In a profile of U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk that ran in yesterday's paper, the Tribune's Rick Pearson and Katherine Skiba explore how the North Shore Republican is attempting to appeal to the "tea party" conservative activists as well as the independents he will need ...
In a profile of U.S. Senate candidate Mark Kirk that ran in yesterday's paper, the Tribune's Rick Pearson and Katherine Skiba explore how the North Shore Republican is attempting to appeal to the "tea party" conservative activists as well as the independents he will need to win in November. In the piece, Kirk is repeatedly depicted as a serious, policy-oriented lawmaker. For instance, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) tells the reporters: "He's a policy entrepreneur. ... He's always thinking about policy and how to improve it and perfect it."
Of course, the story of Kirk's flip-flop last year on cap-and-trade is extremely damaging to this image. Unfortunately, the Tribune glosses over those specifics:
He also took flak for announcing he had reversed positions on Democratic-backed cap and trade legislation aimed at curbing carbon emissions. Kirk voted for it in the House. Then, amid an outcry that the legislation would result in higher costs to businesses and consumers, Kirk said that as a senator he would oppose it.
That paragraph makes it sound like, faced with new information regarding the impact of the legislation, Kirk reassessed his stance. Here's what actually happened:
- In late June 2009, Kirk voted in favor of the Democrats' cap-and-trade bill, arguing that a modest cap on carbon emissions would spur development of domestic energy sources and reduce dependence on foreign oil.
- A little over a week later, the Daily Herald reported that Kirk described the bill as a way for "the U.S. to end its reliance on foreign oil, especially the fuel produced in unfriendly nations such as Iran."
- But in late July, following the official launch of his U.S. Senate bid, Kirk hinted that he was reconsidering his stance on cap-and-trade because of the "outrage he heard from his 10th District constituents."
- Then in September, at a DuPage County GOP rally, he told the riled-up audience that he had only backed the bill because it was in the "narrow interests" of the 10th Congressional District. He added, "[A]s your representative representing the entire state of Illinois, I will vote no on that bill coming up and that’s because we are a manufacturing, agriculture, and coal state and that’s a path I think we need to build." Local reporters saw the shift for what it was. "So, are 10th District residents," Greg Hinz asked at the time, "the only Illinoisans who care about national security?"
The point is that Kirk's switch on the issue had nothing to do with the merits of the proposal itself. It was pandering to the base, pure and simple (and it's earned him some wealthy right-wing donors along the way). If Kirk really put policy first, as his House colleagues suggest, he would have stuck to his guns. The Tribune should explain to readers why he didn't.