Kirk characterizes self as 'consensus builder'


SPRINGFIELD -- Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk said Tuesday that he views himself as a “consensus builder” in Congress, a path he said he knew would not be the road to a leadership post.

A Highland Park resident and U.S. House member since 2001, Kirk told the editorial board of The (Springfield) State Journal-Register that there were two “unwritten paths” for members of Congress when he went to the House.

“One is partisanship, fiercely hating the other side, and that is the path to leadership, unfortunately,” he said.

“The other is the path to bipartisanship, (and) that is the path to actually making the laws happen and solving problems. But you will never be speaker or minority leader. I chose that path.”

Kirk characterized himself as a “social moderate, fiscal conservative and national security hawk.” One of his moderate stands, he said, has been to promote stem-cell research.

“We were able to roll (former House majority leader) Tom DeLay on a key social policy issue to make sure that the United States maintained a lead in medical research and offered (the) world the chance of no Parkinson’s, no diabetes and no cancer,” Kirk said.

Since becoming a U.S. Senate candidate, however, Kirk has taken conservative positions on some issues. For instance, he said that, while his vote in the house for the cap-and-trade anti-pollution bill was right for his northern Illinois House district, he now considers it wrong for the whole state.

He also said in early August that he was inclined to vote for a $26 billion bill that Democrats characterized as a measure to keep teachers and others employed and to help pay for health care for the poor. In the end, however Kirk voted against the measure, saying it would increase the federal deficit and contained more spending and borrowing than he previously realized.

But Kirk denied that he has taken a right turn, politically.

“I’m very much a pro-choice moderate in the Congress,” he said.

Kirk said he wants to “repeal and replace” the health care bill passed this year. He said he was part of a group of Republican “moderates,” patient advocates and others who came up with an alternative plan that would include the right to buy insurance from any state, lawsuit changes to hold down litigation costs, and a policy that “Congress should make no law interfering” with decisions people make with their doctors.

His alternatives would not include a requirement that all people have insurance by 2014. Kirk said that companies of more than 50 employees, who must provide coverage or pay a fine under the Democratic health care plan Congress approved, would have a “perverse incentive to drop health care coverage” because the fine would be less than the cost of insurance.

“Employer-provided healthcare should be strengthened,” Kirk said. “It covers 170 million Americans, and we should not create an incentive for them to be dropped.”

Kirk is running in the Nov. 2 election against Democratic state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias of Chicago. Also on the ballot are Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones of Chicago and Libertarian Mike Labno of Oak Brook.

Scott Burnham, a Giannoulias spokesman, disagreed with Kirk’s characterization of himself.

“Despite all of his false claims, Congressman Kirk can’t run from the fact that he voted in lock step with each and every one of President (George) Bush’s reckless economic policies, including every budget, that led to the loss of 8 million jobs and the doubling of the national debt,” Burham said.

He also pointed out that Kirk voted against President Barack Obama on issues ranging from Wall Street reform to extension of unemployment benefits.

While Giannoulias’ campaign has been hampered by the failure of his family’s bank, Kirk has apologized for misstating some of his military record.

Asked whether people can trust him, Kirk spoke of federal projects he’s brought back to the state and said he’s maintained the centrist philosophy on which he first ran.

“With regard to the military, I love this country,” he said. “I have worn the uniform as a reservist for 21 years. I would give up my life for this country. And so, I am not perfect, but I very much believe in this country.”

Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at 788-1540.