The Missouri Times is speaking to new lawmakers this session. Get to know more of the “Freshmen to Watch” here.
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Rep. Bennie Cook is no stranger to working with lawmakers and constituents, and he’s making that experience the foundation for his time in the statehouse.
Among various roles in his community, including a commission with the Texas County Sheriff’s Department and his service as the county’s emergency management director, he also worked as a field representative for U.S. Congressman Jason Smith for four years. Cook said he felt humbled to begin his own tenure representing his district in the House.
“It’s an honor being here,” Cook told The Missouri Times. “I sit in the chamber and look around and think about how many people have had this great opportunity for their district and for the state, and it means so much for people to put their trust in me like this.”
With a heavy emphasis on the needs of the rural community he serves, Cook looks to legislate in a way that benefits his constituents. Most of his 2021 bills concern education and law enforcement, with one adding employment as a police officer or first responder to the list of motivations for offenses considered to be hate crimes. Other bills would establish tax credits for first responders, law enforcement, and police.
“I think we need to protect law enforcement. Every day up here I turn the TV on and hear these things, and I think how many more people are going to want to be members of law enforcement or be a teacher,” he said. “So many people are truly dedicated to those fields, and we need to do our best to help and protect them so that’s one of my main focuses here.”
Another priority for Cook is expanding broadband access to rural communities, a focus carried over from his time working with Smith. He credits his former boss as an inspiration for both policy areas and outreach; he plans to have mobile offices in every town in his district to increase access to his constituents.
“That’s something I did with Congressman Smith, and I think it’s very impactful — not just going to your larger towns but to all the small towns so anyone can come by and give feedback,” he said. “I started working on those a few years back, and I realized then that it’s a good way to reach out. I’m going to be there myself, so they can talk to me face-to-face and know that I’m listening to them. The constituent services we can provide the public are vital and a very important part of it.”
Cook emphasized his commitment to serving constituents beyond the legislative session, already looking forward to speaking with his district about what it hopes to see from him next year. With a collaborative freshman class around him, he also hopes to continue working with fellow lawmakers to push priorities forward.
“Working with everyone here, from constituents to other representatives, it’s been great and I’m looking forward to the future,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how we can come together to work in the ‘off-season’ — having meetings to discuss what we can do next year that can positively impact our districts and see what legislation our districts and the state want to see.”