Chris Kelly, a long-time Columbia resident and public servant, announced Saturday that he’llseek a return to the Missouri House of Representatives in the 24th District.
Competing with the noise from a steady, strong wind that rushed through a nearby corn field, Kelly gave an impassioned speech from the bed of a pickup truck to roughly 50 supporters under the Champion Burr Oak near McBaine, south of Columbia, detailing his reasons for running for the seat now held by state Rep. Ed Robb, R-Columbia.
Kelly, who will turn 61 next month, retired last year after six years as an associate circuit judge in the 13th Circuit Court of Missouri. He previously served six terms as a Democrat in the Missouri House from 1982 to 1994 in the 23rd and 26th Districts. Kelly stressed that he feels compelled to pursue a seat to defend MU from a legislature that he said is “aggressively attacking the research role of the university.”
Among other issues with the state government’s support of MU, he expressed concern with MU’s ability to attract and retain top faculty.
“This might be the wonkiest race in the history of the Missouri General Assembly,” said Kelly, who acknowledged that several of his and Robb’s positions on bills are similar. Kelly stressed that the difference between them lies in their respective records, and his intention to stand up for the needs of the district in a nonpartisan way. Robb, who hasn’t announced his intention to run in 2008, was not available for comment. In 2006, incumbent Robb narrowly defeated Democrat Jim Ritter in a race that involved hundreds of thousands of combined campaign dollars.
Known for his humor, Kelly joked that he felt the need to come out of retirement to find a place to “hide out” from his wife and daughter.
Kelly and his wife, Nanette Laughery, now a U.S. District judge, moved to Columbia in 1971 from Washington, D.C., after being trapped in Columbia by a snow storm. Since then, Kelly has had a varied history of public service in Boone County. Before his time on the bench, from 2000 to 2006, he served as a member of the Labor and Industrial Relations Board from 1994 to 2000 as an appointee of then-Gov. Mel Carnahan. Before becoming a state representative in 1982, he served as the Boone County Clerk from 1977 to 1982. He graduated from the MU School of Law in 1988.
Kelly has a history of spurring discussion in Columbia. He hosted “The Chris Kelly Show” on KFRU/1400 AM and wrote a column in the Columbia Daily Tribune.
Former Missouri Gov. Roger Wilson, who worked with Kelly as the Senate Budget Committee Chair when Kelly was in the House, introduced Kelly to the small crowd Saturday. Wilson said Kelly is not interested in partisan politics and has an ability to get things done.
“He stopped when something was going wrong, and pushed when something was going right,” Wilson said.
Kelly said his goal in Jefferson City is to develop a “reasonable, honorable and cooperative government.”
Republican Kay Roberts, who served as a county commissioner while Kelly was county clerk, showed up Saturday to support Kelly.
“He knows the people of Boone County and listens to both sides,” she said.
John and Susan Williamson, who own the land on which the Big Burr Oak stands — the largest and oldest Burr Oak in Missouri — were in attendance as well.
The 24th district seat will be filled in the November 2008 general election. Primary elections will be held in August.