Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Advantage Cong. Mark Kirk: the centrist candidate in the Illinois U. S. Senate race

Kirk’s double header SRO town hall meeting

On the same day, yesterday, that the Obama Administration shifted its focus from healthcare reform to prosecution of former CIA interrogators in Iraq, Cong. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Highland Park, 10th CD) held a doubleheader town hall meeting to discuss why he opposed Obamacare and what his own proposed healthcare [or more precisely, health insurance] reform looked like. His venue was the new Village Hall in Arlington Heights, a core geographic area for Kirk in his Tenth Congressional District. The event, announced quietly on late Friday afternoon, was scheduled to take place from about 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm.

However, before 3:00 pm, more than six hundred people had shown up. The Hall seats about 200, and holds about 350. The nine year incumbent Cong. Kirk decided to hold two consecutive town halls of about 90 minutes each, which accommodated two separate sessions of about 350 attendees, with individuals who couldn’t find seats standing along the walls and sitting on the newly carpeted floors.

Kirk draws a bye on a Republican Senate Primary

Although Cong. Kirk is running in the Republican Primary for his party’s nomination for what he calls the Blagojevich-Burris Senate seat, the event was held in his role as a congressman. Nevertheless, he expected and will get fairly good press for his Senate campaign. Cong. Kirk, in large part, is the mainstream media’s model Republican, except for his strong early support of the Iraq War and President Bush.

Kirk has opposition from a half dozen Republican primary candidates, but nobody yet who has a political base, fundraising ability or sufficient wealth to give Cong. Kirk a run for his money, so to speak. Some conservatives seem to have settled on novice political candidate Pat Hughes as their answer to the very moderate Republicanism of the pro-choice, pro-gun control, pro-gay rights, anti-surge, pro Cap and Trade Cong. Kirk. Kirk was a stout supporter of the Bush Tax Cuts and Iraq War until about the fall of 2006, at which point the naval reserve officer started to waffle on both, as the Country and his District turned blue.

Porter-Kirk moderation

Further, since Kirk won the 10th CD ten candidate Republican Primary in 2000, he has been a consistent, strong cultural moderate, if not liberal. He squeaked by then eight year State Rep. Lauren Beth Gash in the general election with a 5500 vote margin, and then won easy victories of 69% and 64% in 2002 and 2004, respectively, following in large part the John Porter tradition of being a strong “social liberal and fiscal conservative.” For a contra, albeit partisan, view on Cong. Kirk's moderation and independence, please go here.

Kirk: Surviving as a red man in the 10th CD as the District turned blue
Kirk’s decision in the Fall, 2006 campaign to stop touting the Bush Tax cuts and the Iraq War and then to oppose the surge in Iraq left many conservative Republicans wondering just why it was they should turn out for Kirk. But, enough of them did, along with his base of moderate Republicans, independents and some Democrats-- for him to win modest victories over Democrat Dan Seals of 53.4% - 46.6% in 2006 and 52.8% to 47.2 in 2008-- even though President Obama took the District with 61%, up from John Kerry’s 53% in 2004. [Seals now faces tough opposition from State Rep. Hamos in his Dem. Primary, as he asks Democrats for a third shot at winning the 10th CD].

Notwithstanding the above tight margins for Kirk, he was confident he could keep the seat, unless it was re-districted, as it might be, to be even more Democratic in 2012. But with Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan deciding not to run for either the Senate or Governor’s mansion last month, the Senate seat looked very winnable and attractive to Kirk and he finally decided to make the run.

Cong. Kirk: targeting the median voters starts right now

Unless a more politically credible conservative shows up, Kirk has the luxury to run, starting now, a general election U. S. Senate campaign that targets, for November, 2010, the median voter, statewide, i.e., those in the middle of the political spectrum, with some occasional red meat on economics for the conservative base—red meat that is also palatable to independents and moderates.

Cong. Kirk: No on Obama’s Stimulus Plan

For example, Cong. Kirk opposed the 787 billion dollar stimulus program as wasteful, ineffective and adding to the burgeoning deficits and debt. Unsustainable deficits, out of control federal spending and debt are general themes the Congressman pounded home yesterday as a backdrop for the healthcare insurance reform discussion. However, these themes are pleasing to centrists and moderates, as well as conservatives.

Kirk: Making the healthcare insurance business more competitive

When it came to healthcare insurance reform, Cong. Kirk emphasized yesterday that Illinois customers ought to be able to buy healthcare insurance from anywhere in the U. S., not just Illinois. That would, according to Kirk, open up the number of healthcare insurance providers, enhancing competition and innovation in the healthcare insurance sector. Cong. Kirk also wants limitations on medical malpractice suits, as a part of a more global, products liability reform. Kirk believes such limitations would save tremendous sums of money for healthcare consumers. Kirk would also provide incentives for consumers to maintain and continue to grow their health savings accounts.

