Alexi Giannoulias is an engaging man — good humored, unfailingly considerate, and by every account a loyal friend. The essence of his campaign is that he's a buddy of the president and will vote with Democratic leaders nearly 100 percent of the time.
Giannoulias doesn't put it that bluntly. But neither does he pretend to be independent of party orthodoxy, from health care regulation to tax hikes to Big Labor's beloved "card check." Ask Giannoulias what federal spending bill of the last two years he would have opposed and, after some painful-to-watch evasion, he cannot name one. Ask him where he most strenuously disagrees with his party's policies and watch his intellectual gears grind as he grasps for anything controversial on which he disagrees at all.
So if you're looking to elect a party-line Illinoisan to the Senate, you have your man. On the climactic Senate votes that define this nation's very future for better or worse — be they on spending obligations or defense policy or industry bailouts — Alexi will be on the bus.
The trouble is that this election, more than many, can't be only an exercise in Which Party Prevails. The American people face one economic and national security challenge after another. This as official Washington further devolves into the addictive partisanship that sabotages the quest for solutions.
In 2010, the citizens of Illinois should send to the Capitol a senator who will bring expertise and independence. The candidate who fits that bill is Mark Kirk.
Today the Tribune endorses Kirk, a Republican, for the U.S. Senate seat that Roland Burris soon vacates. To understand our verdict, watch Giannoulias and Kirk's appearance before us this week. You'll find the video at chicagotribune.com/senate. Judge each man's depth and preparedness for the job. Judge knowledge and scope. Judge accomplishment. Judge which candidate has a proven record of thoughtful independence — of bucking his party when the good of this nation is at stake. You won't have difficulty making these judgments.
What complicates this decision is that simmering issue of trust. Kirk inexplicably embellished his distinguished military career. Giannoulias has had a disturbing approach-avoidance conflict with his family's Broadway Bank: The candidate for state treasurer who needed credibility as a financial expert boasted of his role as an in-charge loan exec. The candidate for senator says he wasn't in the room when bank officers made controversial loans to criminal figures. Our own dive into the details, and our repeated inquisitions of these men, lead us to conclude that, at times, each let his ambition run amok. You can argue that either man's difficulty with candor is more troubling than the other's. We've heard both cases, compellingly made.
All of us do, though, know that Kirk has a record of service, military and congressional, that is 100 percent verifiable. As a naval intelligence officer, he has put his life on the line for this nation. And for 10 years in the U.S. House he has voted as what he says he is: a social moderate, fiscal conservative and national security hawk. Watch on the video as Kirk rips through the long list of issues on which he's voted against the conservative line — health insurance for kids, stem cell research, predatory lending, campaign finance reform and so on. You're struck less by where you agree or disagree than by the totality of what you know about his temperament. Kirk has been his own counsel, not his party's robot.
Giannoulias criticizes Kirk for going where the wind blows. Given Kirk's record of casting votes on their merits, there's not much else Giannoulias can say. He's politically incapacitated from admitting three points we made in endorsing Kirk before the Feb. 2 primary election: Kirk has been an extraordinarily effective representative of the independent-minded 10th Congressional District. He has the instincts to succeed in Washington, no matter which party is in control. And North Shore voters who have elected a slew of Democrats to public offices repeatedly have re-elected Kirk.
Giannoulias is smart, shrewd. We suspect he senses what many voters are asking — not him personally, but themselves — about his professional maturity:
• Which of these two candidates will weigh, and decide, questions on national security and other crucial issues more on the merits than on the politics?
• Which would we want as the senator who could eventually make the extraordinarily sensitive selection of U.S. attorneys — the top federal prosecutors, such as Patrick Fitzgerald — for Illinois?
• And on the issue that most roils American politics this autumn, out-of-control federal spending, would Giannoulias or Kirk make unpopular, potentially career-ending votes for restraint?
That last question will dominate much of the next few years. On Tuesday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Congressional Budget Office now projects spending on the big three entitlement programs alone — Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — to rise by 70 percent, 79 percent and 99 percent respectively …over just the next 10 years.
We want the most capable senator protecting the U.S. from its enemies abroad and its unsustainable finances at home. Mark Kirk will be that senator.
The Sun-Times sez: “With a triumvirate of Giannoulias, Sen. Dick Durbin — the Democratic Senate whip — and President Obama, every squeak and chirp in Illinois would be loudly heard in Washington.”
Exsqueeze me? The ST wants Obama, Durbin and Giannoulias to continue the fine work of the Dems over the last 22 months? Katy bar the door! And exactly how much “chirping” from Illinois has changed anything for the better here? Sending Alexi is going to fix all the problems of this sorry state? C’mon.
