More women run for state's high offices

Sunday, August 8, 2004

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- As Claire McCaskill approached the podium Tuesday night to address supporters after winning the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, "Respect," soul queen Aretha Franklin's anthem of female authority, blared over the sound system.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T is exactly what women candidates for high office are getting in Missouri this year.

Depending on how the November general election turns out, four of Missouri's six statewide executive branch officeholders and one of its U.S. senators could be women come January. Also, if elected governor, McCaskill could possibly appoint a woman to replace her as state auditor.

During Tuesday's primary elections, Democrats and Republicans combined nominated six women to run in five statewide races. Only the contest for attorney general lacks a female presence.

McCaskill said she was encouraged by the fact that there was virtually no talk about gender during her primary election campaign against incumbent Gov. Bob Holden.

"I don't want anyone to vote for me because I am a woman," she said. "I want to them to vote for me because I am qualified."

One byproduct of a McCaskill win would be the lack of a first lady. Instead, as McCaskill phrased it to supporters, her husband, Joe Shepard, would be Missouri's "first dude."

Joining McCaskill at the top of the ticket is State Treasurer Nancy Farmer, a Democrat seeking to unseat three-term Republican U.S. Sen. Kit Bond.

Farmer and McCaskill are currently the only women holding statewide office in Missouri. The most women Missouri has had in high elected office at once was three when Jean Carnahan served in the U.S. Senate from 2001 to 2003.

Although candidates for governor and lieutenant governor don't run as a team in Missouri, it is noteworthy that for the first time a major party in the state has simultaneously nominated women for those spots, with Bekki Cook, a Cape Girardeau Democrat, seeking the No. 2 executive branch job. Her Republican opponent is Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, also of Cape Girardeau.

Cook was the only woman on the Democratic ticket in 1996 when she won a full term as secretary of state, a post to which she had been appointed two years earlier to fill a vacancy.

No longer impossible

She said being a woman helped her garner voter attention that year. When asked about the potential for a female-dominated state government in 2005, Cook chuckled.

"It obviously makes me laugh and mostly out of joy," Cook said. "When I was a little girl it was an impossibility. Now that it is in the realm of possibility, it is a pleasure to think about."

This year's secretary of state race is the only one guaranteed to put a woman in office as House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, is running against Democrat Robin Carnahan of St. Louis.

When Hanaway became the first woman to occupy the powerful legislative position of House speaker in 2003, she downplayed the significance, noting that women in prominent governmental and political posts had become commonplace in Missouri.

Still, Hanaway views the large number of women on the ballot this year as a positive development just two decades after Democrat Harriett Woods broke new ground by being elected lieutenant governor in 1984.

"It is a great testament to the fact that there are a lot of opportunities for women in public service," Hanaway said. "It probably means we've reached a point where voters will cast ballots based on the candidates' positions on issues and not gender."

Missouri 'far ahead'

The final statewide race featuring a women is for state treasurer, which pits state Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla, against Arnold Mayor Mark Powell, a Democrat.

"Missourians realize women can handle government just as well as men," Steelman said. "I think Missourians are far ahead of a lot of other states. I don't think gender is an issue."

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