Historic Quote: “Everything that has to be said has been said. But not everyone has said it.” Mo Udall.
By Scott Crass
When I started this piece, I wasn’t sure what angle to take. My initial inclination was to talk about Kentucky launching surprisingly early breakthroughs to women seeking office. It elected Martha Layne Collins as Governor in 1983, and as far back as 1968, very nearly sent Katherine Peden to Washington as a Senator. That’s noteworthy and groundbreaking for a state that, in that period (if not today), was more country-rural than urbanized.
However, upon further exploration of Peden’s campaign and the way both she and her opponent Marlow Cook conducted themselves, I decided to expand my piece to discuss, to paraphrase another figure from 1968, Bobby Kennedy, “seeing things not as they are but as they could be.” That is, conducting a campaign with civility. And as Mitch McConnell, who cites Cook as a mentor, a former boss, and a predecessor, gears up to run the race of his life next year against another female, he could take a lesson or two from a campaign that he has great familiarity with from nearly two generations before.
Both Cook and Peden were campaigning for the seat of retiring Republican Senator Thurston Morton. But the race far exemplifies a typical partisan battle. Pedan was a trailblazing Democrat and inspiration to many females, and Cook a hero among Republicans for ending a political drought in metro-Louisville who had a big fan in McConnell.
At first glimpse, it’s not hard to see the similarities between McConnell and Cook. Both were Jefferson County Executives who were elected under odds quite unfavorable for Republicans, though even more so in McConnell’s case. Both were 42 years old when they ascended to the Senate and both were cited as the chief architects at their times in building the Republican Party of Kentucky. But that’s where the similarities end and in recent years, Cook has not been skimpy about expressing his disappointment both with his party and McConnell.
First, let’s explore Peden. That Kentucky had a strong chance to send a female to the Senate at a time when women in Congress were rare (no more than two had served in the body simultaneously at that point) was impressive in itself. But Peden very nearly defied the odds. On Election Night, she started with a large gap but by the end of the night, had lost to Cook by just 36,000 votes, or 51-48%. Many felt she would have won were it not for her insistence of playing by the book.
Peden, a radio broadcaster and station owner by trade, entered the Senate race a distinguished figure in Bluegrass politics. The Hopkinsville natives appointment as the Commonwealth’s Commerce Secretary made her the first female appointee to hold that position in the nation. By undertaking an endeavor that would yield the state 150,000 non-farm jobs, Peden was credited with moving the state forward at a time Cook was being criticized for a $34,000 purchase of an old steamboat on the Ohio, the Avalon. A local lawyer by the name of Daniel Boone filed suit, and Cook ultimately agreed to issue refunds taxpayers for six cents each the amount he calculated the purchase was costing them. Cook recalls several asking for refunds in a check, though he says none were ever cashed. Incidentally, the ship was eventually converted into what today is known as the legendary “Belle of Louisville.”
During that time, Peden had other trailblazing roles. She was a JFK appointee to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. and LBJ’s choice to sit on the National Committee on Civil Disorders, more commonly known as the Kerner Commission. She was the sole female on the latter.
Jack Lyne, a Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame inductee, who at Peden’s request years before her death composed her obituary, cited three reasons for her loss to Cook: “Scruples,refusing to play the race card”, and not resorting to “smear” tactics. Remarkably, Cook conducted his campaign the same way but, as a Republican who was running in a state Nixon was winning, he had less to lose.
The scruples involved her refusal to take money from wealthy Kentucky donors, for fear that she’d be expected to bear that in mind every time she went to cast a vote (Peden still felt she could’ve won if she had received help from the national party).
The race card involved Wallace. Some campaign workers suggested Peden link her campaign to the ex-Alabama Governor, who at the time had boasted of possibly winning the Commonwealth, but Lyne wrote “she deeply abhorred Wallace’s supremacist stance. She blasted the idea, immediately dismissing it out of hand.” Peden also said she and Cook had agreed to run a “clean” campaign and amazingly, it stuck. She would later quip that “we’ve both said it was the last of the clean campaigns.” Friends before the election, they remained so until Peden died at 80 in 2006.
Lyne wrote that Peden would contemplate running for office again, but “couldn’t stomach the way contemporary politics were going, particularly the escalating costs and mudslinging.” That’s the basis for my piece.
