Cook on mission in lt. governor bid

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series profiling the major party candidates for lieutenant governor.

By Marc Powers ~ Southeast Missourian

It's a comfortable Saturday morning in early October and Bekki Cook is knocking on doors in south Cape Girardeau. While promoting her candidacy for lieutenant governor, she is also stumping for the Democratic Party.

At one modest, well-kept house, an elderly -- but still spry -- woman politely invites her inside. Within moments, however, a vigorous debate ensues. Although she identifies herself as a lifelong Democrat, the woman expresses deep concerns, based on Republican television ads, about her party's commitment to improving education and access to health care, among other issues.

After listening intently, Cook proceeds to counter the GOP claims point by point. Within 15 minutes, the woman seems enthusiastically re-committed to the Democratic cause, as does her voting-age granddaughter who joined the conversation.

For Cook, that type of one-on-one persuasion and listening to the personal concerns of voters is what campaigning for office is all about.

"This race, I've done it for the pure joy of it," Cook said. "But I do have a mission."

Since Cook ended her six-year tenure as Missouri secretary of state four years ago, the political landscape in Jefferson City has undergone a drastic change. With sniping between the Republican-led legislature and Democratic administration all too common, Cook says her mission is to help restore civility to the Capitol and get state government refocused on helping people.

Connecting with rural voters

Both major party candidates for lieutenant governor on Nov. 2 live in Cape Girardeau, with the Republican nominee being Senate President Pro Tem Kinder.

Kinder is assistant to the chairman of Rust Communications, which owns the Southeast Missourian.

Kinder says Cook is out of step with rural voters and accuses her of ignoring outstate Missouri while focusing attention on the urban centers of St. Louis and Kansas City.

"I don't know what a statewide race is to some people," Kinder said. "I guess it's raising money and putting it on TV, but that's not my idea of one."

Cook bristles at the suggestion she is dismissing rural Missouri and says she has stronger down-home credentials than Kinder.

"I am a person from the country," Cook said. "I grew up in Jackson. He grew up in the 'big town' of Cape Girardeau. I identify very easily with the people outstate, and I think I know what makes them tick."

Kinder, long known as a champion of conservative causes, also says Cook has been on the opposite side of key social issues compared to most rural voters. Cook supports abortion rights and opposed the constitutional amendment banning gay marriage that Missourians ratified in August with 70.7 percent support.

With a statute that she favors specifying that marriage can only be between a man and a woman already on the books, Cook said she saw no legal need for the amendment. On abortion, she says it is a women's rights issue and a decision that should be undertaken without government interference.

Cook says her record as secretary of state provided her with the executive branch experience to be lieutenant governor.

"My job was to go in and clean up the secretary of state's office and make it a great office, and I did that," Cook said. "I think people appreciate my efforts there and know I will put forth the same full-time effort as lieutenant governor."

Although a party's candidates for the top two executive branch offices don't run as a ticket in Missouri, Cook expects to work closely with Claire McCaskill, the state auditor and Democratic nominee for governor, should they both win.

Since the lieutenant governor is the state's official advocate for the elderly, Cook says she would help McCaskill implement her proposal to provide senior citizens with access to low-cost prescription drugs from Canada. Cook would also like a role in pushing McCaskill's agenda on other issues in the Senate, over which the lieutenant governor presides.

"I think she would make me part of her team in an effort to improve education," said Cook, a former member of the State Board of Education.

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