A rising GOP star takes a stand

Ed Lasky
As the GOP looks at strategies geared to restore its tattered reputation, they could do worse than look at the career of one of their more promising stars, Congressman Mark Kirk (10th District, Illinois).

He has been winning in a Democratic district ever since he first ran for Congress in 2001. He has withstood challenges for the past two cycles from a Democratic opponent who followed the Barack Obama playbook (he modeled himself after Obama) in a state and a district that supported Barack Obama (and before that, John Kerry and Al Gore) by overwhelming margins. Kirk has been a far-sighted leader, realizing years ago that the suburbs were an important political battleground. He devised a "suburban agenda"-a package of proposals that held great appeal to families and others who lived in the suburbs (kids, education, safety)-that received wide acclaim. David Brooks , New York  Times columnist, extolled the plan  over two years ago

His educational record would even win praise from the same columnists who are busy taking note of the IVY League credentials of Barack Obam's team. He attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México before graduating cum laude in history from Cornell University. Kirk received a Masters Degree from the London School of Economics, and a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University.

Kirk is a leader on national security issues. He currently serves as an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve (one of only two current members of Congress who serve in the reserves one weekend a month and two weeks a year). He is moderate on social issues, favors reasonable restrictions involving gun sales, has received favorable ratings from a raft of environmental groups, and is pro-choice. He has great appeal to independents and is rated as a moderate on the scale between conservative and liberals produced by the well-regarded National Journal . His ability to score legislative wins is magnified by his well-honed ability to work across the aisle.

Now comes news that Kirk has taken another bold step forward. He wrote a letter to President Bush adamantly opposing a pardon for imprisoned former Illinois Governor George Ryan. What is notable about this step? Ryan is a Republican. His pardon is actually supported by Senator Richard Durbin, a Democratic Senator from Illinois.

David Freddoso provides some background to Ryan's conviction:

Ryan, age 74, has served just 13 months out of his 78-month sentence. His troubles began 14 years ago with a fiery car crash. On Nov. 8, 1994, Ricardo Guzman was driving a semi-truck on Interstate 94 outside Milwaukee. As he drove, other truck drivers tried to warn Guzman on the CB that a metal assembly was dangling from the rear of his truck. Guzman, who barely spoke English, could not understand them. When the rear assembly finally came flying off and hit the pavement, it punctured the gas tank of a family's minivan. The vehicle burst into flames, killing the six children inside and badly burning their parents, the Rev. Scott Willis and his wife, Janet.

Guzman and hundreds of other unqualified applicants had obtained their truck licenses in Illinois by bribing officials who worked under then-Secretary of State George Ryan. But that wasn't clear at the time, and Ryan did a good job of keeping it that way: Months after Guzman's accident, Ryan fired or transferred most of the employees in his office's Inspector General department in order to quash the subsequent investigation.

The illegally licensed drivers had caused at least 55 accidents, including a 74-car pileup in California that killed two people and injured 51. As James Merriner recounts in his new political biography of Ryan, The Man Who Emptied Death Row, a total of eleven traffic deaths were attributable to the licenses fraudulently obtained from Ryan's office.

Much of the bribe money was funneled into Ryan's campaign coffers, and he was elected governor in 1998. It wasn't until 2006 that Ryan was convicted on 18 federal counts, only some of which were related to the license scheme.

For years, Ryan had also been steering state business and leases to friends in exchange for cash and gifts, including trips to Jamaica, about which he lied to the FBI. Ryan spread his campaign's funds among his family members. He ran his and his allies' political campaigns on state time with state employees in state offices, and his aides shredded campaign records and wiped hard drives clean to cover it up. As Merriner recounts in detail, Ryan's friends were selling favors out of his office, including low-digit license plates, in exchange for campaign contributions. They shook down companies that did or sought business with the state, demanding to be hired as "consultants" for five- and six-figure amounts in exchange for little or no work.

Kirk's response to efforts to get a pardon for Ryan? Outrage.

"George Ryan abused his public office and was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury," Kirk tells National Review Online. "He should be released from prison the same way others are released - through the parole process. He should not be released as part of a political favor."