In the Senate, Cook, an upstate New Yorker by birth, would prove hard to classify ideologically. His voting record was slightly right-of-center but unpredictable, yet with indication of strong thoughtfulness from issue to issue. Upon his entrance to the Senate, he may have been expected to be a hack but he excelled at using his skills as a lawyer to work out language for some of the most important domestic legislation, including the Voting Rights Act renewal. He joined with Birch Bayh and Martha Griffiths in reworking the Equal Rights Amendment, which still faced resistance from colleagues of both parties. The version the trio composed was largely credited with being able to pass the both Houses of Congress. He played a similar role in language for the amendment giving 18 year old’s the right to vote.
Cook cast a decisive vote against Nixon nominee Harrold Carswell to be a Supreme Court Justice. His opposition was considered to have swayed three uncommitted Senators in opposing him. This held sway because Cook had supported Nixon’s first choice, Clement Haynsworth, whom he said was “subjected to a character assassination that is unjustified.”
On other issues, Cook backed handgun control, voting for a ban on “Saturday Night Specials.” Cook opposed the ABM (anti-ballistic missile) but was hawkish on the Vietnam War, opposing an amendment by Frank Church and his esteemed senior home-state colleague John Sherman Cooper that would end funding for U.S. operations in Cambodia..
Cook opposed busing, a minimum wage increase and language that would “soak the rich” (as McConnell would do many times).
Another parallel with McConnell is Cook’s respect for the other side, particularly home state colleagues. While McConnell and his first Senate colleague, Wendell Ford, did little to hide their enmity for one another, Cook actively sought out his junior Democratic colleague, Dee Huddleston. As a state legislator, Cook roomed with a Democrat and sponsored major legislation with him.
Cook had the misfortune of seeking a 2nd term post Watergate and didn’t like the way the pardon was handled, but that may not have been his biggest problem. Democrats recruited popular Governor Wendell Ford to take him on.
Cook hit the stump hard and, seeking debates, accused Ford of staying in Frankfort while his surrogates did the campaigning. But it wasn’t enough. Ford sent Cook packing by 10%. But in a truly magnanimous gesture, Cook resigned early so Ford would get a leg up over his new colleagues in seniority. He would never seek office again.
On retirement, Cook remains a Republican but has, on three occasions in national elections, has not hesitated to back the Democrat. Local reporter Al Smith in his memoir, “Kentucky Cured: 50 Years of KY Journalism,” quotes Cook as saying he’d be voting for Bill Clinton (“with a wife and three daughters, none of my woman-folks would expect me to support a President who is not pro-choice.)” He actually endorsed Kerry in his 2004 bid for President, saying that he was “frightened to death of Bush” and that “while I have been, and will continue to be, a Republican..when we as a party send the wrong person to the White House, then it is our responsibility to send him home if our nation suffers as a result of his actions.”
Cook cited the Bush campaigns attacks on John McCain in 2000 and the wars without being paid for. He endorsed Obama last year. At 86, he resides in Sarasota, Florida.
When McConnell talks about Cook, he is effusive with praise. His old boss declines to return the compliment. In an interview with cn2′s Don Weber, Cook recalled hiring McConnell and “seeing the potential of a remarkable moderate.” But upon hearing McConnell say “the single most important thing (Senate Republicans) want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president,” Cook lambasted him. He says he thought of writing a letter saying, “Mitch, I’ve read the Constitution all over again and I find nowhere that the sole purpose of those who get elected is to see to it that the President has only one term.” Cook notes he never wrote the letter.
And that’s just it. Cook, whose gray haired even in the 1970′s typifies the role of a statesman was content to be a Senator. McConnell is a strategist and one who, friend and foe alike concede is a good one. who perpetually sports a dour demeanor on his face rarely passes up an opportunity to think of the politics behind policy change. His record use of the filibuster tool is always about stopping laws or Presidential nominations, not getting something through. Even when talking as a coach (prospects for Republicans winning), it’s usually because of what the other side is doing. Cook didn’t do business that way, and by bringing up the “Senator No” label, expressed displeasure at McConnell’s proclivities.
Granted, McConnell is the leader of his party in the Senate. Cook never was. But McConnell has long had a history of talking about the other side and his legislative reach suggests he only cares about the politics behind the policy, regardless of public interest.
His likely opponent is Alison Lundergan Grimes a Secretary of State whose charisma, spunk, and grace may hearken back to Peden. Now obviously, we live in a different era with instant soundbites and in your face politics. And campaigns require money, we get that. So while a Peden-Cook style race is antiquated, it doesn’t necessarily have to wither on the vine.
McConnell and Lundergan Grimes should take the respectful, altruistic, mantra of Peden-Cook, and give Kentuckians the most positive, issue oriented race. The example they’d would set for the nation would be monumental.
Well, that was fun while it lasted. Now, back to reality.