A coloratura isn't necessarily immune from stage fright. Especially if she's expounding a controversial tax-reduction plan instead of the love lore of Madame Butterfly.

Ask Camille Cook.By virtue of her marriage to Independent gubernatorial candidate Merrill Cook, the diva has landed on center stage. And despite her successful operatic career, she's admittedly frightened.

"I tend to want to be in the background. When it comes to being out in the forefront, standing up on an issue that's controversial (slashing the state's taxes), it frightens me a little. I don't like to offend people," said Cook, whose outward sophistication blankets shyness. "But I realize people have different viewpoints. You are never going to have everyone agree with you. It wouldn't be any fun if they did."

Camille, a talented vocalist, devoted mother, gardener, and do-it-yourself handyman, is also a strong "stand-by-your-man"-type woman.

She's a walking promotion for America's political process as well.

"If you had asked me 10 years ago if I was interested in politics, I'd have told you that I go out and vote. But I had never really gotten involved in the issues," she said. "Since then, I have seen how important it is to really be involved - to know what's going on, so you can vote intelligently."

She credits her husband for her transformation from a political pacifist to activist. She's always supported his political aspirations.

"That's because I know how good he is at analyzing and understanding issues. Also, I think the thing I admire most about him is the way he will stand up when there are so many against him on a certain issue because he thinks he's right," she said. "Not all politicians will do that.

"I am a very staunch supporter of Merrill. I think he's right in what he's saying. I really think Utah is in desperate need of a tax cut - no matter what all these other big guns say. I think it would be very therapeutic to the economy."

Many of those so-called "big guns" are neighbors of the Cooks on Salt Lake's east bench. "It's not easy to live where you know your neighbors don't really support what you are doing. But there are those who do support us too," she said.

"I think it's a matter of getting his message out, because when he tells it one-on-one, people are excited," the effervescent woman said. "They don't particularly like what Bangerter has done; they're frightened of Wilson because he has the reputation of being another Democrat who'll increase taxes.

"If we can overcome what we believe are scare tactics of the big guns, we can come up quite a bit in the polls, which I don't think are reflecting Merrill's true support."

Camille Sanders, a Salt Lake native, attended Roosevelt Junior High School and East High with Merrill Cook, but never became acquainted with him. She sheepishly admits she even voted for his opponent when Cook ran for junior high school president.

Merrill's sister, who married Camille's brother, introduced Camille and Merrill. The two couples' children look more like siblings than cousins.

Like his unsuccessful race for Salt Lake mayor, the gubernatorial campaign isa family affair, with Camille and four of their five children frequently traveling with Merrill. (A son is a junior at Yale University). While the candidate addresses community groups, his offspring flood the area's business district, putting up window signs reading "Prosperity Follows Tax Cuts."

"I have loved going out campaigning; I have found the importance of being involved," Camille said. "But it (campaigning) is tough work. It's not easy to be up all night talking issues, and then back up in the daytime ready to go again. It's not easy to be criticized. But, that's politics."

On those rare occasions when she's asked to speak on her husband's behalf, Camille admits she "makes it very short and reiterates what Merrill says about the issues that I think are important."

Those issues, which she would also address as first lady, include Utah's homeless, support of the arts, and education.

"My first priority would be to ensure that education is properly funded, that the teachers are properly paid and their class sizes regulated," she said. "Merrill says if we can let the class size go up just one (student) in the next couple of years, the demographics themselves will help to bring it down as we go on. But, the statistics can tell you one thing or another."