Sen. Kit Bond: A friend to the Jewish community

Robert A. Cohn

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Senator Christopher S. (Kit) Bond, in announcing his intention not to seek a fifth term as Missouri’s senior federal lawmaker, said, “I was proud to have been the youngest governor in Missouri history. But I didn’t want to be the oldest senator.” Throughout his long career of public service in Missouri, Bond has been a consistent, dependable and sincere friend to the Jewish community, and he deserves our gratitude as he begins the next phase of his professional life as an attorney with the law firm of Thompson Coburn.

Way back in the early 1970s, a friend from my pre-Jewish Light days, Edwin B. (Bud) Meissner, Jr., invited me to lunch to “hear a talk by a promising young man who is running for governor of Missouri.” Before us at the luncheon meeting of a business group in downtown St. Louis was a fresh-faced young man in his early 30s who impressed those in attendance with his knowledge, sense of humor and enthusiasm, Kit Bond, who hailed from Mexico, Mo., had earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University in 1960 and his law degree at the University of Virginia, where he graduated first in his class. Bond’s first quest for public office was in 1968, when he lost a U.S. House race to incumbent Bill Hungate, in a close contest. In 1970, he won his first election to become Missouri’s auditor, defeating longtime incumbent Democrat Haskell Holman. And in 1972, Bond was successful in his run for governor on the Republican ticket, beating Democrat Edward Dowd of St. Louis, and running on a good government platform.

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During that busy first term, Bond surrounded himself with a dynamic and youthful staff, including Ray Hartmann as a speechwriter, who would later become founding editor and publisher of The Riverfront Times. On a recent airing of “Donnybrook” on KETC-TV, Channel 9, Hartmann, well known for his progressive views, praised his Republican former boss as a “good guy” who supported many important reforms. Bond expanded state ambulance service and opportunities for children with disabilities. He also supported the Parents as Teachers Program.

After losing his re-election bid to Democrat “Walkin'” Joe Teasdale, Bond staged a comeback to win a second term in 1976, during which he won legislative approval for screening of children with disabilities and a $600 million bond issue for major capital projects.

In 1986, Bond won his first Senate term by defeating Lt. Gov. Harriett Woods of St. Louis, after incumbent Sen. Thomas F. Eagleton chose not to run after 18 years in Washington. Following in the bipartisan tradition of his predecessors and colleagues Stuart Symington, Tom Eagleton, John Danforth, Jim Talent, John Ashcroft and Jean Carnahan, Bond was, throughout his career and strong supporter of a positive U.S.-Israel realtionship. He visited the Jewish State on several occasions, where he met with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and other leaders. He consistently championed and supported U.S. military and other financial assistance to Israel and advocated for Jerusalem to be recognized as the undivided capital of Israel.

In addition, Bond was a strong supporter of rights for Jews in the Soviet Union. Locally, Bond continued his strong and significant support for the Covenant/Chai Apartments for older adults, serving mostly the Jewish community. Bond carefully oversaw the legislative process to assure that Covenant/Chai qualified for federal Section 8 Housing grants from the U.S. government, and his work on its behalf drew praise from lay and professional leaders of the facility through the years. Bond never apologized for seeking “earmarks” for projects which benefitted his constituents in his home state, including projects like Covenant/Chai.

Bond met frequently with members of the Jewish community to discuss issues of concern, including the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and concern over Iran’s push to develop nuclear weapons. Bond would win three more terms in the U.S. Senate, defeating Democrats Geri Rothman-Serot in 1992; Jay Nixon in 1998 and Nancy Farmer in 2004.

Kit Bond is being honored for his community service by Civic Progress and the Regional Business Council as he begins his new career with Thompson Coburn. While he is leaving the rough-and-tumble of present-day Washington and Congressional politics, which he has said has become too bitterly partisan, Bond plans to continue his efforts to improve the quality of life for his fellow Missourians. We thank Senator Bond for his many years of dedicated service and for his support of issues of concern to the Jewish community. And we wish him continued success and fulfillment in the years ahead.

Robert A. Cohn is Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light.