Rep. Ike Skelton (D)
Missouri 4th District
Missouri was the first state settled west of the Mississippi, and the folks who settled it were a picture of pioneer diversity. Virginians and other Southerners made their way to counties north of the Missouri River, while Germans settled around the small capital, Jefferson City. A taste of that diversity can be found in the Capitol, with its mural by Thomas Hart Benton, great-grandnephew of one of Missouri’s first senators, who championed hard money and westward expansion for 30 years and lost his seat for opposing the expansion of slavery. The painting depicts dance hall girls, black coal miners, and a mother diapering an infant.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 4th Congressional District occupies central west Missouri. It includes part of Blue Springs and Oak Grove in Jackson County east of Kansas City, but the overall atmosphere here is rural and small-town. The rural counties around Kansas City were full of pro-slavery “bushwhackers” who rode across the Kansas line to thwart the anti-slavery Yankee “jayhawkers,” and these areas today vote Democratic. The German area around Jefferson City was anti-slavery and remains among the most Republican parts of Missouri. The growing year-round resort areas around the man-made Lake of the Ozarks are mixed. The southern portion of the district, near Springfield, is predominantly Republican. There are two big military bases here: Fort Leonard Wood in Pulaski County, where Marines, sailors, and airmen train in joint exercises with Army troops; and Whiteman Air Force Base, near Knob Noster in Johnson County, from which the 21 original B-2 bombers flew to drop precision-targeted bombs in Afghanistan.
This is Harry Truman country. President Truman was born in Barton County, at the southern end of the district, and lived in Independence, a few miles from Blue Springs. He spent much of Election Night 1948, when just about everyone thought he would lose, in Excelsior Springs. In his long life, Truman spanned the gaps between country and city, South and North. His mother could remember her house being attacked by Yankee soldiers, and she remained pro-Confederate even when her son was in the White House. He got his political start in urban Independence and Kansas City and desegregated the military services.
Rep. Ike Skelton (D)
Elected: 1976, 17th term.
Born: Dec. 20, 1931, Lexington .
Education: Wentworth Military Acad. Jr. Col., 1949-51, U. of MO, A.B. 1953, LL.B. 1956.
Religion: Disciples of Christ.
Family: Widowed; 3 children.
Elected office: MO Senate, 1970–76.
Professional Career: Lafayette Cnty. prosecuting atty., 1957–60; MO Special asst. atty. gen., 1961–63; Practicing atty., 1963–76.
The congressman from the 4th District is Ike Skelton, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, who can be called a Harry Truman Democrat. His father met the future president in 1928, when he was the Lafayette County prosecutor and Truman was a Jackson County judge, and they remained friends for life. His father supported Truman when he was nearly defeated in the 1940 Senate primary, and he took 17-year-old Ike to Washington for Truman’s inauguration in 1949. Skelton is from a military family: His father served in the Navy, he and his brothers went to military academies, and his sons have served in the Army and Navy. A teenage bout with polio made him ineligible for military service, but Skelton was treated in Warm Springs, Ga., and recovered enough to run in 2-mile races on his high school track team. He grew up in Lexington and remembers walking down the street in 1944 watching C-47s droning overhead pulling gliders, training pilots for D-Day. Skelton graduated from the University of Missouri and its law school and returned to rural Lexington to practice law. He became county prosecutor in 1957, at age 25. In 1962, Truman urged him to run for Congress, but he continued practicing law with his father. He was elected to the Missouri Senate in 1970. Six years later, he ran for the U.S. House. In the Democratic primary, two candidates from Jackson County split 45% of the vote, allowing Skelton to emerge the winner with 40%. In the general, Skelton again pitched his campaign toward rural voters, and defeated Richard King, the mayor of Independence, with 56% of the vote.
|Ike Skelton (D)||200,009||(66%)||($1,203,525)|
|Jeff Parnell (R)||103,446||(34%)|
|Ike Skelton (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (68%), 2004 (66%), 2002 (68%), 2000 (67%), 1998 (71%), 1996 (64%), 1994 (68%), 1992 (70%), 1990 (62%), 1988 (72%), 1986 (100%), 1984 (67%), 1982 (55%), 1980 (68%), 1978 (73%), 1976 (56%)
In Congress, Skelton votes like an old-fashioned rural Missouri Democrat. His voting record puts him near the midpoint of the House. He has tended to support the same expansive, assertive foreign and defense policies that the preponderance of Democrats supported in the Truman days. He became chairman of the Armed Services Committee in 2007, after serving as ranking minority member from 1999 to 2006. Armed Services is among the House’s least partisan committees. Most of its members are, like Skelton, strong defense supporters and the panel usually reports bills with bipartisan support. Skelton is greatly respected by Republicans as well as Democrats on the committee. His longtime mantra has been improving U.S. defense readiness. “Protecting our nation from direct attack is job one. Yet our allocation of forces does not match this imperative,” he said at a 2008 hearing. He set military pay raises as a top priority and sought to increase the number of Navy ships. Naturally, Skelton also looks out for the interests of Fort Leonard Wood and Whiteman Air Force Base, which, as he points out, are major bases with unique functions and thus have been spared from the rounds of base closures in recent years.
