NEWS

Giannoulias says he's 'independent outsider'

BERNARD SCHOENBURG

SPRINGFIELD -- Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias says he would be a partner with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in advocating for Illinois, while asserting that the GOP candidate, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk, would “negate every single one of Dick Durbin’s votes.”

In a meeting Wednesday with the editorial board of The (Springfield) State Journal-Register, Giannoulias, the first-term state treasurer, said Kirk is a “typical Washington, D.C. politician” who changes positions with the political winds.

Giannoulias characterized himself as an “independent outsider, not a party guy.”

“On important social issues, I’ve taken tough stances that a lot of people don’t agree with,” Giannoulias said, including support for gay marriage.

“Even people who are my consultants and work for me told me not to be in favor of marriage equality,” he said. “It’s something that I think is going to happen eventually.”

He also noted his approval of the idea that construction of a Muslim community center should be allowed just blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.

“I think we should respect the freedom of religion not just when it’s easy, but when it’s tough,” he said. “That’s what leadership means.”

Challenges Kirk positions

He noted that Kirk has changed positions on such issues as a cap-and-trade anti-pollution bill and a jobs bill supported by the administration of President Barack Obama. Kirk voted for cap-and-trade in the House, but reversed his stand when he announced his Senate candidacy. On the jobs plan, Kirk said in August he supported the proposal, but he then voted against it.

Giannoulias also challenged Kirk’s self-proclaimed stance as a fiscal conservative. Kirk voted for budgets under former President George W. Bush that doubled the deficit, but now wants to extend “a tax break for the richest 2 percent (of Americans) without a way to pay” for it, Giannoulias said.

Giannoulias also questioned Kirk’s support for going to war in Iraq. Kirk had said he was certain that weapons of mass destruction were in the country, Giannoulias said.

“Judgment matters,” Giannoulias said. “He got it wrong.”

Giannoulias also rapped Kirk’s reluctance to quickly repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which bars openly gay people from military service.

“We’ve kicked 14,000 people who are willing to die for this country … out of the military,” Giannoulias said. “He (Kirk) doesn’t want to repeal it. That’s not a position that a moderate takes. That’s a hard-line position that we fundamentally disagree on.”

About the Afghanistan war, Giannoulias said, “We need to get out of there. It’s not working.”

Defends record

Giannoulias has been criticized for his role in his family’s bank, which was closed by regulators earlier this year, and for his oversight as treasurer of the Bright Start college fund, which lost money for parents who were saving for college educations for their children.

The bank was among several closed during the economic downturn. In the wake of recent news that he got a tax break for working at the bank in 2006, despite distancing himself from bank actions after 2005, Giannoulias said he has been “absolutely, unequivocally consistent in all my statements for the last four years.

“I left day-to-day operations in 2005, and I fully left the bank about April 2006,” he said.

He also said his treasurer’s office was the first in the country to find problems with a Bright Start fund manager’s oversight of such funds. Illinois’ Bright Start program is now among the top-performers among such programs in the country, he said.

Kirk spokeswoman Kirsten Kukoski said voters should choose the GOP candidate.

“This election is a choice between Mark Kirk – a fiscal conservative who wants to tax less, spend less and borrow less – and Alexi Giannoulias, who can’t name one spending bill he would vote against.”

Giannoulias also said he supports the health-care bill passed by Congress, though he’s open to some changes, including trying to remove incentives for businesses to discontinue employer-based coverage. From a “moral perspective,” he said, the existence of more than 50 million people without health insurance in “the richest country in the world” is something “we should be ashamed of.”

Also in the running in the Nov. 2 election are Green Party candidate LeAlan Jones and Libertarian Mike Labno.

Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at 788-1540.