Kirk wrote: "If we are to stop corruption at the highest levels and restore the public's trust, then this prisoner should serve as similar criminals who cannot hope that political favor can adjust their sentence. Today, as U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald investigates and prosecutes further allegations of public corruption in Springfield, I urge you not to embolden the corrupt and criminal by pardoning or commuting George Ryan's sentence."

Kirk acknowledges that such an anti-pardon letter from a congressman is rare, but he tells NRO that it was necessary under the circumstances.

"A pardon for George Ryan would be like firing Eliot Ness," Kirk says. "It would send a chilling message to Fitzgerald: You may work hundreds of hours on the case, you may go up against the best defense that Chicago machine money can buy, but we'll just let it all go. . . . Knowing the president and how few pardons he's granted, I hoped we could tip the balance and stop this one from happening."

The GOP will find it difficult to overcome the harm to its brand name unless it airs its own dirty laundry and takes it upon itself to punish miscreants within its ranks. The Republicans cannot rely on scandals afflicting the Democratic Party (Congressmen William Jefferson (La.), Charlie Rangel (NY) and Illinois Governor Rod Balgojevich) to restore its own reputation. Republicans-the party of law and order-must take a stand that does not protect its own members from the consequences of their own illegal actions.

As the GOP regroups, one hopes its leadership looks to role models such as Congressman Kirk (fair disclosure: I live in his district and I am a supporter). There may be some hope that the GOP is indeed looking to Kirk and other leading lights (for example, Eric Cantor of Virgina, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin).

USA Today
took note in an  article "Grand Old Party seeks fresh faces" that the GOP does have members that can lead the party out of purgatory. Among the members of Congress listed are Senators Richard Burr (NC) and, John Thune (SD) and Congressmen Eric Cantor (Va.), the aforementioned Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy (Ca.), Adam Putnam (Florida) and last-but certainly not least, Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Keep an eye on him.


As the GOP looks at strategies geared to restore its tattered reputation, they could do worse than look at the career of one of their more promising stars, Congressman Mark Kirk (10th District, Illinois).

He has been winning in a Democratic district ever since he first ran for Congress in 2001. He has withstood challenges for the past two cycles from a Democratic opponent who followed the Barack Obama playbook (he modeled himself after Obama) in a state and a district that supported Barack Obama (and before that, John Kerry and Al Gore) by overwhelming margins. Kirk has been a far-sighted leader, realizing years ago that the suburbs were an important political battleground. He devised a "suburban agenda"-a package of proposals that held great appeal to families and others who lived in the suburbs (kids, education, safety)-that received wide acclaim. David Brooks , New York  Times columnist, extolled the plan  over two years ago

His educational record would even win praise from the same columnists who are busy taking note of the IVY League credentials of Barack Obam's team. He attended the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México before graduating cum laude in history from Cornell University. Kirk received a Masters Degree from the London School of Economics, and a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University.

Kirk is a leader on national security issues. He currently serves as an intelligence officer in the Naval Reserve (one of only two current members of Congress who serve in the reserves one weekend a month and two weeks a year). He is moderate on social issues, favors reasonable restrictions involving gun sales, has received favorable ratings from a raft of environmental groups, and is pro-choice. He has great appeal to independents and is rated as a moderate on the scale between conservative and liberals produced by the well-regarded National Journal . His ability to score legislative wins is magnified by his well-honed ability to work across the aisle.

Now comes news that Kirk has taken another bold step forward. He wrote a letter to President Bush adamantly opposing a pardon for imprisoned former Illinois Governor George Ryan. What is notable about this step? Ryan is a Republican. His pardon is actually supported by Senator Richard Durbin, a Democratic Senator from Illinois.

