Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Kirk and Giannoulias spar in debate

By Jamey Dunn

During last night’s debate, U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk and state Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias spoke about events from their pasts that have become fodder for the negative campaign ads that are characterizing their race for the U.S. Senate. They also weighed in on some national issues.

Both candidates acknowledged that the race has gotten personal. “This has been a tough and at times very negative campaign,” Giannoulias said at the Chicago debate. Kirk agreed that the focus has often been on the two candidates’ backgrounds but added that voters will be more concerned with the economy when they cast their votes.

Kirk — who has taken flack for exaggerating his military record as well as some personal stories about his life — said he has taken responsibility for his mistakes. Kurt has apologized for making false claims about his military service. “I misstated a part of my military record. It’s a painful process. I learned a big lesson from that. … It’s made me a better congressman.”

When asked about accusations that he was involved in loans his family bank made to alleged mobsters and criminals, Giannoulias said he should have done a better job of explaining the loan approval process when he ran for state treasurer.

“It’s easy to cherry-pick a few individuals out of thousand — out of thousands — and make a nasty political ad. But any business owner will tell you that running a business is not a straight line. Of course, mistakes are made. And inevitably, unfortunately, there are people you wish you would have never done business with.”

Kirk said he could have supported a different version of the federal stimulus program if it were “a much smaller bill with a much larger amount of money for infrastructure.” He said too much money was spent on social programs, and the package was ultimately a failure because it did not keep unemployment below President Barack Obama’s goal of 8 percent.

He also railed against deficit spending, saying the “legacy” of Obama’s recovery bill will be the debt “leveled on the financial future of our kids.” He added, “Our country used to number our debts in billions; now it’s in trillions.”

Giannoulias accused Kirk of recently becoming a deficit hawk after backing former President George W. Bush’s budgets, which put the country trillions of dollars into the red. He said the stimulus bill wasn’t perfect, but it kept the country out of another “Great Depression.”

Kirk said the bill excluded valid stimulus opportunities, such as an overhaul of O’Hare International Airport, because it excluded projects that were not “shovel-ready.”

Giannoulias said he supports the repeal of the Pentagon’s “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy, which prevents gays and lesbians from openly serving in the U.S. military. A federal judge recently deemed the policy unconstitutional, and military recruiters have been ordered to begin accepting gay and lesbian recruits.

Kirk said he voted to keep the policy in place and thinks mixed messages coming from Obama’s administration, which sought to block the judge’s order, are bad for the military. Obama has said he supports the repeal of “Don’t Ask. Don’t Tell.”

“I think we ought to listen to the men and women who run the U.S. military. It is one of the most complicated organizations on Earth,” Kirk said.

Giannoulias also supports the “Dream Act,” which would create a path to citizenship for immigrants who go to college in America or serve in the military. Kirk said he doesn’t think the time is right for the bill. He said it should not be debated until officials “restore the trust of the American people in the ability to administer our own border.”

Kirk said he supports civil unions for same-sex couples. However, he added: “I also don’t think we should have a federal takeover of all marriage law in the United States. I think the federal government is already trying to take over too much.”

Giannoulias said he supports same-sex marriage rights. “We’re going to look back in 20 or 30 years and be embarrassed that we didn’t move sooner on this." (For more on the race for U.S. Senate see the current (October) Illinois Issues, Page 24.)

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