Mark Kirk


My column from last week’s issue of Ottawa Delivered:

Since U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk decided to stump in Ottawa on the anniversary of the local Lincoln-Douglas debate – and in the same location, no less – I must admit to a bit of disappointment that the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate didn’t try harder to channel the Great Emancipator.

I know some people will think I’m picking on Kirk unfairly – he did, after all, actually come to Ottawa, despite knowing his opponent, State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, wouldn’t be here – but his choice of date and venue is clearly designed to make a connection between Kirk and Lincoln, the first and greatest Republican president. I’m certainly not going to let the opportunity pass.

First, let’s address Kirk’s appearance. He should’ve donned a top hat and wore platform shoes to make himself appear more Lincoln-esque. Even though Lincoln didn’t sport a beard when he debated Stephen Douglas, Kirk also could’ve grown out his facial hair to add to the Lincoln look.

The seven Lincoln-Douglas debates were held 152 years ago, and topics of concern to citizens and politicians have changed in the past century and a half. Kirk addressed this matter, noting that slavery was the topic of the day for Lincoln and Douglas. Rather than talk about repression of people based on creed or color – a great opportunity to address the Ground Zero mosque and Arizona immigration law controversies – Kirk instead talked about government spending, a hot topic for those seeking elected office nowadays.

Although he knew Giannoulias had agreed to only two debates, both in October, Kirk still came to Ottawa looking like he was expecting a debate. He held a list of talking points in his hand, occasionally looking down at them to make sure he told the small gathering about everything he wanted to talk about in a debate with Giannoulias. And, of course, he noted his opponent’s absence three times.

The fact that Kirk spoke for only eight minutes also is of concern. Each Lincoln-Douglas debate lasted three hours – imagine sitting through that on a hot August day in a park packed with people – but since Kirk didn’t have a sparring partner to debate, I’ll cut him some slack and reduce his expected politicking time to only 90 minutes.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine sitting through that on a hot August day, either. But for the sake of comparing Kirk’s Ottawa visit to the Lincoln-Douglas debate, here’s one more topic I wish the Republican candidate would’ve addressed:

Early in his debate, Lincoln talked about accusations of him selling out the old Whig Party in order to advance the fledgling Republican Party. Kirk could have talked about the tea party movement and whether he thinks it is helping or hindering Republicans. Unlike some other GOP candidates in other races, Kirk is not a tea party darling, so it’s worth hearing what he thinks about the movement.

I guess I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed that he talks about it during one of his October debates with Giannoulias.

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When I was a teenager, one of my favorite comic books was the “What if …?” series. Each issue posed a different question, such as “What if Spider-Man joined the Fantastic Four?” These were important, alternate-reality comic-book questions for which every teenage boy wanted to know the answers.

I remembered this last Sunday while reading Peter Gammons’ baseball column on MLB.com. Gammons wrote an entire column playing the “What if …?” game with baseball, theorizing what might have transpired had, for instance, the Boston Red Sox traded for Alex Rodriguez or signed Mark Teixeira.

Gammons’ column got me thinking about playing the “What if …?” game with politics. There are so many different directions to take that game, but the one that popped into my head first was this: What if Broadway Bank had failed before the Feb. 2 primary election?

Broadway Bank, of course, was the financial institution owned by the family of Alexi Giannoulias, the Democratic candidate in Illinois’ U.S. Senate race. It is my opinion that unless his Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, makes a major mistake, the failure of Broadway Bank has sunk Giannoulias’ campaign. That may not be fair, but I figure the bank’s failure is one of those campaign points Kirk will make last effectively until the Nov. 2 general election.

The Democrats could have put up a tougher fight for the president’s former Senate seat than this. Had the primary election been held a month later – in March as had been the case before 2008 – former Chicago Inspector David Hoffman probably would have won the Democratic primary. Giannoulias was losing serious ground to Hoffman in the weeks leading up to the Feb. 2 primary election, and barring a major misstep by Hoffman, there was a good chance Giannoulias wouldn’t have won had the vote taken place a few weeks later.

That doesn’t mean Hoffman would necessarily beat Kirk in the November election – especially when voting against incumbent politicians/parties seems to be in vogue – but at least the Democrats wouldn’t be saddled with the Giannoulias problem.

