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Kit Bond retires: "Work together, play nice.”

Senator Kit Bond is retiring after more than four decades in public office.

Missourians first elected the Republican in 1970 as state auditor. Two years later Bond became the state’s youngest governor at the age of 33.

He spent two terms in the governor’s mansion, then went on to four terms in the U.S. Senate.

Maria Altman takes a look back on Senator Kit Bond’s long public service career.


Full Script:

Missouri’s senior senator announced nearly two years ago that he would not run for a fifth term.

He delivered the surprising news with a dose of dry humor.

BOND: "In 1973 I became Missouri’s youngest governor.  I do not aspire to become Missouri’s oldest senator."

Bond was a rising star in the national Republican Party in the 1970s, and even considered as a possible running mate for Gerald Ford. But instead, in 1976 Missouri’s young governor lost in a surprise upset to Democrat Joe Teasdale.

He came back, of course, to win the governor’s mansion again in 1980. In his second term, Bond has said he learned to work with Democrats, who held big majorities in the General Assembly.

That ability to work with the other party has served him well throughout his career, according to St. Louis University political science professor Ken Warren.

WARREN: "He’s a person who can be very, very partisan before the press, but behind the scenes he crosses the aisle and he’s done a lot to come up with bipartisan legislation."

The early childhood program, Parents as Teachers is one Bond’s biggest bi-partisan achievements as governor.

Begun in Missouri in 1984, the effort to help parents understand and aid their children’s development has grown to include all 50 states and six countries.

Executive Director Sue Stepleton says while many people helped get Parents as Teachers off the ground, she says Bond’s role was “pivotal.”

STEPLETON: "Without Kit Bond as governor, I’m not sure the legislation would have passed at the time that it did. He was the one to really push it over the goalpost."

After Bond won his first term to the U.S. Senate in 1986, Stepleton says the senator continued to help Parents as Teachers on a national level.

Bond also was a strong advocate for Boeing and its Defense, Space and Security unit based in St. Louis.

George Roman is Boeing’s vice president of state and local government relations.

He says Bond helped keep the company’s F-15 line going in the late 1990s and has helped the company secure contracts with other nations for that jet and the F/A 18 Superhornet.

ROMAN: "Senator Bond has never missed an opportunity to support our armed forces, our industry and our workforce. And in all the years he’s been in Washington we’ve worked with him on the majority of the programs we have here in St. Louis and St. Charles."

As a member of the Senate appropriations committee, Bond has been in a good position to direct millions of dollars to Missouri projects over the years.

While Missouri’s Democratic Senator Claire McCaskill is working to ban earmarks altogether, Bond has continued to defend the practice, calling them "strategic investments."

Political scientist Ken Warren says Bond likely drew the most criticism during his years in the Senate for his staunch support of President George W. Bush’s national security agenda, including warrantless wiretaps.

But Warren says throughout his career Bond tended toward the center.

WARREN: "I think he’ll be remembered most for being a moderate… and of course moderates are in short supply today."

In his farewell speech on the Senate floor last week, Bond warned his colleagues against government overspending and burdensome mandates.

But he also took time to recall his years as Missouri’s governor and the lessons he learned about compromise.

BOND: "So now if my colleagues will permit a little parting advice from an old bull. Work  together, play nice."

The 71-year old says he plans to continue to serve after he leaves office by helping develop businesses in Missouri.

Republican Roy Blunt will become the state’s new U.S. senator when the 112th Congress convenes January 3rd.

I’m Maria Altman, St. Louis Public Radio.

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.