Designing the Town Halls to maximize civility and tamp down the Cap and Trade objections

The format for each town hall was the same: A PowerPoint presentation of twenty minutes, or so, by Kirk that provided industry background information, international and domestic healthcare performance data and highlights of Obamacare and Kirkcare. The PowerPoint discussion was followed by general comments of twenty minutes, or so, on healthcare and insurance issues by two “expert,” doctors [including Dr. Jay Alexander, the chair of Kirk’s medical advisory group] which, in turn, was followed by about a fifty minute question and answer session between Kirk and the audience.

The Q & A was quite civil. Limited follow-ups were allowed by the person asking the question and if the questioner or someone else interrupted Kirk’s answer, Cong. Kirk would simply remind the person that he had not interrupted them and that person would back off. Kirk faced questions from supporters and critics, but everyone remained civil and respectful, although some did express their disagreement with Kirk on healthcare insurance quite strongly. However, the strongest disagreement was reserved for apparent Republicans who complained about Kirk’s vote for “Cap and Trade,” or “Cap and Tax,” as some put it.

Over-all, the pro-Kirk forces in the room heavily outnumbered the Democratic opposition. Judging by clapping, the pro Government-option, Obamacare supporters seemed to be at 10% or fewer of the attendees. And, for the second session, the protestor support seemed to fall off sharply. The protestors, organized at least in part by Team Obamaand by TenthDems Chair and 10th CD Committeewoman Lauren Beth Gash, also had a prominent presence outside the Hall. Unlike Speaker Pelosi's characterization of the generally Republican opposition attending Democratic U. S. Representatives' town halls as Un-American, the protestors were well received and respected by Team Kirk.

The Kirk plan to reform healthcare insurance

Kirk spoke of lowering the cost of healthcare insurance, which he argued would expand coverage. Cong. Kirk also argued, “We want to ban the rule on pre-existing conditions.” Senate candidate Kirk emphasized 46 cents of every dollar spent by Congress is now borrowed and he questioned the “morality,” of “transferring that much debt to our children.”

Kirk emphasized that be believed Congress should make no law interfering with “decisions by you and your doctor.” He really had no response, however, for those who questioned whether insurance companies were currently interfering with those decisions. Kirk emphasized that he wanted “fully electronic medical records owned by each American.” The Congressman said that Congress “should provide the same tax deduction to individuals [for health insurance] that employers get.”

The cost of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid healthcare insurance plan

Kirk stated that the Congressional budget office put the cost of the Democrats proposed healthcare reform at more than a trillion dollars over a decade, to be paid for by cutting Medicare by 160 billion dollars [which Kirk opposes]; by increasing taxes by 570 billion dollars [which Kirk opposes] and by borrowing 295 billion dollars [which Kirk opposes].

Kirk argued, “by one estimate the congressional budget office says HR 3200 [the Democratic proposed legislation] will cause 15 million American to lose their health insurance. Other estimates go as high as one hundred million.” Further, Cong. Kirk said that under HR 3200, “the total combined tax rate for the State of Illinois would go to 49.97%,” which means “we would be four percentage points more taxed than France.”

Cong. Kirk: It’s centrist reform, stupid !

Kirk stated that his “centrist reform bill,” was backed by 34 other GOP moderates.

Cong. Kirk: No on illegal aliens and the Public Option

In response to specific questions on the issues, Kirk said he did not think “we should provide federally subsidized healthcare to illegal aliens,” and he “does not support a public option [i.e., a government entity providing health insurance as an alternative to the private sector].

Cong. Kirk: Yes on abortion, but no on the Feds' funding of abortions

Cong. Kirk said he did not support federal funding of abortions. The “Hyde Amendment,” which has been in effect for decades, provides for that prohibition, but Kirk did not reference that. In response to a follow up question that asked if he would support legislation that would “precisely prohibit federal tax dollars and state tax dollars for abortion,” Kirk said he “recently voted for the TR amendment that does that.” On the other hand, in response to a question, Kirk confirmed that he still supported “a woman’s right to choose,” but emphasized, “Just keep the government out of it.”

Cong. Kirk: The centrist proposal, one more time with feeling.

Cong. Kirk concluded the second town hall meeting by stating, “the President has laid out his version [of reform], largely reflected in HR 3200, which I would say politically is collapsing before our eyes, especially in the United States Senate. That being said…there are some things we could do that repeat all the successes of California and none of the errors of New Jersey that would lower the cost of health insurance for Americans…so we should do that without borrowing a trillion dollars, without lifting the tax rate of Illinois to 49.97 percent, without having government controls and so my job has been to create a centrist proposal that eventually people could come towards…”

Advantage Kirk

See what I mean? A centrist proposal. Senate Candidate Mark Steven Kirk is looking to be, as Roosevelt University Professor Paul Green likes to put it, “The white line down the middle of the road,” the location usually occupied by Paul and this journalist. It’s getting crowded on that white line.

Because Alexi Giannoulias and Cheryl Jackson will be vying with each other in a tough contested Democratic Primary, they will pull each other to the left and not be able to start positioning themselves in the middle of the road until February, 2010. Product placement can be quite important in politics. Advantage Kirk.