But because of Giannoulias’ troubles, Kirk can now afford to ignore Sarah Palin, too. According to published reports, Kirk reached out to the former Republican vice-presidential candidate for support before the primary election, but Palin snubbed him. Now, as Palin prepares to return to Illinois next month for a GOP fundraiser, Kirk says he won’t attend the event. Kirk says he isn’t going because he needs to be in Washington, D.C., for scheduled House votes, but in reality, he probably would’ve skipped those votes if he believed he really needed to be at that fundraiser to get Palin’s support. He wouldn’t be the first – or the last – politician to do such a thing during election season.

And you don’t need to play the “What if …?” game to know that.

It will be interesting – and probably disappointing – to see the turnout numbers for tomorrow’s primary election.

Locally, La Salle County Clerk Jo Ann Carretto is hoping for countywide turnout in the low to middle 20 percentile. Compared to four years ago, though, registration is down about 800 voters and there was an 18.5-percent turnout that year, she said.

The 2006 primary election is an appropriate comparison because that was the last time there was both a gubernatorial and U.S. Senate race in Illinois; there were contested La Salle County races, too. There aren’t any contested county races this time, though, except for the Republican primary for La Salle County Board member Stephen Carlson’s District 2 (Mendota) seat.

Statewide, the only real contests seem to be between the gubernatorial candidates for both the Democrats and the Republicans. The U.S. Senate primary races appear to be sewn up by Alexi Giannoulias on the Democratic side and Mark Kirk on the Republican side. Yes, there is the lieutenant governor’s race, but frankly, I doubt that contest gets anyone excited to head to the polls.

The saving grace for voter turnout in La Salle County will be the Ottawa referendums. The Central School bond issue should draw many residents of Ottawa Elementary School District to the polls. It will be interesting to see if the La Salle County Forest Preserve District referendums (for disconnection in 11 townships and reconnection in two townships) draw a lot of voters to the polls, too. I’m guessing they won’t, but I hope to be proven wrong so the outcome of those referendums send a clear message about the forest preserve, for or against it.

Frankly, I hope Carretto is wrong, too – I always hope for a large turnout, especially in the current political climate in which so many people feel free to complain about government but don’t do anything about it.

And the county clerk hopes her prediction for voter turnout falls short, too.

“I would love to be wrong,” Carretto told me. “I would love to see 40 percent of the county come out and vote.”

So go out and vote on Tuesday, Feb. 2 – you know you want to prove us wrong. That’s just human nature.

This column originally appeared in the Jan. 28 edition of Ottawa Delivered.

There is a lot of news in Illinois politics today — most notably, Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s decision to run for re-election to her current post rather than for governor or U.S. senator.

Madigan has done a good job as the state’s attorney general, and she deserves a shot at the governor’s mansion or a U.S. Senate seat someday. But for now, I’m glad she’s staying put. I think Pat Quinn, who became governor Jan. 29 after Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, deserves a chance to run for re-election without having to worry about Madigan, a fellow Democrat, stabbing him in the back.

Also consider that Madigan’s father, House Speaker Michael Madigan, is leading the battle against Quinn’s income tax hike and state budget proposals. Michael Madigan annually fought tooth-and-nail with Blagojevich when it was time to set a state budget. Part of the problem then was Blagojevich, but part of it also was perceived to be Madigan setting the governor up for a fall so his daughter could swoop in and save the state as the next governor. Now that Blagojevich is out of the way, Michael Madigan appears to be doing the same thing to Quinn. Lisa Madigan deserves better circumstances under which to run for governor — not at a moment in time when it looks like she might get the job just because Daddy Dearest pulled the right strings for her.

As for the U.S. Senate, I think Lisa Madigan is showing her political savvy by not entering what is expected to be a crowded field to replace Roland Burris. With so many candidates (including U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, who jumped into the fray today), that race will be an expensive one to run start to finish. For that matter, so will the gubernatorial race. (Five Republicans already have announced their intentions to run against Quinn — state Sen. Bill Brady, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, state Sen. Matt Murphy, DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom and political commentator Dan Proft.)

Lisa Madigan turns 43 later this month, so she has youth on her side. God willing, she has plenty of time left to run for higher office. In the meantime, she can continue to serve Illinois in the capacity she has since her 2002 election as attorney general. She is one of the few elected officials we can hold our heads up high about in Illinois. If she keeps giving us good reason to hold her in high esteem, her star will keep rising. Her time for higher office will come.