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Cook, Kinder Race To Get Their Names Out In Lt. Gov Race

October 18, 2004
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - After sitting front and center for a high energy, Bible-thumping Kansas City church service in October, Democratic Lt. Gov. Candidate Bekki Cook was shuttled by a handler to a nearby fast food restaurant.

They weren't stopping for hamburgers. It was more like a costume change.

Cook went into the roadside restaurant's bathroom decked out in her Sunday Best and came back out in purple button-down work shirt with jeans and sneakers to match, which was appropriate considering her next campaign stop: United Auto Workers Local 249's annual picnic at a nearby Ford plant.

"This is standard procedure," Cook said. "It felt good to get out of that suit, particularly from high heels to tennies."

At the picnic, children played on an inflatable playground while their parents ate barbecue ribs and fried chicken off paper plates under a nearby tent. Most seemed to be doing their best to ignore the parade of union-approved candidates, Cook included, who offered short speeches on a red, white and blue festooned stage between performances by a classic rock cover band and teenagers singing karaoke.

And after a few minutes shaking hands and passing out stickers, Cook was back in the car and off to the next campaign stop.

For both Cook and her chief opponent, Republican Sen. Peter Kinder the remaining days before the election will be a nonstop series of campaign events like these. Both are trying to make personal connections with voters who may otherwise have little interest in the race for a position whose role many are unfamiliar with.

Both are lawyers from the Southwest Missouri town of Cape Girardeau and they each bring their own record of public service as well a variety of differing opinions.

Besides presiding over the Senate and casting tie-breaking votes, the lieutenant governor also serves as the state's official advocate for the elderly and a member of a number of boards, including the state Tourism Commission.

The lieutenant governor also must be prepared to step in and lead the state should the governor leave office during their term.

Cook said Kinder, the Senate president pro tem, is to blame for the partisan maneuvers that bogged down Senate proceedings this past session. She argues that her election is necessary to "restore decorum" to the Senate chamber.

"I've been disgusted by the GOP legislature," Cook said. "I think we need maturity in the position."

Kinder blames the Democratic minority for the problems. He vows to lead the Senate in a nonpartisan, objective manner if elected. He frequently cites his experience on the Senate floor as a leader who trimmed administrative costs, which has given way to the slogan seen on thousands of green and white yard signs across the state: "Every Dollar Counts."

Cook said opening up Missouri to the importation of lower cost prescription drugs from Canada would be her top priority for Missouri seniors. Kinder said he would not support drug imports until federal regulators find a way to guarantee safety.

Along with Democratic Secretary of State Candidate Robin Carnahan, Cook has sponsered television ads that criticize Kinder for backing legislation that would have given $210 million to the St. Louis Cardinals for a new stadium. While the bill did not pass, Cook alleges that Kinder put the Cardinals at a higher priority than education. Kinder said he offered his support to prevent the Cardinals from leaving St. Louis.

Kinder favors boosting tourism to Missouri's wineries and other agricultural attractions, while Cook said her top priority on the Tourism Commission would be to improve the promotion of Missouri's tourist attractions to Missouri residents.

Each candidate also promises to use the office to tackle issues outside of the office's traditional role. Kinder said he wants to cut fat out of the state budget and Cook wants to use it as a bully pulpit to speak out on education issues.

Out on the campaign trail, Kinder draws clear lines between himself and Cook on a number of social issues including gay marriage, guns and abortion. Cook and Kinder took opposing sides on the debate over Amendment 2, which banned gay marriage in Missouri.

"She is on the most far left radical ticket in the history of the state of Missouri," Kinder told a crowd gathered to meet him at a Republican office in Shelbina.

While Cook has focused her campaign on the Democratic strongholds Kansas City and St. Louis, she wants to make strides out into the rural areas many Democratics concede to Republicans. Kinder has made it his goal to visit voters in every one of Missouri's 114 counties.

Kinder said he decided to run for lieutenant governor when reviewing his options after term limits forced him from his Senate seat.

An enthusiastic supporter of the limits when they came in, Kinder said his decision to continue on in politics doesn't make him one of the career politicians he spoke against so strongly when he first ran for Senate in 1992 against Betty Hearns, the wife of former Missouri governor Warren Hearns.

"I'm finishing what I started," Kinder said, adding that the Republican majority which claimed both chambers of the General Assembly during his tenure still has goals to accomplish.

Cook entered state politics 10 years ago when she was appointed secretary of state by Gov. Mel Carnahan after the impeachment and removal of then Secretary of State Judith Moriarty.

After election to a subsequent full term, Cook decided not to run for reelection in 2000 saying she wanted to spend more time with her family.

After failing in her bid for a seat on Missouri's Supreme Court, she retired from politics until deciding to reenter the arena this year with a run for lieutenant governor.

Cook said she was prompted to run by party officials after the current office holder, Joe Maxwell, announced he would not run for reelection. They told her she was the only available Democratic who could defeat Kinder in a statewide race.

Kinder conceeds Cook has the edge on him in terms of name recognition, pointing to her high profile role as Secretary of State and the heavy advertising Cook used to defeat Sen. Ken Jacob in the Democratic Primary.

However, he feels he can overcome the deficit through what he calls the most aggressive sign program in the state.