Chris Kelly has never been bashful about letting someone know what he thinks. And he thinks this is the time to leave the Missouri House. Again.
The re-drawing of legislative districts after the 2010 census left him living outside his district. He could move but that would be a pretty big hassle when term limits would only let him serve one more two-year term.
Kelly is one of those who is a victim of term limits. There are plenty of people in the legislature who should be limited to only one term. Kelly is an example, however, of how term limits deprive state government of a mature, intelligent, experienced leader. Those in the chambers and in the Capitol hallways who appreciate him understand what he told reporter Meghan Boggess of the Jefferson City News-Tribune last week when he said the legislature’s “lack of seriousness” made another term less desirable. “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.”
But, he says, it’s not as devoted to spending enough time with real problems. Kelly says it’s too interested in “Sharia law, crazy unconstitutional gun bills, and Agenda 21.” Given that climate, he says, he’d rather stay at home and read “Pete the Cat” children’s books to his granddaughter.
He tells Columbia Daily Tribune reporter Rudi Keller, “I am just not willing to play games with constituents. Besides, Western Civilization can totter along without me.”
Kelly was first elected to the House in 1982 after serving as Boone County Clerk. He served 12 years in the House, some of those years as the Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, leaving before the term limits law kicked in. He came back to the House 16 years later after serving as an Associate Circuit Judge and as the Chairman of the State Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, ousting a Republican incumbent Representative to return. .
Kelly is so appreciated by the heavily-Republican House that he heads one of the budget subcommittees. People listen to him when he speaks. He doesn’t mind saying the other side has a good idea, a rare attitude in today’s hyper-partisan legislature. And when he speaks, he speaks from intelligence and experience, a noticeable contrast to those who have only ideology and allegations to spout.
Now, do not think that Chris Kelly is beloved by everyone at the Capitol. A respected figure is not necessarily a beloved figure and there are those who strongly disagree with his liberalism and dislike being unable to compete with his intellect and experience. And we prefer not to think what kind of chaos would exist if the majority of the legislature was made up of Chris Kellys, although the General Assembly might be more fun if there were.
He was a red-headed kid of a County Clerk, barely into his 30s when I met him. Even then he had a directness and a political intellect that made it hard to get a toe-hold against him in an argument. Now the hair is mostly gray. He’ll be 67 in a few days and changing addresses just to serve two more years in a legislature he finds increasingly unwilling to solve difficult problems while spending hours pursuing “crazy” and sometimes unconstitutional issues not worth his time. Under those circumstances, he told Boggess, “Pete the Cat is an easy winner,” (Pete is a groovy blue cat who is the star of a series of “I Can Read” children’s books.) As usual, it’s hard to argue with Chris Kelly.
Some folks think he should run for the state senate when Columbia Senator Kurt Schaefer reaches his term limit and runs for Attorney General in 2016. But Kelly says he’s trying to convince Representative Stephen Webber of Columbia to go for that job.
We’ve seen a lot of legislators come and go in four-plus decades of reporting at the Capitol. The old coots of the Capitol Press Corps agree that few of today’s lawmakers could be players in the Houses and Senates that we have covered in years gone by.
Chris Kelly could and did. And he will for one more year.
We’ll be reporting on his last year, most particularly whether the legislature can lift itself to being close to the value of reading Pete the Cat to grandchildren.