David Freddoso provides some background to Ryan's conviction:

Ryan, age 74, has served just 13 months out of his 78-month sentence. His troubles began 14 years ago with a fiery car crash. On Nov. 8, 1994, Ricardo Guzman was driving a semi-truck on Interstate 94 outside Milwaukee. As he drove, other truck drivers tried to warn Guzman on the CB that a metal assembly was dangling from the rear of his truck. Guzman, who barely spoke English, could not understand them. When the rear assembly finally came flying off and hit the pavement, it punctured the gas tank of a family's minivan. The vehicle burst into flames, killing the six children inside and badly burning their parents, the Rev. Scott Willis and his wife, Janet.

Guzman and hundreds of other unqualified applicants had obtained their truck licenses in Illinois by bribing officials who worked under then-Secretary of State George Ryan. But that wasn't clear at the time, and Ryan did a good job of keeping it that way: Months after Guzman's accident, Ryan fired or transferred most of the employees in his office's Inspector General department in order to quash the subsequent investigation.

The illegally licensed drivers had caused at least 55 accidents, including a 74-car pileup in California that killed two people and injured 51. As James Merriner recounts in his new political biography of Ryan, The Man Who Emptied Death Row, a total of eleven traffic deaths were attributable to the licenses fraudulently obtained from Ryan's office.

Much of the bribe money was funneled into Ryan's campaign coffers, and he was elected governor in 1998. It wasn't until 2006 that Ryan was convicted on 18 federal counts, only some of which were related to the license scheme.

For years, Ryan had also been steering state business and leases to friends in exchange for cash and gifts, including trips to Jamaica, about which he lied to the FBI. Ryan spread his campaign's funds among his family members. He ran his and his allies' political campaigns on state time with state employees in state offices, and his aides shredded campaign records and wiped hard drives clean to cover it up. As Merriner recounts in detail, Ryan's friends were selling favors out of his office, including low-digit license plates, in exchange for campaign contributions. They shook down companies that did or sought business with the state, demanding to be hired as "consultants" for five- and six-figure amounts in exchange for little or no work.

Kirk's response to efforts to get a pardon for Ryan? Outrage.

"George Ryan abused his public office and was convicted beyond a reasonable doubt by a jury," Kirk tells National Review Online. "He should be released from prison the same way others are released - through the parole process. He should not be released as part of a political favor."


Kirk wrote: "If we are to stop corruption at the highest levels and restore the public's trust, then this prisoner should serve as similar criminals who cannot hope that political favor can adjust their sentence. Today, as U.S. Attorney Fitzgerald investigates and prosecutes further allegations of public corruption in Springfield, I urge you not to embolden the corrupt and criminal by pardoning or commuting George Ryan's sentence."

Kirk acknowledges that such an anti-pardon letter from a congressman is rare, but he tells NRO that it was necessary under the circumstances.

"A pardon for George Ryan would be like firing Eliot Ness," Kirk says. "It would send a chilling message to Fitzgerald: You may work hundreds of hours on the case, you may go up against the best defense that Chicago machine money can buy, but we'll just let it all go. . . . Knowing the president and how few pardons he's granted, I hoped we could tip the balance and stop this one from happening."

The GOP will find it difficult to overcome the harm to its brand name unless it airs its own dirty laundry and takes it upon itself to punish miscreants within its ranks. The Republicans cannot rely on scandals afflicting the Democratic Party (Congressmen William Jefferson (La.), Charlie Rangel (NY) and Illinois Governor Rod Balgojevich) to restore its own reputation. Republicans-the party of law and order-must take a stand that does not protect its own members from the consequences of their own illegal actions.

As the GOP regroups, one hopes its leadership looks to role models such as Congressman Kirk (fair disclosure: I live in his district and I am a supporter). There may be some hope that the GOP is indeed looking to Kirk and other leading lights (for example, Eric Cantor of Virgina, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin).

USA Today
took note in an  article "Grand Old Party seeks fresh faces" that the GOP does have members that can lead the party out of purgatory. Among the members of Congress listed are Senators Richard Burr (NC) and, John Thune (SD) and Congressmen Eric Cantor (Va.), the aforementioned Paul Ryan, Kevin McCarthy (Ca.), Adam Putnam (Florida) and last-but certainly not least, Mark Kirk of Illinois.

Keep an eye on him.