JEFFERSON CITY — For Rep. Chris Kelly, the pull of politics has nothing on reading Pete the Cat with granddaughter Emmy and canoe trips with grandson Sam.
After nearly 18 years serving in the Missouri legislature, senior legislator Kelly, D-Columbia, has decided not to seek another term in the House. He also considers a run at the state Senate to be nothing more than a hypothetical.
Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee for Infrastructure and Job Creation, Kelly has tackled numerous issues during his time in the House, sponsoring bills that transferred the ownership of the Mid-Missouri Mental Health Center to MU and established the Missouri Psychiatric Center, established the Caring for Missouri program, improved domestic violence legislation, fixed the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences, and improved Missouri's rape law.
Despite his past achievements, Kelly said the legislature's lack of seriousness made running for another term less attractive.
"I have to decide whether to go to the legislature or spend more time with my grandchildren. If the legislature were devoted to spending time with real problems ... then it would be a hard choice," Kelly said.
Citing the legislature's unwillingness to tackle state infrastructure issues like repairing roads, the Fulton Hospital or MU's engineering building, Kelly said the statehouse seems to be more intent on discussing "Sharia law, crazy, unconstitutional gun bills and Agenda 21. And as between those things and Pete the Cat, Pete is an easy winner."
Although Kelly has opted against continuing his time as a state representative, that doesn't mean his political career is at an end. Kelly could instead run for the seat of the 19th state senatorial district. The seat, which Sen. Kurt Schaefer, a Republican serving Boone and Cooper counties, occupies, will be up for grabs in 2016 due to term limits. However, Kelly said his first political priority with the state Senate is to convince Rep. Stephen Webber, D-Columbia, to run for the spot. Webber, however, has other concerns.
"My priority is to do the job that I'm being paid to do," Webber said. "To represent the 46th district of Columbia."
Webber, along with other local legislators, expressed his respect for Kelly, whom he first met on a trip to the statehouse in fourth grade and later shared an office with when Webber joined Kelly at the Capitol.
Schaefer said he's enjoyed his time working with Kelly, calling him a "fierce fighter."
Still, there is some doubt as to whether Kelly's career is at an end.
"Chris is a talented guy, and I would be surprised if his time in elected office in Boone County is over. I think he'll find some way to contribute," Webber said.
Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, considers the likelihood of Kelly running for the state Senate to be small, but not impossible.
"Barring something crazy happening, I would say this is probably the end of Chris being down there," Rowden said.
For now, Kelly's future is a picture of time spent with family, especially his grandkids, Emmy and Sam.
"He puts his family first, which is something that doesn't happen a lot in politics," Rowden said. "I don't think he'll regret it when he's getting to spend more time with his grandkids."
In the meantime, Kelly will leave the legislature to enjoy their "lack of seriousness."
"This past weekend, I read a book to my granddaughter called Pete the Cat. I read it to her 50 times," Kelly said. "That's a very fun thing to do, trust me."