Cook focusing on education, elderly in lt. governor bid

Friday, June 18, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Since Bekki Cook stepped down as secretary of state in 2001, Missouri government has undergone significant change with the Republican takeover of the Missouri Legislature.

In Cook's view, the change has been for the worse and helped prompt her to return to the political arena by seeking the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.

"The direction they are taking us in the state is deadly," Cook said of the Republican-led legislature. "I feel it is deadly not just in terms of their lack of care and concern for people, but I think it is also a real problem in terms of our economy."

Cook made her comments to reporters and a few supporters Thursday during a stop in a three-day campaign swing across the state that culminates 10 a.m. Saturday in her hometown of Cape Girardeau with an appearance at the Common Pleas Courthouse.

Cook, 53, several times invoked the name of the late Gov. Mel Carnahan, a Democratic icon in Missouri.

"Mel Carnahan is no longer here, but the things he fought for -- that so many of us fought for -- are as important today as ever," Cook said. "The qualities Mel brought to public life -- integrity, decency, fairness, the determination to do what's right -- those things are more vital than ever. I'm running for lieutenant governor because I care about those things."

Carnahan appointed Cook as secretary of state in 1994 after her predecessor was ousted amid scandal. Cook was elected to a full term in 1996 but did not seek re-election in 2000. Former U.S. Sen. Jean Carnahan, the late governor's widow, has endorsed Cook's latest bid for office.

Cook, who has also served on the State Board of Education, vowed to push for improvements in the state's public school system. Although the lieutenant governor has no constitutional or statutory duties related to education, Cook said the office can be used as a "bully pulpit" to effect change.

Office as advocate

"There are other obligations in the lieutenant governor's office, but there is still enough time for someone who works hard to address these other needs in public education, and I pledge to do that," Cook said.

One of the post's official duties is to be the state's advocate for the elderly. Cook promised to work for better services and protections for senior citizens. She said many older Missourians are in dire need of help due to corporate cuts of pension and health benefit plans and the rising cost of prescription drugs.

"The gap between what our seniors had been promised and what they get -- between what they deserve and receive -- is growing," Cook said.

The lieutenant governor's most prominent duty is presiding over the Senate. Cook's opponent in the Aug. 3 Democratic primary, Senate Minority Floor Leader Ken Jacob of Columbia, has touted his eight-year tenure in the chamber and his familiarity with its rules as an advantage he has over Cook.

Jacob, who has a reputation for a combative style, frequently used Senate rules this year to block Republican-sponsored legislation he opposed. Despite her earlier criticism of Republican policies, Cook said her temperament is more conducive to fostering cooperation.

"You will get a lot more accomplished if you work on resolving the differences between you instead of blocking things and stopping things," Cook said. "I understand there are times and occasions where that must be done. It can de done without sticking your opponents in the eye."

Jacob, who has been endorsed by current Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell, could not be reached for comment.

Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder of Cape Girardeau and former state Rep. Patricia Secrest of Manchester are vying for the Republican nomination for the office.

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