Senatorial candidate walking across state

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nashville attorney Bob Tuke is planning to walk across the state from Memphis to Knoxville. He's campaigning to be chosen as the Democrat best able to oppose Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander in the next election.

He plans to walk the 1,100 plus miles in short segments, wearing the boots he wore as a Marine when he fought in Vietnam. He will talk to people as he goes, and hold town hall meetings wherever possible. Friends and fellow veterans will join him.

Tuke started on May 10, and walked from the Mississippi River through Memphis to Cordova. It was perfect walking weather that day, but Tuke is not planning to abandon any scheduled walks because of a bad weather forecast.

"Usually when Marines march, it rains," he said during a stopover in Lewisburg last week. He feels the walk makes a point about his commitment to the campaign and the people of Tennessee.

Tuke has been a lifelong Democrat and is a former chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party. He has supported many candidates through fund-raising and organization, but never ran for office.

Why start now? Tuke answers, "The Democratic Party needed a strong candidate, and I decided I needed to be that candidate."

Most candidates for the office of U.S. senator work up to it through lesser elected offices, but Tuke asserted, "My professional career has prepared me to do this as well or better than public service would have. It's important for us to have representatives who really care about families."

Tuke said he has been caring about and creating families for 25 years in his role as adoption law attorney. He worked on the Tennessee Adoption Study Commission and, with Bill Russell, re-drafted the Tennessee adoption code, which is now considered a model for the nation.

Tuke founded the American Academy of Adoption Attorneys and served as its president. He also acts as attorney for Meharry Medical College, which he calls "a national treasure," citing its record of providing the country with more minority doctors than any other institution.

Tuke grew up in Rochester, N.Y., but went to college at the University of Virginia on a Navy ROTC scholarship. After graduation in 1969 he volunteered for the Marines, and served for four years, including a tour in Vietnam in 1971. He attended Vanderbilt Law School on the G.I. Bill, and was admitted to the Tennessee Bar in 1976.

Tuke met his wife of 38 years, the former Susan Cummins, in Nashville. She was a banker, but is now a homemaker and a volunteer English-Spanish translator. He speaks Spanish, too, and they have been going on mission trips to Honduras for 14 years.

They adopted their two children. Andrew, 27, is a junior high math and science teacher in Colorado, and Sarah, 24, works for U.S. Rep. Bart Gordon in Washington. In his free time Tuke likes to hike, run, row and read.

Ask him any question about policy and Tuke is ready with a detailed answer. But he's under no illusion that change will be quick or easy.

"We'll have to work really hard to achieve solutions," he said. "In the long term, we need people in Washington, D.C., who are willing to address problems in a constructive way."

He has to win the Democratic primary on August 7 in order to go forward to the contest with Lamar Alexander. At least four others are seeking the nomination, including former Knox County clerk Mike Padgett, who visited the Tribune offices a few weeks ago.

Why haven't we heard from the others? "Maybe that's because I care about you more than they do!" replies Tuke as he prepares to go on his way. He's got almost three months to walk, talk and fund-raise, and the ex-Marine is ready for the challenge.