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story.lead_photo.caption Former attorney general John Ashcroft addresses the crowd during the annual Lincoln Days fundraiser Monday at Capitol Plaza Hotel and Convention Center. Photo by Claire Hassler, News Tribune

Former Missouri governor, U.S. senator and U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft sought to energize Cole County and state Republican party members Monday night, speaking about the importance of the vision of liberty he presented during his speech at the Cole County Republican Central Committee's Lincoln Days.

Liberty is "the single most important value in the history of America. I would argue, and I think convincingly so, the most important value in the history of the world is liberty — the ability and dignity of individuals to make consequential choices for which they take responsibility, and have the benefit of the outcomes related to those choices, be they good or bad. That's what makes America a special place," Ashcroft said.

Lincoln Days is an annual fundraiser of the Cole County Republican Central Committee. Funds from the event support the party's Cole County candidates in the November general election, as well as Central Missouri Honor Flight and Operation Bugle Boy's dinner for veterans.

Ashcroft was born in Chicago but raised in Springfield, Missouri. He went on to serve as Missouri's auditor from 1973-75, attorney general from 1976-85 and governor from 1985-93.

He was elected as a Republican U.S. senator for Missouri in 1994 and served until 2001, when he became the U.S. attorney general under former President George W. Bush from 2001-05.

Son John R. "Jay" Ashcroft is currently the Missouri secretary of state.

The elder Ashcroft said Monday night that liberty should not be conflated with other concepts, such as democracy — which can be nothing more than violent mob rule.

"We need to be asking countries around the world when they emerge after a regime change, not 'Are you democratically elected?' The first liar doesn't have a chance when they say how rich the vote was in their behalf. What we need to find out is 'Do you respect human dignity enough to have a demand for liberty in your culture?' and 'Would you make freedom a cornerstone of who you are, instead of your power being the cornerstone of who you are?'" Ashcroft said.

He advocated for Republicans as the party to carry the nation forward to the future — not Democrats, and the portrait of their priorities he painted.

Ashcroft decried "a benefit culture," that includes things such as free health care "to people who not only haven't earned it, but who would come here illegally to get it," and the forgiveness of college debt paid for by the working class.

"I can't think of anything that more profoundly defines the Republican party than the rule of law, and reverence for the Constitution. It is that rule of law that has sustained us for a couple hundred years now," he added.

Before Monday night's event, Ashcroft labeled calls for current U.S. Attorney General William Barr to resign as "nonsense."

Barr has been criticized for his involvement with the sentencing recommendation for President Donald Trump associate Roger Stone, as well as other accusations that he's doing Trump's political bidding, according to Bloomberg News (TNS).

More than 2,000 former Department of Justice officials — including some who would have served under Ashcroft's tenure, based on the administrations they list having worked for — have purportedly signed a petition asking for Barr's resignation.

Ashcroft defended Barr as "a person of great integrity," and "the right person (for the job) at this time."

On Gov. Mike Parson's priority of reducing violent crime, Ashcroft said he didn't have any advice to offer from his own experience — "(Parson has) got plenty of good advisors" — but he was pleased to see public safety as a priority.

Referencing the same question in his speech later, Ashcroft said "That's what government's about. That's what it's for. Our government's not designed to live for us. Our government's designed to keep an environment available to us so that we can live for ourselves and our families, and we can exercise the creative capacity and industry that God has placed within us to get some things done."

Monday night's Lincoln Days activities also included awarding longtime Republican political consultant Tony Feather with a Pathfinder Award that is for people who have greatly impacted the promotion of conservative values and led other people to do the same.

Numerous items were also live-auctioned. Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Wardsville, was among the two people who supported the Central Missouri Honor Flight by purchasing a book — $225 from Veit for "For Military Merit: Recipients of the Purple Heart."

Local Republican state, county and municipal leaders including Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, Rep. Dave Griffith, Cole County Associate Circuit Judge Cotton Walker, Cole County Sheriff John Wheeler and Cole County Recorder of Deeds Judy Ridgeway, as well as Rick Mihalevich who occupies a non-partisan seat on the Jefferson City Council, were among those present who also bought political and sports art and memorabilia, and other items. A handgun was raffled off, and a specially-engraved rifle auctioned off.

Gov. Mike Parson introduced Ashcroft. News Tribune cartoonist Jim Dyke also presented Ashcroft with a framed copy of the cartoon about Ashcroft that ran in Sunday's edition.

This article was edited at 7:20 a.m. Feb. 18, 2020, to reflect that the Jefferson City Council is chosen in non-partisan elections.

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