Kirk’s Senate bid a crusade against Illinois corruption

The Republican congressman and Afghan war veteran is a moderate who has worked across the aisle.

By Mark Guarino  |  Christian Science Monitor Correspondent/July 21, 2009 edition


The US Senate seat once held by President Obama will enter the national spotlight in a campaign expected to focus on cleaning up Illinois corruption.

US Rep. Mark Kirk (R) launched his bid for the seat Monday from the 10th Congressional District of Illinois, which he has represented since 2000.

Mr. Kirk said political reform will be “the center of the campaign,” and he wants to work to correct the state’s “reputation for being the most corrupt state in the country” due to the recent scandals involving former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and current senate seat holder Roland Burris.

Mr. Blagojevich was impeached in January after being indicted for 19 counts of corruption, including trying to sell the Senate seat currently held by Mr. Burris. Burris is being investigated for his possible role in participating in the pay-for-play scheme. Earlier this month, he announced he would not seek reelection.

Although Kirk insists corruption is not a party issue – he led his party in calling for the prosecution of former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, a Republican, who is now in federal prison on corruption charges – he says Illinois suffers because it is “a one-party state.”

“Normally these Democratic candidates [such as Blagojevich or Burris] would have been defeated because of their level of corruption, but when voters don’t have real choice, you have this level of arrogance,” he said.

Kirk said he would push for tougher ethics laws and encourage federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who led the investigation against Blagojevich, “to stay as long as he wanted.” “If any of our prosecutors want to go on to do other things in their lives, I think I would find prosecutors as aggressive and honest as Fitzgerald,” he said.

Analyst Jennifer Duffy of the Cook Political Report says focusing on corruption in this senate race “is not a bad message given what has transpired” and “if voters are set up enough, it actually could work to his advantage.”

Kirk is a Republican with a track record for being moderate on social issues, which helped him repeatedly win his congressional seat in a traditionally Democratic district on Chicago’s North Shore. Together with Democrats, he proposed a bill to punish companies that provide petroleum products to Iran, and he broke with his party to vote for a bill banning handguns in federal parks and for the clean energy act that passed in June.

He is the best known among Republicans who have announced their candidacy. On the Democratic side he faces two possible contenders: Illinois Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias, who benefits from his close personal relationship with President Obama, and Christopher Kennedy, a Chicago businessman and son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, who’s never run for public office but likely will have access to considerable campaign funds.

A Naval Reserve intelligence officer, Kirk became the first sitting member of Congress since 1942 to serve in a war zone when he deployed to Afghanistan last year.

While he will use his military record to support the missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, Kirk said he will focus primarily on generating job creation in Illinois, which he said suffered because of state corruption. “For a major industrialized state to have that low quality reputation really hurts us in the ability to attract work.”

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