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Marlow Cook, Moderate Kentucky Republican Leader, Dies

Marlow Cook and Mitch McConnell
U.S. Congress
Marlow Cook and Mitch McConnell

Former U.S. Sen. Marlow Cook of Kentucky, a moderate Republican and the second member of congress to call for the resignation of President Nixon, has died at age 89.

Cook was part of a Republican resurgence in the 1960s, returning the GOP to the Jefferson County judge-executive office in 1961 and winning a Senate seat in 1968. He also influenced future Kentucky leaders; Democratic U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth interned for Cook in Jefferson County and served as an aide in his Senate office.

“It was like working for your father in a lot of ways. He was just a wonderful man,” Yarmuth told Kentucky Public Radio.

Cook was a fierce defender of Kentucky’s interests. But one of his signature stances would ultimately lead to his defeat in the Senate, when he called for Nixon to resign amid the Watergate scandal, Yarmuth said.

“What he did was basically seal his electoral fate by doing that because he made a lot of his base mad. And that’s why it was such an incredibly courageous thing to do,” Yarmuth said.

Yarmuth later switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

Another of Cook’s notable hires was Mitch McConnell, who chaired Cook’s youth campaign in Kentucky when he ran for U.S. Senate in 1968 and then worked as Cook’s aide until 1970.

“I remained over the years extremely grateful for the opportunity he gave me to get started,” McConnell said in a speech to the Senate Floor on Wednesday.

McConnell would follow Cook’s steps, serving as judge-executive and then in the Senate, where he is the majority leader.

“Marlow Cook was someone who proved that Republican success was possible in a commonwealth at that time completely dominated by Democrats. And that was no easy task when he ran for office, but he succeeded anyway,” Mcconnell said.

McConnell has emerged as a national leader in the increasingly conservative Congress, but Cook late in life criticized the rightward trajectory of the party.

In 2014, he rebuked McConnell’s forceful push against the Affordable Care Act.

“If he had any knowledge of the lack of health and medical facilities in the hills of Kentucky. he'd know it's a problem we need to solve,” Cook told Mother Jones.

“For Mitch McConnell to decide the new health program is not good for Kentucky — it tells me he's not looking out for his own constituency."

Cook refused to vote for Republican President George W. Bush in his 2004 race, casting a ballot for Democrat John Kerry instead.

“I have been, and will continue to be a Republican. But 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,” Marlow said in a Courier-Journal op-ed.

Cook served in the state House from 1957 until 1961. He was then elected as Jefferson County judge-executive, and is known for purchasing the decrepit steamboat which became the Belle of Louisville.

“Marlow Cook was a statesman who will be remembered for championing causes, like the Equal Rights Amendment, based not on politics, but what he believed was right,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said in a statement.

“As Jefferson County judge-executive, as a U.S. senator representing Kentucky and even in retirement, Cook did what he thought was best for his community and his nation. He leaves many legacies, including an old steamboat he purchased that we now cherish as the Belle of Louisville. Our city mourns Sen. Cook’s passing.”

Cook was the first Roman Catholic to be elected statewide in Kentucky. He lost his Senate re-election bid to Democrat Wendell Ford in 1974.