Durbin: State government mess a Democratic embarrassment

Ryan Keith

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin wishes he could blame Republicans for the mess and dysfunction paralyzing Illinois state government these days, but he knows he can’t.

Durbin calls the gridlock among his fellow Democrats at the state Capitol embarrassing. He fears it could squander hundreds of millions of dollars in federal money waiting for construction projects if state lawmakers and Gov. Rod Blagojevich can ever agree on a capital spending program.

“This mess is our creation, Democratic creation, and there are no excuses for what has happened,” Durbin, a Springfield resident and the no. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said in an interview Thursday with The (Springfield) State Journal-Register editorial board.

Durbin said he’s tried to work more closely with Blagojevich on key issues, but doesn’t get his phone calls returned regularly. He said he doesn’t know what it will take to fix the problems or whether he or anyone else in Washington could help cut through the morass.

“I don’t know that I could ride to the rescue of our state government,” Durbin said. “They have to own up to their own responsibility.”

Durbin also said three people have told him they’re running for governor in 2010, and more could get in the race. He said he won’t endorse Blagojevich or any other candidates until the primary election gets closer.

“It’s going to be a lot different, and it’s going to be extremely political. And I’m just hoping they can finally come to grips with doing something constructive,” Durbin said.

Durbin, who is seeking his third six-year term, didn’t bring up his Republican Senate opponent, Dr. Steve Sauerberg of LaGrange, during the more than 50-minute meeting. Durbin noted his leadership role in Congress elevates what he can do for the Land of Lincoln during a critical time for policymaking.

“I want to be at the table to help make these decisions. And if I’m at the table, Illinois is at the table, and so is my hometown of Springfield,” Durbin said.

Durbin also talked about:

- Ending the war in Iraq. He says the nation is paying too steep a price to stay there.

“It has been a colossal failure, and we have to find a way to start bringing our troops home, and the Iraqis have to start taking responsibility for their own country. (Republican presidential candidate) John McCain is prepared to wait a long time, and I’m not,” Durbin said.

- The funding snafu for a new Boys and Girls Clubs of Springfield community center on the city’s east side. Durbin had secured nearly $1 million in federal money in 2005 for the project, but ultimately decided to divert that cash to a park specifically built with disability access in mind.

Durbin said he would be glad to talk again with east-side leaders about federal money once they have more community support and buy-in.

- Working to bring a flying mission back to Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport to replace the jets formerly operated by the 183rd Fighter Wing. He said he wants to bring more money to the airport, but might need to focus more on passenger rail if travel trends hurt the future for “short hops,” such as Springfield-to-Chicago flights.

“We’ve done a lot of good here … but we’ve got a lot more to do,” Durbin said.

Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518.