Aaron Schock


This week Washingtonian magazine released its “Best and Worst of Congress” list that appears in its September issue, and both of our U.S. senators placed prominently.

Not surprisingly, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin did better in the polling than U.S. Sen. Roland Burris, who was appointed to the Senate by then-Gov. (and now convicted felon) Rod Blagojevich.

In the survey of administrative aides, press secretaries, legislative directors and other congressional staffers, Washingtonian found that Durbin is considered the most eloquent member of the U.S. Senate, as well as its top workhorse. Burris, on the other hand, was named the Senate’s most clueless member and the third-most likely senator to be involved in a scandal. (Fortunately, time is quickly running out for Burris to get embroiled in another scandal – though the Blagojevich one is already enough.)

As of this writing, I haven’t heard either senator’s response to the rankings, but I can imagine them. Durbin, for instance, might play off his ranking as the Senate’s top workhorse and channel Lou Gehrig, who was known as baseball’s “Iron Horse.”

“Today,” Durbin might say, “I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Well, besides my fellow Illinoisan, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, who was named the House’s top male hottie and third-best dresser in the same survey.”

Microphone reverb would be added for effect, of course.

But now that we know Durbin is considered the most eloquent member of the Senate (Who knew?), I now have higher expectations for his speechifying.   And when I think of eloquent, I think of Shakespearean-style soliloquies.

“O, what a rogue this news inspires me to be,

Always second to one, Barack or Reid,

But in a dream of passion, I come out on top,

Obama’s now president, and Reid may be out,

Should Harry lose re-election, I shall not weep much,

For the next move is obvious, I have a hunch,

The Senate’s best speaker would be majority leader!”

As for Burris, he is known for his brazen disregard for reality and tendency to refer to himself in the third person. He probably would call himself a visionary and try to make his first-place ranking sound like an award rather than a raspberry. Then he would have it etched in the side of his mausoleum.

Indeed, his “acceptance speech” might go something like this:

“People said I was either crazy or divinely directed. I accept the latter. I believe, without a doubt, that I am predestined to be a role model.”

It’s not like that is too far-fetched – Burris actually uttered that quote to the Chicago Sun-Times when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1994.

Actually, considering the ranking Burris received, I’d love to hear Crazy Uncle Roland paraphrase some quotes from the Alicia Silverstone movie, “Clueless.” Instead, we probably would hear something like this:

“My friends in the media,” he might say, “I would just like to state that the attitude in the Senate is a disgrace. I mean, all this nonsense about Roland Burris might be corrupt, Roland Burris is clueless, let’s shun Roland Burris. I doubt any of them are cleaner than Roland Burris.”

And he might even be right about the holier-than-thou attitude directed toward him by his fellow senators. But, what Burris has always failed to grasp is this: He makes it so easy to cast stones at him.

Burris, however, can always take solace in this fact: Two months from now, we won’t have him to kick around anymore.

This column was also published in the Sept. 2 issue of Ottawa Delivered.

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Earlier this month I covered the inaugural Reagan Legacy Scholarship Dinner for Ottawa Delivered. The event, held at Pitstick Pavilion near Ottawa, featured a $500 scholarship being awarded to an Ottawa Township High School senior and a lot of fond Republican memories of our nation’s 40th president being shared by those in attendance.

As tends to be the case at such events, I got to interview several political candidates who don’t regularly stump in this part of the state. The following is a column I wrote about my encounter with two Republican candidates for Illinois governor, originally published online and in print Nov. 12.

* * *

Last weekend’s inaugural Reagan Legacy Scholarship Dinner proved fruitful for me as a political reporter. Since Ottawa isn’t Chicago, Springfield or another Illinois city comparable in size, we usually don’t get a lot of visits from statewide-office seekers until crunch time right before a close election.

The dinner, which originally was to feature GOP rising star U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Peoria) as its main speaker (the health-care reform debate kept him in Washington, D.C., that day), was attended by two of the seven men vying for the Republican nomination for governor: state Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale) and DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom (R-Naperville). I talked with both of them separately before dinner began.

I found Dillard easily, considering he was wearing a big button with his name on it. (And by big, I mean the size of my fist.) He exuded confidence when asked how his campaign is going.

“I feel perfectly positioned at this point of the campaign,” Dillard said.

Two days earlier, the seven GOP candidates for governor – which also include state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), former state GOP chairman Andy McKenna (R-Chicago), former state Attorney General Jim Ryan (R-Elmhurst), political commentator Dan Proft (R-Wheaton) and government transparency advocate Adam Andrzejewski (R-Hinsdale) – all debated together for the first time. While complimenting the tone of the debate, Dillard couldn’t resist poking at a couple of his opponents.

“It was polite and professional and it was nice to see Andy McKenna and Jim Ryan get out of the Rose Garden and come out of hibernation,” Dillard said. “Most of the candidates have been campaigning statewide, not just at the Hilton in Chicago.”

A state senator since 1994, Dillard served as former Gov. Jim Edgar’s chief of staff, former Gov. Jim Thompson’s director of legislative affairs, and a judge for the Illinois Court of Claims. He believes his experience and his track record of clean ethics make him the frontrunner in the race. The main point he emphasizes is his desire to make Illinois a “destination economy” through what he promises would be “the most aggressive job-recruitment program in this state’s history.”

As soon as my interview with Dillard concluded, Schillerstrom’s assistant suddenly appeared to ask if I’d like to talk to his boss. Reporters who are seen talking to one candidate typically draw others like moths to light. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s funny how that works, isn’t it?

Anyway, my first impression of Schillerstrom was his booming voice (which was later amplified when he used a microphone to address the crowd). Like Dillard, he expressed confidence in his campaign.

“I think it’s going very well,” Schillerstrom said. “My message is really resonating with the people of Illinois.”

That message, he said, emphasizes the importance of stabilizing the state’s economy while practicing fiscal responsibility. He said that under his leadership, DuPage County cut property taxes in seven of the last 10 years. Noting that DuPage County has more residents than six states, Schillerstrom said his job as county chairman is akin to being governor of a small state.

“We can take that approach to Springfield,” Schillerstrom said. “I’m not from Springfield. I’m not from that culture. I don’t think like they do. I believe in balancing our budget every year. If we don’t have it, we don’t spend it.”

The opportunity for face-to-face interviews with these statewide candidates was, to quote another former governor, “golden.” I hope more candidates from both sides of the political aisle visit Ottawa soon so I get the chance to interview them in person, too.