Today Alexi said that if Mark Kirk was elected, he would “negate every single one of Dick Durbin’s votes.”
I think that’s the best reason (among many) I’ve heard yet for electing Kirk.
UPDATED x2 10/8/10 6:30 a.m.: A friend of the Blog wants everyone to remember how well the Sun-Times' last big endorsement worked out for us. Yes, the paper that backs Giannoulias backed Rod Blagojevich, even as the house was falling down around him:
Blagojevich for governor Chicago Sun Times October 20, 2006
Endorsing a candidate with more than 2 weeks left in the campaign is a little like calling a horse race in the last lap -- anything could happen before the finish line. Each day can bring a revelation affecting a campaign. But in the final analysis, you have to go with a candidate based on where he stands on the issues important to you. For that reason, the Sun-Times endorses Gov. Rod Blagojevich for re-election because of his record of expanding health care and educational opportunity.
There's no denying the cloud of scandal over his administration. One of his chief fund-raisers, Antoin "Tony" Rezko, was indicted last week for alleged shakedowns for campaign contributions. More revelations likely will come right before the election when power broker Stuart Levine is expected to plead guilty. The governor said the charges against Rezko, if true, represent a personal betrayal by Rezko, and that he himself has never been involved in any unethical or illegal fund-raising. Our experience with Blagojevich prompts us to take him at his word. We've chosen to give him the benefit of the doubt and endorse him for a number of reasons.
First, Blagojevich appears to have learned from mistakes he made early in his administration. His first 100 days in office were marred by his constant battles with other Democrats over everything from the state's budget to his decision to sleep in Chicago rather than at the governor's mansion.
Despite those fights, Blagojevich managed to fulfill a number of his campaign promises, and that weighs heavily in his favor. Blagojevich expanded access to health care to Illinois families to the degree that we are the only state in the nation to claim that every child has access to health care. He developed the I-Save-Rx program that helps seniors buy prescription drugs at reduced prices and made it possible for Illinois residents to buy prescription drugs from Europe and Canada for less than they could in the United States.
Blagojevich expanded funding for preschool, beefed up the I-Pass system and paved the way for open road tolling, and stood up to naysayers by publicly funding stem cell research -- putting $10 million into the program. Among his achievements, Blagojevich also boasts of creating 64,000 new jobs last year.
Some of his initiatives -- especially the I-Save-Rx program -- triggered criticism, including a report by the Illinois auditor general that found that the drug plan broke federal laws and didn't serve that many Illinoisans.
But Blagojevich's leadership style has been to forge ahead and deal with the consequences later. That has led to complaints from some Democrats that, instead of cleaning up a mess left behind by 25 years of Republican leadership and a scandal that is sending former Gov. George Ryan to prison, Blagojevich has resorted to budget wizardry that is not what it seems and will leave the state deep in debt.
According to Blagojevich, the state was staring at an estimated $5 billion budget deficit and facing the prospect of making drastic cuts in education and health care when he took over four years ago. He has dramatically reduced that deficit, although even Democratic Comptroller Dan Hynes suggests the state's financial portrait is less rosy than the one Blagojevich painted.
Blagojevich has vowed not to raise taxes, and, given the state's needs, we think the no-tax pledge was a mistake. The governor will be hard-pressed to keep that pledge because he has promised to provide universal health care and generate an additional $10 billion for schools. One major concern is that Blagojevich is merely deferring the taxpayers' pain.
Looking back on his first term, Blagojevich acknowledges that bringing about change was "a lot harder" than he thought and that he has "fewer" friends today than he did four years ago. Maybe that's a good thing.
The GOP challenger, state Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, has run a consistently professional campaign and offered some good ideas. Regarding a short-term measure to increase education funding, we did prefer her plan -- locating the 10th casino license in Chicago -- to Blagojevich's proposal for a lease or sale of the Illinois Lottery. Topinka deserves the state's thanks for her years of valuable service to the state, but the votes in this election should go to Blagojevich.
This represents the view of the Sun-Times News Group of 100 papers in metropolitan Chicago.
Two years later, of course, the Sun-Times changed its mind. Oops. So much for the Sun-Times' record of being able to read character.
And, we should also remember that it was not only the Sun-Times that backed Blago, despite his scandal, it was Barack Obama, Pat Quinn, Dick Durbin, the unions, etc., etc.
Great judges of character, all.
No, we can't. And no we shouldn't.