Over the years, he has made significant contributions to military policy. He played a key role in passing the Goldwater-Nichols Act in 1986, which created the joint commands. He has worked to improve housing and facilities for service members and their families and has proposed offering 18-month enlistments plus four years of Reserve duty to attract more recruits. As part of his on-the-job training, Skelton drew up a list of 50 books on military history and analysis and read them all. Since he came to Congress, he has filled six blank books with quotes from military thinkers from Sun Tzu through the present day. Skelton was among the prominent hawks in Congress who took to task the first Bush administration and the Clinton administration for cutting the military too much, and he regularly pressed President George W. Bush to seek higher force levels. In 2005, Skleton told Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld: “A permanent addition to the force is needed. You’re wearing ’em out, Secretary. That’s the bottom line.”
From the earliest stages, Skelton was deeply skeptical of the Bush administration’s decision to go to war with Iraq. After a meeting in the White House in the fall of 2002, he wrote the president arguing that an occupation would be difficult. But he nonetheless voted for the war resolution when Bush sent the question to Congress in October. “I have no doubt that our military would decisively defeat Iraq’s forces and remove Saddam,” Skelton said at the time. “But like the proverbial dog chasing the car down the road, we must consider what we would do after we caught it.” On the eve of military action, in March 2003, he wrote Bush another letter, saying that there was “great potential for a ragged ending to a war as we deal with the aftermath.” The following year, he said that the war had caused greater strain on the military than he had seen in his entire career and that the Pentagon was pushing Reserve forces “nearly to the breaking point.” After a trip to Iraq in 2006, Skelton enumerated his grievances with the occupation: a lack of planning, failure to deploy an adequate number of troops, failure to stop looting, disbanding the Iraqi army, kicking Baathists out of government jobs, lack of a strategy for dealing with militias, and the lack of an accounting of weapons given to Iraqi forces. “We are now, I think, strategically lost,” Skelton concluded.
He was also skeptical of Bush’s plan in 2007 for a “surge” in troop strength, a strategy that he said was “three-and-a-half years late and several hundred thousand troops short.” Sun Tzu, he argued, “said never begin a war without its end in sight, and never have so many enemies that you cannot defeat all of them. We have violated both of these precepts in the Iraqi war.” But Skelton always stopped short of calling for a cutoff of funds for the fighting. In May 2007, he sponsored a provision to the defense spending bill requiring all U.S. troops to pull out of Iraq by April 2008. The House passed it, but it died in the Senate. During debate on the 2009 defense appropriations bill, he backed away from a specific timetable in Iraq and sought to shift the focus to Afghanistan, which he worried was not a high enough priority for the administration. And in a sign that he’d lost faith in one of the key rationales for the war, Skelton banned references to “the war on terror” in the committee. “The Iraq war is separate and distinct from the war against terrorists, who have their genesis in Afghanistan and who attacked us on September 11, and the American people understand this,” Skelton told The Washington Times.
On nonmilitary issues, Skelton tends to stick with the Democrats on taxes and economic policy, though he was one of only 20 Democrats who voted in 2001 and 2002 to give the president greater powers to negotiate free-trade agreements. His rural Missouri roots were at work in those decisions. “For me it was the right thing to do. I represent a rural area. We have a lot of farms, a lot of soybeans, wheat, and corn. And one-fourth of all that depends on foreign markets,” Skelton said.
His toughest re-election was in 1982, when Missouri lost a congressional seat after the census and Skelton and a Republican incumbent, Wendell Bailey, were thrown into a newly drawn 4th District. Skelton won, 55%-45%, and he has not had a serious challenge since then. He is well-liked in a district that has trended Republican in recent elections. In 2004, when President Bush carried the district 64%-35%, Skelton was re-elected 66%-32%—more ticket-splitting than just about anywhere else in the country. It is widely assumed that when he retires, the 4th District will elect a Republican to replace him. However, Missouri seems likely to lose a House seat after the 2010 census, and the 4th District may be eliminated if Skelton chooses not to run in 2012, when he will be 80 years old.