Chris Kelly runs for state rep. after a 14-year break
He previously served as state representative for 12 years.
Oct. 17, 2008
It has been 14 years since Chris Kelly left the Missouri House of Representatives. And now he's back for more.
Kelly, a Democrat who will turn 62 on Wednesday, is running for 24th District House seat after having already spent 12 years in the position, from 1982 to 1994.
Kelly retired in 2006, and since he has traveled, canoed 65 times and skied 25 times.
However, Kelly felt he wasn't being constructive.
"Many people my age define ourselves by our jobs, what we do," Kelly said. "I was retired but because I wasn't doing anything productive, I kind of felt like a failure."
That, coupled with what Kelly called a strong need for change, led to his decision to run for office again this year.
"The political climate has become poisonous," he said.
Taking the initiative for change is nothing new for Kelly.
He took the first major step for his political career in 1976, eight years after receiving a bachelor's degree in American history from Marist College, by working for Dick Farmer's campaign for Northern District Judge.
Amid what Kelly called chaos in the county clerk's office on Election Day, he told himself, "I could do this better."
So Kelly resolved to run for Boone County clerk and was elected to the post in 1978.
Including that run at office, Kelly has never lost a race.
He served as county clerk until 1982, when he entered the House. His 12-year stay there included seven years as vice chairman and three years as chairman of the Budget Committee.
Ken Jacob, a general consultant to the state auditor, has been Kelly's friend and colleague for 27 years. They served together in the legislature from 1982 to 1994, and they attended law school together at MU during that time.
Jacob said Kelly is his mentor and the reason Jacob became involved in the Democratic Party.
"I really think that Chris Kelly was the most effective legislator that I've ever served with," Jacob said. "He really knew how to, and I'm sure he still does, knew how to move herd of legislators in a right direction."
Jacob recalled a time when Kelly, as chairman of the Budget Committee, successfully worked with both parties to pass legislation.
"The Republicans all stood up and praised his leadership as budget chairman," Jacob said. "They bought him a bunch of bowties."
Bowties, Jacob said, are Kelly's trademark.
Former Gov. Roger Wilson has been Kelly's friend for more than 30 years.
"I've seen him tie into Democratic and Republican governors," Wilson said. "He was even-handed. Because of the attitude, he had tremendous respect on both sides of the aisle."
Bipartisanship is a personal quality that Kelly stresses.
"It's about getting people to focus on the work, rather than the politics," Kelly said.
Following his terms in the House, Kelly worked on the Missouri Labor and Industrial Relations Commission, where he was the chairman until 2000. From then until 2006, Kelly served as associate court judge for the 13th Judicial District.
Kelly said his interest has always been in public policy, not in politics.
"See, I never wanted to run for bigger office," Kelly said. "I like being a local guy. I like to know who I'm representing, and I want them to know me."
Kelly is a true leader, Jacob said.
"I can't think of any legislator ever who was more effective than him," Jacob said. "It's one thing to get a position. It's another to do something while you're there. And Chris did it."