Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Cong. Mark Kirk neutral on Personal Retirement Accounts

Republican Congressman Mark Steven Kirk, often referred to as the Congressman from the North Shore, represents the 10th Congressional District. He won an open seat in 2000 when Cong. John Porter, known as a social moderate and fiscal conservative, called it quits after serving the District for 21 years. Kirk, 40 at the time, won a 10 person Republican primary in 2000, with about 32% of the vote, edging out his closest competitor, the rather youngish [29] and relative political novice, Shawn Donnelly, who outspent Kirk by a considerable margin and who came in second with 22% of the primary vote. Facing a tough general election contest with eight year State Rep. Lauren Beth Gash [D- Highland Park], Kirk won by about 2 percentage points, or 5500 votes, with significant help from the New Trier Republican Organization, Committeeman Tolbert Chisum. New Trier Township, where Kirk grew up and went to school, gave him a 3300 vote margin.

In 2002, Cong. Kirk won easily over then Chicago Kent Law School Dean Hank Perritt, with 71% of the vote. Perritt was not viewed as a strong candidate for a variety of reasons, including lack of name recognition and funding. Also, Mark Kirk received some redistricting help in 2002 when the powers that be decided to give him some of then Cong. Phil Crane's Republican voters from the 8th Cong. Dist. in return for some of Kirk's Democratic voters. Ironically, Kirk ended up needing the help much less than Crane-- and the re-districting helped defeat Crane last year, along with some more important factors, e.g., Crane's ineptness and Cong. Melissa Bean's [D-Barrington] very well run campaign.

In 2004, Cong. Kirk won re-election fairly easily over Democrat Lee Goodman, with 65% of the vote. Goodman, a lawyer by training and now a mediator, ran a campaign based on large part on his anti-Iraq War views and what he claimed was Kirk's strong tendency to tow the Republican Party line. Goodman's themes, or perhaps his personality, did not seem to click with the increasingly centrist 10th.

The 10th Cong. Dist., after many years of being viewed as quite Republican, has moved Democratic over the last decade, including narrow victories for the Democratic Presidential candidates in the last two elections, with a 53% to 47% margin of victory for Senator John Kerry.

Cong. Porter, who faced a number of conservative primary challenges [including one that received about 40% of the vote] was said to know how to "vote his district." Cong. Kirk, who served a three year stint as Porter's Chief of Staff and who received Porter's endorsement near the end of the 2000 Primary [and perhaps tacit support from the Porter Organization before], says, below, he is listening to his district on Social Security. And, I imagine, he will "vote his district." To date, Cong. Kirk has encountered no primary challenges.

We caught up with Cong. Kirk yesterday, for a short interview, or as he put it, a "Public Affairs," quickie. He seemed to be on a tight schedule and he said he would give me five minutes and he gave me three, but who's counting.
Jeff Berkowitz: Let me switch to another topic…social security. Are you a supporter-- still a supporter of the personal retirement accounts that President Bush has proposed?

Cong. Mark Kirk [R- Highland Park, 10th Cong. Dist.]: Well, we don’t have a proposal yet from the President and so we will have to see when he puts pen to paper on what he is actually proposing. At this point we have just a couple of paragraphs in a State of the Union address-- which is not enough to make a solid opinion on.

Berkowitz: But, do you support the concept of, you know-- the general concept is that individuals might have control as to say a third of their funds that are taxed—4%, they are taxed at 12% [12.4% of their salary up to $90,000 for social security]-- to direct those [funds] in terms of how they’re invested in stock and bonds, at least [that would be the case for] individuals below a certain age. Would that general concept be something that you would support?

Kirk: We are looking for really three things from me. No. 1, that it not affect anyone 55, or older; that their benefits be maintained. That we also look for a system that is fair. And, that it may treat younger workers better—who right now feel that they will never see a social security check. But, we have no details. And, so, I am going to reserve judgment and keep listening to my District.

Berkowitz: Are you saying that concept of personal retirement accounts, if put together properly, is something you could support?

Kirk: We have no details and so I am reserving judgment.
Cong. Mark Steven Kirk [R-Highland Park, 10th Cong. Dist.] interviewed on March 22, 2005 after a program held at DePaul University with Cong. Judy Biggert[R- Hinsdale, 13th Cong.Dist.; coincidentally, also a New Trier High School Alumna] to discuss issues related to the treatment of the military reserve, including their treatment by their employers after they are called to active duty as well their treatment by the government.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at