KANSAS CITY — U.S. Sen. Kit Bond, retiring next year after a long Senate career, said Saturday that Missouri should repeal its limit on how long people can serve in the state legislature.
Bond said term limits are forcing too many talented lawmakers to leave office too early and placing too much power with executive branch bureaucrats and lobbyists.
Missouri voters in 1992 overwhelmingly approved a measure limiting people to about eight years each in the Missouri House and Senate. The state also adopted a term-limit amendment for members of Congress, but the courts later threw it out.
Bond was asked whether he supported term-limits for Congress during a forum Saturday at the Republicans' annual Lincoln Days conference in Kansas City. He responded by suggesting that elections serve as a natural way for people to limit the service of public officials and by decrying the effect term limits has had in the state legislature.
"Term limits for the governor and president are good ideas," Bond said. But "I have seen term limits decimate — decimate — the leadership of our Missouri General Assembly."
Missouri's term-limit clock started ticking in 1994, the first election after voters adopted the restriction. The limits had their biggest effect in 2002, when 73 of the 163 House members and 12 of 34 senators were ineligible to run for re-election. That year, 90 new House members were elected and Republicans took over the chamber from Democrats.
Dozens of members of that legislative class of 2002 will be term-limited themselves in the 2010 elections, causing another sizable upheaval in the House.
Last year, both Senate President Pro Tem Michael Gibbons, R-Kirkwood, and House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, were prohibited from seeking re-election because of term limits. They were replaced in January by Senate President Pro Tem Charlie Shields, R-St. Joseph, and House Speaker Ron Richard, R-Joplin.
Several state lawmakers have proposed changing Missouri's term limits, but those measures have not gained much traction. This year, Rep. Gayle Kingery, R-Poplar Bluff, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would replace the limit of 8 years of service in each chamber with a single limit of 16 years total in either chamber. That measure is pending in the House Elections Committee.
Bond suggested a more drastic change.
"I wish the state of Missouri would get rid of the term limits on legislators," Bond said. "Repeal that term-limit law and let good legislators continue to serve."
The man who asked Bond the question about term limits said he was primarily concerned about federal lawmakers, not state lawmakers. Charles Dittmer, 66, of Greenwood, said he believes the lack of federal term limits has led to a proliferation of spending on pet projects.
"Pork, pork, pork, pork, pork!" Dittmer said in an interview. "They're not using the discipline they grew up with. It has contaminated and corrupted the system."
Dittmer did not indicate that his comments were personally directed at Bond.
But Bond, who first was elected to the Senate in 1986, has been a staunch advocate of using earmarks as a way to ensure federal funding for Missouri projects. He announced in January that he would not seek re-election in 2010.