The State Journal-Register: Our View: Tammy Duckworth has savvy, tenacity to be effective U.S. senator

The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Mark Kirk and his challenger, U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth, has gotten national attention since it kicked off. First of all, with control of the Senate in play, any competitive race that might flip parties is bound to be closely watched.

Secondly, it pits two candidates with compelling personal stories of survival, grit and recovery. Kirk, a Republican, suffered a massive stroke in 2012; he endured a grueling recovery before triumphantly returning to Congress and climbing its steps a year later. Duckworth, a Democrat, lost both legs and nearly lost her arm from injuries suffered when the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting in Iraq was shot down in 2004.

And once again, the race made national headlines last week, thanks to the latest in a string of controversial comments from Kirk.

On Thursday night, during a debate at the University of Illinois Springfield co-sponsored by the SJ-R, Duckworth, who was born in Bangkok and whose mother is Thai, of Chinese descent, had been speaking about her family’s history of military service dating back to the Revolutionary War, after a question about military action. When offered a rebuttal, Kirk simply said, “I had forgotten that your parents came all the way from Thailand to serve George Washington.”

It was an inappropriate remark — like so many of the other comments that have landed him in hot water. For instance, he referred to President Barack Obama as “acting like the drug dealer in chief.” He called fellow Sen. Lindsey Graham “a bro with no ho” and suggested that people drive faster through African-American neighborhoods for fear of crime.

That’s a troubling pattern for a U.S. senator, no matter the reason. Judgment is paramount at that level of politics, and Kirk’s track record of eyebrow-raising statements has justifiably distracted from his work on issues.

And on the issues, Kirk, 57, has had a track record of being more moderate than his fellow Republicans. He points with pride to his F rating from the National Rifle Association, and has favored sensible measures to close loopholes in existing gun laws. He was the first Republican senator to meet with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, and he was among the first Republicans to rescind his support for Donald Trump. Kirk also has bucked his party on supporting same-sex marriage equality.

In other areas, Kirk has been a consistent voice in favor of more prudent government spending and a strong backer of pro-business policies, including for small businesses. He sponsored the bill reauthorizing the Export-Import Bank.

Understandably, Duckworth’s career has focused on veterans and their issues, first as a state and federal official, and then in Congress.

In this field, her inside knowledge is sharply focused. She’s used it to make an impact on issues of cutting back on military waste and pushing for procurement reforms — such as saving billions by cutting back on the number of military camouflage patterns and stopping the stockpiling of spare parts for the Stryker, a military vehicle that had been widely used in Iraq but isn’t suited for Afghanistan. She’s also targeted issues affecting the troops, such as suicide prevention efforts for veterans, making it easier for veterans to get civilian certifications for comparable military jobs, and cracking down on payday lenders who target the military.

Duckworth displayed more breadth on issues than she did in her primary endorsement interview, as she must if she’s to become an effective U.S. senator. She recently completed her doctoral dissertation on electronic medical records, and spoke in detail and at length on Medicare fraud. She offered common-sense and practical thoughts on foreign policy, the possibilities for biodiesel in Illinois, and job training and manufacturing issues.

That’s not to say this board is in complete agreement with Duckworth on all issues. For instance, on the idea of free community college, we share some of Kirk’s reservations and questions — how much will this cost, and where does the money come from? Education is an important investment, but there needs to be a realistic balance between such efforts and escalating debt.

In her endorsement interview, Duckworth was well-prepared, armed with details and full of passion and energy. Kirk’s campaign declined several invitations this fall for an endorsement interview, despite being made aware of turnover among editorial board members since his last visit to the SJ-R, in August.

In our final analysis, Tammy Duckworth would bring a strong intellect and compelling personal experiences to her work as a senator.

She’s already demonstrated tenacity through her life story — but we also believe she has the capacity to continue building upon her previous efforts and to be a strong voice for Illinois. Tammy Duckworth is endorsed for U.S. Senate.

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