Rep. Ike Skelton was one of the Democratic heavyweights felled in Tuesday’s election. As chairman of the House Armed Services Committee – and a Missouri congressman for 34 years – I’ve covered him since coming to Washington nearly that long ago. “For my entire life, I’ve had a love affair with the state of Missouri — that love affair continues,” he told his supporters at the Victorian Peddler antique shop in Lexington as he conceded his first electoral defeat last night at age 78. “I hope that my service through the years has made them proud because I have been very, very proud to represent them.”
Republican Vicky Hartzler beat Skelton, a conservative Democrat who opposed President Obama’s health-care reform and abortion, with the Tea Party’s help. Hartzler’s claim that the long-time lawmaker was increasingly out of touch with his district stuck. Skelton, highly regarded inside the Pentagon for pushing continued education for troops and concern for their families, sensed this might happen over breakfast recently. While reporters pestered him about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” – only one constituent had raised it during a recent tour of his district, he said – Skelton made clear such issues weren’t front and center in Missouri’s 4th Congressional District.
“There are other things on people’s minds like jobs and the economy,” he said. “Agriculture. Some areas of agriculture are jumping up, they’re doing better, which is a good thing. Some good things are happening. Whiteman Air Force Base, Fort Leonard Wood are providing some serious jobs and I was able to help keep about 60 jobs at Whiteman Air Force Base, security guards, that were going to be laid off — that’s a big deal.
“The economy is really the overriding Damocles sword,” Skelton concluded. It fell for him – and other senior Democrats on the armed services committee, like John Spratt of South Carolina and Gene Taylor of Mississippi – last night.