“An inspiration,” “a tremendous symbol”, and someone who makes us “proud”: these are uncommon descriptors for many candidates in this year’s divisive, all-consuming election, let alone coming from members of the opposite party. Nonetheless, Senator Mark Kirk is no stranger to well-deserved bipartisan praise. Though these quotes came from two Democrats, Senator Harry Reid and Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, following Kirk’s triumphant return to the Senate after suffering a major stroke, Kirk’s Senate career is replete with accolades for his characteristic independence, thoughtfulness, and political courage. For the reasons detailed below, University of Chicago College Republicans is proud to endorse Senator Kirk for re-election.
Kirk describes his stroke and resultant recovery as an existential crisis during which he gained new insights into governance, life, and death. Although he returned to the Senate physically weaker, he came back to Washington as strong an advocate for the people of Illinois as he ever had been. Cared for by colleagues and friends of every ideology, he recognized “that life gets down to who loves you and who you love.” Within four months of his return, he announced his support of same-sex marriage and became one of the original co-sponsors of the 2013 Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which protects gay and transgender people from workplace discrimination. For months, Kirk forcefully argued in the Senate chamber and with fellow Republican senators for ENDA, eventually turning it from a controversial bill to a bipartisan effort when ten Republican senators joined him during the final vote. While the bill died in the House, Kirk was there again as the first Republican co-sponsor of the Equality Act, a proposed addendum to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is still being debated in the Senate.
While breaking with the party line has signified Kirk’s independence, his willingness to forgo the support of major financiers for the good of his constituency shows added courage. Faced with tragic gun violence on the South and West sides of Chicago, Kirk became a vocal proponent for stopping the spread of illegal firearms. Often uniting with colleagues across the aisle, Kirk is now a leader in efforts to federally criminalize gun trafficking, require background checks at gun shows and online, and expand access to a national ballistics information network. Often standing apart from his caucus on these issues, he has been given an F rating by the NRA. Turning away easy fundraising money from special interest groups, he has never shied away from his central purpose: to always put Illinois families above big Washington donors.
In the complex, dangerous world of foreign affairs, Kirk remains one of the Senate’s most prescient interpreters and leaders. His firm stance in defense of Israel led him to oppose and predict the shortcomings of the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. A national security firebrand, he has led the Senate in correcting many of the blunders incurred by the Obama Administration’s reckless approach to the Middle East. Working with Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Kirk introduced a bill to reinstate the toughest sanctions on Iran in history, designed to defund the Iranian regime’s nuclear program and support for terrorism. In fact, we just learned from WikiLeaks that Kirk’s fierce opposition to the deal even made waves within Hillary Clinton’s inner circle! In these troubled times, protection and security are what Illinois needs, and Kirk has never wavered to make sure Washington hears our anxiety and frustration.
While others may shamefully, and against medical evidence, doubt the completeness of his recovery from the stroke, Kirk’s record should inform any voter that he continues to show no sign of slowing down. As a testament to his teamwork and discipline, Kirk has co-sponsored or sponsored over 575 pieces of legislation this session, making him the third most productive Republican senator. Rated as the second most bipartisan Republican senator, Kirk’s effective partnerships also extend to the House, where he works hand-in-hand with representatives to ensure his bridge-building bills have better chances of passing both chambers. While Kirk is a proven legislator with a track record to match, his opponent, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth—who holds a 0 percent effectiveness score in the House—lacks both of these key traits.
While we understand some may agree or disagree with Kirk based on his stated positions and record, few are able to do the same for Duckworth. Early this year, she received national attention when a panel of experienced Chicago political commentators failed to name a single accomplishment of hers. One of the panelists even quipped that “it might be enough that she’s a Democrat.” We are concerned that Duckworth lacks the experience needed to fully execute the job. Despite having already served two terms as a congresswoman, she still managed to be rated one of the least effective members of Congress with only thirty-five pieces of legislation introduced in her entire political career, almost none of which even left committee. This September alone, she has missed 73 percent of House votes, making her one of the top fifteen most absent members of Congress. While she sought to shed the “partisan” label through a recent streak of voting for bipartisan bills, she previously voted with her party leaders around 90 percent of the time. If Illinois is looking for a run-of-the-mill, uninterested, rubber-stamp politician to be our advocate in the Senate, then we know just the congresswoman.
The circumstances surrounding her meteoric political rise also raise questions about her trustworthiness. After she lost a 2006 primary for Congress, former (now imprisoned) Governor Rod Blagojevich appointed her director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, which she ran during one of the worst periods in the department’s history. The appointment closely followed her endorsement of Blagojevich for re-election the same year, which she made despite an ongoing federal corruption investigation into his ‘pay to play’ appointments. In addition, two whistleblowers accused her of silencing them for speaking out about her poor leadership during her tenure as director; their claims are the subject of an ongoing legal battle.
We already have too many machine politicians voting in lockstep with party leadership, unable to think critically for themselves. Senator Kirk is a rare exception to the disappointing cadre of leaders we have in Washington—thoughtful, committed, and intelligent. The longer he stays there, fighting for the people of Illinois, the better for our sickly political process.
The disparity in qualification between the two candidates is evidenced by the variety and volume of already received endorsements Kirk has earned, compared with Duckworth:
- For his long record of dedication to LGBT rights, the Human Rights Campaign endorsed him, noting that “Senator Kirk has fought for us, and we are proud to support him in his re-election campaign.”
- Former Democratic Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was the victim of an assassination attempt in 2011 and now dedicates her life to her gun violence reduction organization, Americans for Reasonable Solutions, endorsed him, recalling that, “In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook, Republican Sens. Pat Toomey and Mark Kirk broke from the gun lobby and supported a bill to help prevent felons, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill from obtaining firearms at gun shows and online. This week, they are earning our organization's endorsement.”
- Senator Kirk’s work on ensuring that small businesses can continue to thrive has secured him an endorsement from the National Federation of Independent Business, which lauded his votes “to protect small businesses from overreaching federal regulations and [to] provide long-term certainty about business expensing.”
- The Humane Society Legislative Fund cited his “perfect Humane scorecard,” as reason to endorse him and that “voters in Illinois who care about animal welfare should support Sen. Kirk for re-election.”
- Newspapers from across Illinois: Suburban Chicago’s Daily Herald, McHenry County’s Northwest Herald, Quincy’s Herald-Whig, and Champaign’s News-Gazette
- Elected officials from across the country: 2012 Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Governor John Kasich (OH), Governor Bruce Rauner (IL), Lieutenant Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti (IL), Senator Marco Rubio (FL), Senator John McCain (AZ), Senator Shelley Moore Capito (WV), Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY), Senator Joni Ernst (IA), Senator John Cornyn (TX), Congressman Mike Bost (IL), Congressman Rodney Davis (IL), Congressman Bob Dold (IL), Congressman Adam Kinzinger (IL), Congressman Peter Roskam (IL), Congressman John Shimkus (IL), Congressman Darin LaHood (IL), Congressman Randy Hultgren (IL), former UN Ambassador John Bolton, astronaut Jim Lovell, and many more...
Senator Kirk has proven time and again that he deserves a second term. Whether it be fighting for Merrick Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court or preserving the Great Lakes as Chair of the Senate Task Force, Kirk is a diligent public servant seeking out common sense solutions for the citizens of Illinois. Recovering our vitality as a nation cannot be achieved through the obstructionism and gridlock that Rep. Duckworth represents. It takes grit and purpose to achieve real prosperity, and for these reasons and more, we wholeheartedly endorse Senator Mark Kirk.
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