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Full-Time Comming Back

February 14, 1996
By: Cassandra Sweet
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - The political landscape for Missouri's Republican Party underwent some surprising changes Wednesday.

Republican sources say state senator and former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Bill Kenney, R-Lee's Summit, has switched his sights from governor to lieutenant governor.

That would leave State Auditor Margaret Kelly has the only top-name candidate seeking the GOP nomination for governor.

Kenney said he would not comment on his decision not to run for governor until a Thursday morning news conference.

Adding to the surprises, is the announcement by former Missouri Lt. Gov. Bill Phelps that he is considering a race against Ike Skelton for re-election as U.S. Representative for western Missouri.

After eight years as lieutenant governor for Missouri, "Full Time" Phelps quit politics and has been working as chief legal officer for an insurance firm in Houston for the past 15 years. Despite his long absence from Missouri politics, Phelps said he is excited about representing Missouri in Congress.

"I served the people of Missouri for 20 years," Phelps said. "I'm not a professional politician, I've been in the private sector for 15 years. It's been a wonderful experience that will help in my legislative efforts."

Unlike state offices, candidacy for a Missouri congressional seat does not require long-term residency in the state.

But Phelps' loyalty to Missouri quickly was questioned by Missouri's Democratic Party.

"Are there so few Republicans in Missouri that Woody Cozad (state GOP chaiirman) had to go all the way to Texas to find somebody?" Democratic Party Chairman Joe Carmichael asked in a prepared statement.

And, to further emphasize their point, the Democratic news release included a road map with directions from Houston to Jefferson City -- with the banner "Remember the Alamo! Vote for Bill Phelps!!"

Phelps refuted charges that he would be a carpet bagger, saying his he had taken the job in Houston to recover from a $40,000 debt he accumulated while living on a $16,000 salary as a lieutenant governor.

"I had to recover financially," he said.

He said the time away has only increased his interest in politics.

"In the world of economic opportunity, there are no state boundaries," Phelps said of his move to Texas.

"I've always wanted to be a congressman," Phelps said. "The 1996 election will be important. We need to continue the Republican agenda and revolution in Washington."

Asked what he'll do if he doesn't win, Phelps said he'll practice law in Missouri.

Phelps served in the Missouri office from 1961 until 1981, first as a state legislator and then as lieutenant governor.

He earned the nickname "Full Time Phelps" because of his campaign promise to work full time as lieutenant governor.

Since the job has almost no on-going responsibilities, past holders of the office had treated the post as a part-time, second job.

After losing the race for Republican nomination for governor in 1980, Phelps accepted the insurance job in Texas.

Phelps may be best remembered for the time when Senate Democrats locked him out of the Senate chamber to block him from presiding over the Senate.

Ultimately, Phelps won a precedent-setting decision from the state Supreme Court which ruled the lieutenant governor had a constitutional right to be in the Senate chamber.

But it turned out to be a hollow victory. While ruling the lieutenant governor was the Senate's presiding officer, the court left it up to the Senate itself to decide what powers, if any, he could exercise.