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University of Missouri system president Gary Forsee’s presence at U.S. Sen. Kit Bond’s retirement announcement could be seen as an example of the symbiotic relationship between the state’s senior senator and Missouri’s flagship campus.
After Bond took a few questions from reporters at the Jan. 8 gathering, the four-term lawmaker cajoled Forsee to come up to the lectern. Forsee praised Bond as a man who left an indelible mark through his service.
One of Bond’s guiding passions, Forsee said, was higher education.
“It takes that shoulder muscle to get some of these things accomplished,” Forsee said.
Bond’s decision not to seek re-election after the 2010 election cycle not only brings an end to the Republican senator’s long and winding political career, but it also could prompt changes to how the University of Missouri is perceived in Washington, D.C. Although he attended Princeton University and the University of Virginia, Bond had a knack for getting appropriations for MU. Bond was often on hand at dedication ceremonies over the past few years, which often included effusive praise from university officials for his help in landing funds for major projects.
The most obvious example is the Christopher Bond Life Sciences Center, a sizable facility on the Columbia campus that Bond helped fund through the federal appropriations process.
When asked about how MU and the UM system would be affected by his departure, Bond said that he hoped his successor would be able to “serve many more years” than he. He also said he would devote his final two years to assisting the university.
“I really believe the key to the university’s success and others’ success is that the university has developed a reputation,” Bond said. “It has the resources to compete on its own successfully.”
Bond pointed to Warren Erdmann, a member of the UM System Board of Curators, as one of the people who would lead the university in a successful direction. Erdmann formerly served as Bond’s chief of staff.
Erdmann said new people will “step to the plate” to assist higher education institutions. But he conceded that Bond would be a tough act to follow when it comes to supporting the UM system and MU.
“The generational cycle will go on,” Erdmann said. “We’ve lost a true leader for Missouri and an exceptional leader for the University of Missouri. I can’t think of an elected official who has led and contributed more to the university than Kit Bond. While he’ll be here for two more years, we’ll make the most of it.”
Although Bond will remain in the U.S. Senate until early 2011, the scramble to replace him began soon after he made his retirement announcement.
Democrats seem to be coalescing around the potential Senate candidacy of Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. Possible Republican candidates include U.S. Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Strafford, former state Treasurer Sarah Steelman, former Sen. Jim Talent, R-Missouri, U.S. Rep. Sam Graves, R-Tarkio, and former U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Columbia.
State Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, said the race to replace Bond could have far-reaching consequences for MU.
He said the university could be at a disadvantage if somebody with loose ties to the institution-like Blunt-wins the seat. Blunt’s congressional district includes Missouri State University and Missouri Southern University.
George Connor, a political science professor at Missouri State, doesn’t expect the home region of the next U.S. Senator to make much of a difference in terms of support for MU.
He pointed to the example of Gov. Bob Holden, who graduated from Missouri State University with a degree in political science. Despite his ties to the university, Connor said the institution didn’t derive much benefit from his administration.
“We didn’t get anything from that because he bent over backwards not to [show favoritism],” Connor said. “And I think Congressman Blunt would do the same.”
Kelly said U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Missouri, who did undergraduate and law school work at MU, could pick up the slack in the wake of Bond’s departure.
“When she was here as a legislator, she was incredibly supportive of the institution,” Kelly said. “There’s no question that Claire is a very, very active supporter of the University of Missouri. … Claire is a pretty effective legislator.”