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Bond moves from Senate to international trade, law, housing

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Jan. 13, 2012 - WASHINGTON - His homegrown chestnut crop was a bust this fall, but former U.S. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond says the seeds he has sown during his first year out of office -- in international business, law, and housing policy == are starting to bear fruit.

"I've got so many balls up in the air that I have trouble following them all," says Bond, who said he was looking forward to departing today for Indonesia to join a World Trade Center trade delegation organized in partnership with Kit Bond Strategies.

Launched by Bond in November, KBS is a business consultancy that aims to help firms in Missouri and elsewhere expand their international markets, especially in southeast Asia.

But business strategy is hardly the only work pursued by Bond, 72, in the year since he left the Senate last January after 24 years:

  • As a partner in the St. Louis-based law firm Thompson Coburn, Bond is involved in legal strategies for business development, based mainly in the firm's Washington office. He says he does not lobby as part of that work.
  • As a co-chair of the Bipartisan Policy Center's new housing commission, Bond is helping draft a set of policy recommendations that aim to address the nation's housing needs. The panel plans a housing hearing in St. Louis on June 5.
  • As a member of the Center for Strategic and International Studies' commission on U.S. strategy toward the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Bond helped write a report outlining ways for this country to deepen its engagement in Southeast Asia.

Bond has a few more balls in the air, but he didn't go into detail during a wide-ranging phone interview with the Beacon on Thursday from his family estate in Mexico, Mo. He said retirement never entered his mind after 40 years of public service -- as a senator, governor and auditor from Missouri.
While Bond concedes that he misses "the camaraderie" among senators, the Missourian said he was relieved to escape the Senate's gridlock. "I miss that like an abscessed tooth," he said, bemoaning "the way the Senate is stymied by the lack of bipartisan cooperation. The majority leader won't allow any Republican's ideas to come to the floor."

Bond said his final two years in the Senate were "the worst. I had never seen a more partisan Congress than 2009-10, and I think that's why we got so much bad legislation" out of it. "Everything I passed that was significant had to be bipartisan."

Colleagues say they aren't surprised that Bond is keeping busy. "Kit isn't going to let grass grow under his feet," observed former Sen. Jim Talent, a Republican from St. Louis County who left the Senate five years ago.

"I knew he would go from an outstanding career in public service to an energetic one in private life."

KBS and Indonesia Mission

Bond's long-term interest in Southeast Asia, which began when he was Missouri's governor, is reflected in the trade mission he is helping lead to Indonesia next week, in partnership with the World Trade Center St. Louis.

On its website, the trade center billed the trade delegation's trip with Bond as offering "unparalleled access to government leaders and business connections in Indonesia," which is the world's most populous Muslim country and one of Asia's great economic markets.

The visits to Indonesia's industrial and financial centers are scheduled to start Monday in Jakarta, followed by sessions in St. Louis' sister city of Bogor, where Bond said WTC officials would sign a trade agreement. That will be followed by visits to Bandung and Surabaya, centers of aerospace and finance.

"We've struck a responsive chord because businesses recognize that they can grow here [in Missouri] and create more jobs by exporting or setting up joint operations in Indonesia," said Bond "We've got about 10 different businesses of all sizes that are going," seeking markets for their products or "different levels of engagement and cooperation there."

Among the business leaders scheduled to accompany the trade group was the chief executive of Innoventor, a St. Louis County company that describes itself as an "entrepreneurial design/build engineering firm" that focuses on industries including aerospace, agriculture, medical technology and renewable energy.

Missouri's universities are also interested in deepening ties with Indonesia, said Bond, listing the University of Missouri in Columbia and in St. Louis, Washington University and Webster University as sending representatives on the mission. The latter has a special connection: Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, has an MBA from Webster.

Bond, who traveled to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia this fall to solidify his business contacts, said he is "excited that we can work with the World Trade Center" to deepen ties with ASEAN nations, whose 10 countries have a combined population of 680 million and $1.8 billion gross domestic product. ASEAN is this country's fourth-largest overseas market, accounting for an estimated 440,000 U.S. jobs.

In a 2009 book that he co-authored with Lewis Simons -- "The Next Front: Southeast Asia and the Road to Global Peace with Islam" -- Bond outlined a plan to try to defuse potential terrorism in the region by deploying "smart power." That includes American civilians who teach, start businesses or help improve health services -- rather than the traditional, and ultimately less effective, threats of military force.

Showcasing Housing Advances in St. Louis

Bond also has some policy priorities that are much closer to home. During his Senate years, he was involved in several legislative efforts to improve housing. Now, as a co-chair of the Bipartisan Center's housing commission, he wants to help find ways to bolster the nation's struggling housing industry.

"I hope we can agree on some significant issues," Bond told the Beacon. He feels the housing finance system "was set up to push homes on people who could not afford them. Searching for the American dream caused the American nightmare -- not only for the families foreclosed on but the communities in which they lived."

Bond blames the housing collapse on "all the geniuses on Wall Street who sliced and diced this 'toxic paper' while the ratings agencies were asleep at the wheel. They caused not only national but worldwide financal crisis." He added: "We've got to undo that and move as quickly as we can to get past it."

Joining Bond as co-chairs of the commission are former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, a Democrat, and former secretaries of Housing and Urban Development Henry Cisneros, a Democrat, and Mel Martinez, a Republican. "It doesn't get any more bipartisan than that," Bond said. "We've had a number of preliminary meetings, and we'll be meeting throughout the year."

One of the group's public forums, scheduled for June 5, will be held in St. Louis, in part to showcase the city's housing revitalization work and its partnerships to promote better housing.

"We've got so many people who can show off what we've done in St. Louis," Bond said.

Moving to Ladue, 'downsizing' in D.C.

While much of Bond's work with the Thompson Coburn law firm takes place in Washington, D.C., the senator and his wife, Linda, recently bought a home in Ladue that they are having renovated.

"We're going to be moving into our St. Louis home later on, and we'll probably downsize in Washington," he said. The Bonds have an elegant home in D.C. that was featured in the Washington Post last fall for its interior design.

"We'll have our main base of operations in St. Louis County," Bond said, but, because his main Thompson Coburn office remains in Washington, where most of Linda's contacts are, "we still need a base there."

As for the Bond family estate in Mexico, Mo., the senator said: "We're looking at that and we'll wait and see what happens." He said he still has "a lot of work in central Missouri," mainly with the University of Missouri.

Bond has always enjoyed tending his chestnut orchard in Mexico, but the 2011 crop yielded "zero harvest" because there was so little rain last summer, Bond said.

"The nuts don't fill out without rain. So I had no chestnuts I could take to the market," the former senator said. "I'm sure glad I didn't depend on chestnuts for my retirement."

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.