WASHINGTON — The calendar says spring, but for Sen. Kit Bond, it's autumn.
But Bond is no lame duck heading south. The Missouri Republican — equal parts national security watchdog, partisan brawler and master of political pork — has some unfinished business and knows the clock is ticking.
Retirement comes at the end of the year after nearly a quarter-century running around Capitol Hill, so he might be excused for taking a victory lap.
"I come to work every day with a whole bunch of things I'm trying to get done," he said during an interview inside his cluttered Senate office.
He's vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, where global threats come in daily through the transom. The panel's top Republican, he’s quick to read the White House the riot act if he doesn't like its response.
He called for the head of John Brennan, the White House counterterrorism chief, over the "underwear bomber" who tried to blow up an airliner on Christmas Day.
Now cybersecurity is one of his urgent priorities. He worries that enemies can breach U.S. techno defenses. His to-do list also includes longstanding concerns: better benefits for troops with post-traumatic stress disorder, vision care for children and more money for community health centers.
His friend and Democratic ally on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Maryland's Barbara Mikulski, once called him "a one-man smoke-filled room." It was as much for Bond's fondness for the occasional cheroot as for his preference for hammering out deals behind closed doors, away from the cameras and public posturing.
"He likes the art of the deal," said Jennifer Duffy, a Senate analyst for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report.
Indeed, the 71-year-old Bond is something of a throwback, his Web site and use of YouTube notwithstanding. It's not just his perpetually rumpled look, despite the good tailoring. Or his seersucker suits in the summer.
How many Republicans proudly point to a long history of championing cities or low-income housing? Neither is known as a bounty of GOP votes. How many express impatience for political purity checklists?
"The people who are not our friends are the ones who identify litmus tests," he said. He threw in "talk show hosts" for good measure.
Some of his colleagues are leaving the Hill because politics has become so toxic. Bond is packing up because he thinks 40 years of public service, including 24 in the Senate, is long enough.
He has no problem with partisanship, but said lately both sides have gone over the top. Yet Bond rarely passes up the chance to take a pot shot, even on something he thinks is a good idea.
Asked about extending unemployment insurance for the jobless, which he has supported in the past and the Senate is considering this week, he said, "The staggering number of Americans out of work should be a wake-up call to the Democrat-controlled White House and Congress that more government and higher taxes won’t create jobs."
His critics say he's become much more partisan since coming to Washington after two terms as governor.
"I think he's moved to the right as an insider," said Richard Martin, long active in Missouri Democratic politics. "He's been kind of a firebrand when it comes to Tea Party-type issues. He's tried to have it both ways."
Indeed, Bond told the Missouri General Assembly more than a year ago when he announced his retirement, "We all need President Obama … to succeed."
Yet, like every other Senate Republican, he's made it tough. Health care reform, Bond said, was a "monstrosity."
Bond relishes political combat, going a few rounds last month with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood over funding for high-speed rail. He's been in a snit over the way plans were being developed for a new $175 million federal building in Kansas City, and for months he held up the approval of Martha Johnson, the president’s choice to head the General Services Administration.
Obama called her a “hostage.” The Senate finally overrode Bond’s hold in February.
As for Brennan, Obama's top counterterrorism aide, he never resigned. But Bond claimed that vital intelligence was lost in how he believes the arrest and interrogation of the would-be Christmas bomber was mishandled.
"Somebody screwed up big time," he said.
It's not all darts and daggers. Bond praised the first lady for her recent spotlight on childhood obesity.
Kind words — and sympathy — went as well to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, with whom he once worked "very closely." That was before Reid became the Democratic leader and "had to tack hard left," Bond said. "I think that may catch up with him in November."
Hands across aisle, however, don't appear to be in either party's playbook, especially as midterm elections loom. Duffy of the Cook report said that Bond always has been a good Republican team player, but was "capable of surprising."
He was one of just 11 Senate Republicans who recently voted with the Democrats for a $17.6 billion jobs bill. Was it the freedom that comes with not having to face voters again?
More like realpolitik. Bond said that he felt squeezed. Democrats had included transportation funds in the legislation and Missouri needed the money.
He also sided with the Democrats to create a nonpartisan panel to recommend ways to reduce the deficit. "He will respectfully tell the leadership when he will go on his own," said Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas.
How he'll negotiate issues in his final months, Bond will only say, "I haven't had a day of boredom or a day of not knowing what I'm going to do for the last 23-plus years when I first walked into this place."