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The Maestro: John Hancock

May 12, 2005
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

John Hancock

The Maestro

If you google John Hancock -- the official spokesman for the Missouri GOP, not the dead guy with the big signature -- you're going to find a lot of news clippings. The man is in every political reporter's source book.

But you might also find some evidence of what the GOP operative calls his real passion: ragtime music.

A composer and pianist, Hancock got his start in politics at 13 when the St. Louis home of ragtime's founding father, Scott Joplin, was in jeopardy.

"One-hundred grand in renovations were vetoed by the mayor and he wasn't returning my phone calls," Hancock said. "So I ... gave the mayor an earful. He ended up putting the people who owned the house in touch with the Department of Natural Resources, who worked a deal on a museum."

After several stints in the state legislature as an adult, Hancock, 41, made two unsuccessful bids for secretary of state. When he lost to Democrat Bekki Cook in 1996, he moved behind the scenes, serving as the party's executive director and spokesman until 2003. That's when he went private, forming John Hancock & Associates, a consulting firm that continues to work for the Missouri GOP and also pitched in for the Bush/Cheney ticket in the fall presidential election.

While the Republican Party is no stranger to power in Missouri, it's with Hancock at the helm that it has reached what might be its greatest strength. In November, the party of Lincoln increased its majorities in both chambers of General Assembly and made Matt Blunt the first Republican governor in 12 years.

This year marks the first time more than 80 years the GOP has controlled both branches in the statehouse.

"It might have been a loss for John Hancock in that secretary of state race," said MU political science professor and one-time Republican candidate Rick Hardy, "But it was a real loss for the Democrats because they had to face his organizational skills."

Observers, Hardy included, are quick to point to the GOP's increased emphasis on controversial social issues such as gun control, gay rights and abortion as key to its newfound success. But Hancock says the unheralded grassroots political work on his end made the difference.

"Politics are cyclical," he said. "The last four years have been an upswing for the GOP in the political cycle and we've done a good job of maximizing that. When you're an operative, you have very little ability to dictate the cycle. Our value comes in maximizing the upside and minimizing the downside."

The trick, Hancock says, was putting increased emphasis on winning blossoming "exurban" districts, political lingo for the residential communities springing up outside suburbs across the state. They make up some of Missouri's fastest growing areas and they all vote Republican.

"St. Louis County is no longer part of our equation, the largest, most populated county in the state," Hancock said. "What we've done on a statewide count is we lose the cities and win almost everything else."