After sitting front and center for a Bible-thumping Kansas City church service on the first Sunday in October, Democratic lieutenant governor 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 bathroom decked out in her Sunday best and emerged in a purple button-down work shirt with purple jeans and sneakers to match. The change was appropriate, considering her next campaign stop was the annual picnic of the United Auto Workers Union, Local 249.
“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 stage festooned with red, white and blue 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 her next appearance.
Out on his own campaign trail, Republican candidate Peter Kinder, state Senate president pro tem, consistently 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.
Kinder hammered Cook on those issues during Columbus Day visits to the rural communities of Clarksville, Monroe City and Shelbina, all in northern Missouri.
“She is on the most far left radical ticket in the history of the state of Missouri,” Kinder said, speaking from the back of a flat-bed truck outside a construction company in Monroe City.
For both Cook and her chief opponent, Kinder, the remaining days before the election will be a nonstop series of campaign events like these.
Both are lawyers from the Southwest town of Cape Girardeau, and each brings a distinguished record of public service, as well as a variety of differing opinions, to the contest.
And both are striving to make personal connections with voters, many of whom are unfamiliar with the position’s responsibilities.
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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 as a member of numerous boards, including the state Tourism Commission.
The lieutenant governor must also be prepared to step in and lead should the governor leave office.
Cook argues that Kinder, the Senate president pro tem, is to blame for the partisan maneuvers that bogged down Senate proceedings this past session. She argues her election is necessary to “restore decorum” to chamber proceedings.
“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 and vows to lead the Republican held Senate in a nonpartisan, objective manner. He frequently tells how the Senate, under his leadership, trimmed administrative costs by 15 percent and extends the theme 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 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 sponsored television ads that criticize Kinder for backing legislation that would have given $210 million to the St. Louis Cardinals for a new stadium. The bill did not pass, but the advertisement alleges that assisting the Cardinals was a higher priority for Kinder than funding for education. Kinder said he offered his support to prevent the Cardinals from leaving St. Louis.
Kinder said his top priority on the Tourism Commission would be to boost tourism to Missouri’s wineries and other agricultural attractions, while Cook said she would look to improve the promotion of Missouri’s tourist attractions to Missouri residents.
Each candidate also promises to use the office to tackle issues outside its traditional role. Kinder wants to establish a committee of business people to cut fat out of the state budget, and Cook wants to use it as a bully pulpit to speak out on education issues.
While Cook has focused her campaign on the Democratic strongholds of Kansas City and St. Louis, she wants to make inroads into rural areas many Democrats concede to Republicans. Kinder’s goal is to visit every one of Missouri’s 114 counties.
Kinder said he decided to run for lieutenant governor when he reached his limit on terms in the Senate.
An enthusiastic supporter of the limits when they came in, he said his decision to continue on in politics doesn’t make him one of the career politicians he spoke against when he first ran for state Senate in 1992 against Betty Hearnes, the wife of former Missouri Gov. Warren Hearnes.
“I’m finishing what I started,” Kinder said, adding that the Republican majority that 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 Judi Moriarty.
After election to a subsequent full term, Cook decided not to run for re-election 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, Cook retired from politics until re-entering the arena to 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 seek re-election. They told her she was the only available Democrat who could defeat Kinder in a statewide race.
Kinder concedes Cook had the edge on him coming into the campaign season 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. He thinks he’s been able to close the gap this past month, however, thanks to heavy ground campaigning and what he calls the most aggressive sign program in the state.
“People come up to me and say ‘You’re Peter Kinder. Every dollar counts,’” Kinder said.
Mike Ferguson, a business recruiter from Grandview running as the Libertarian candidate, believes there are a large number of voters who haven’t decided who they support for lieutenant governor, giving him an opportunity to draw votes from the major parties.
“This is down-ticket far enough that people are willing to shop their vote around where they may not be willing to for president or governor,” Ferguson said.
Ferguson would extend the role of the lieutenant governor to be an advocate for small business, and he proposes reducing the salary for the office by 25 percent to set an example for the rest of state government. He believes Missouri government could solve many of the state’s problems simply by getting government out of the way.
Bruce Hillis of Dexter is also running as the Constitutional Party’s candidate. His platform, according to his Web site, mirrors his party’s goals of protecting citizens from unconstitutional initiatives of state and federal government. He also urges for bi-annual sessions of the General Assembly, more private-market influence over nursing home care, and approval of resolutions calling on the federal government to end illegal immigration and to withdraw from the United Nations and other alliances.