people who will serve Missouri longer than he has or with such distinction," said McCaskill, a Democrat.