ABC News Illinois Senate Debate: Transcript Part II

Oct 19, 2010 11:16pm

Part two of the Illinois Senate Debate Transcript:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
You have the next question.  It's actually a question that came to us from Facebook.  And I– I think we can put it up on the screen.  It's from Thomas Kage, a 23-year-old college graduate, from Mount Vernon, Illinois.  Here's what he had to say, and this question is for you, Mister Giannoulias.  I am part of the generation of people who are becoming known as a lost generation.  We're suffering from unemployment at the very least, underemployment.  This campaign, like so many across the country, has really been more about making the other guy look bad rather than telling us what you want to do to improve our situation.  And this is the important part.  We need to hear more than create jobs, cut spending, or the typical political talk.  He is asking you to throw away the script.  Tell Thomas Kage something new.

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
Well, my answer would be we need to focus on education.  A decade ago, we're the number-one country– in the world when it came to the percentage of young men and women that graduate with a college degree.  We are now number 12 and dropping.

I think joint programs like– Race to the Top are– a smarter way of incentivizing local school districts and states to work together.  With that being said, I think we need a more integrative approach.  I like the model of the Harlem Children's Zone, which focuses on afterschool programs, mentorship.  A stronger education system.  And I believe we need to increase the size of Pell grants.  Invest in community colleges.

Have a focus on early childhood education, from zero to five.  All models have shown for every dollar you invest in early childhood education, there's at least a $17 return.  But until we turn this economy around, until we create the next generation of private sector jobs, move towards a clean energy future, where we invest in solar, wind, geothermal, biomass, retrofit our buildings, invest in infrastructure, those changes aren't going to take place.  And that's a fundamental difference in this race.

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
I worry sometimes the next generation sometimes has been called the ninja generation.  No job or no income, no job, or– assets.  I think we should focus on education, and especially, we need a national dialogue on not allowing kids to drop out after two years of high school.  I think as a 21st century economy, we needed four years of high school, and prepare kids– many more of them to– to join the ranks of– college-educated Americans.

Also, one of the key ideas that I would like to bring into the Senate is reigniting public-private partnerships for infrastructure development.  In many ways, we have forgotten our own economic history.  We all know the Lincoln administration, because it was the victor in the Civil War, and the Emancipation Proclamation.  But what was the third biggest thing that it did.  Some would say it was the 1862 inter– transcontinental railway act that was the ultimate public-private partnership in getting infrastructure going.

We have seen in Indiana this kind of thing ignite the economy.  Where Governor Daniels has done a very good job in having economic growth in his state while Illinois has fallen behind.  It's that kind of– new thinking that we would bring to the Senate.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Turn the question around, and I'll start with you on this Mister Kirk.  Cash, and other members of the Washington, what do they have to do that they're not doing now?

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
Number-one thing is to– up credential, to stay in school.  Like, for example, I voted– us to lower– the cost of student loans, and– to increase the amounts of Pell grants.  I don't think that we should adopt legislation that the Congress has moved forward to have a complete government takeover of all student loans.  That eliminates options that were very much needed– for students.

I think we've also got to look at east as well as west.  The big export markets of the United States are in Asia.  And so, understanding these societies and making sure that we can– expand– key Illinois exports like the Peoria community based out of Caterpillar.  The Cloud City community, based on– John Deere.  The Petunia community, based on–.

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
good paying job in this country.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Okay, Thomas, if you were watching on Facebook, I want you to write in and tell us what you thought about both answers.  We're going to go now to Andy Shaw with the next question.

ANDY SHAW:
Gentlemen, in the desert of polarized politics, there's one oasis of bipartisan.  Both parties have overspent in the federal budget for years and years.  And I'm wondering, if you go to D.C., facing these multitrillion shortfalls, where do you look to cut?  What one or two places do you look first, and what is sacrosanct, what wouldn't you touch?  I think Congressman Kirk, you go first here.

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
I think first of all, you have– across the board– spending reductions, and no– department is– exempt.  I've talked about the cuts that I would make, for example, in the DOD– budget.  Also, cuts– for example, a totally wasteful sugar program, in which I've had a powerful allergy– Mayor Daly.

I turned against earmarks, became the– first member of the Appropriations Committee to not earmark.  Led the fight in the House against the Bridget to Nowhere.  And by the way, it was the bridges to nowhere, and they will not be built.  We need a line-item veto.  President Clinton used it 92 times to strike out federal spending.

The Supreme Court eliminated it, but the new version that I hope Senat– or President Obama comes forward with– will be approved by the Congress.  Paul Simon's balanced budget amendment to the Constitution was the right idea.  It's the right idea now.  A new grace commission, with base-closing powers to really get its– its policies through on an up or down vote, and it will be an up vote in both House and Senate, and I could keep going on.

ANDY SHAW:
Mister Treasurer, do you have a similar list?

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
Four things.  The first is we need to immediately do everything we can to promote economic growth.  When people aren't working they're not paying taxes, that's less revenue long term.  Again, when people aren't working, when they don't have jobs.

ANDY SHAW:
But that's not a budget cut.

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
But it's important.  It's an important– investment to make.  The second thing we need to do– is enact pay gold legislation, something that the Congressman voted against, to end these deficit-busting budgets that have been– all too familiar in Washington D.C.

The third thing we need to is let the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans expire.  We don't have $700 billion to give to millionaires and billionaires.  And the fourth thing is, when the deficit commission comes out with their report in December, we're going to need a bipartisan spirit.  We're going to have to take a long hard look at some very difficult decisions we're going to have to make, and because–

ANDY SHAW;
Gentlemen– sorry.

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
–this country has lived– within its means for a very long time– Andy, we're going to have to take our medicine.  We need people who are willing to make– tough decisions.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Corruption is, of course, the big story in Illinois, but it also exists at the federal level.  So, let me ask each of you what single ethical or transparency-related– law or statute or provision would you fight for when you get to D.C. in the hopes of giving people a better government?  Either one of you first.  Congressman?

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
First of all, I– helped– get through legislation to cancel the pension for any member of Congress convicted of a felony.  And I think we should expand from the very limited– four felonies that Speaker Pelosi allowed to the full list of 21 felonies that are the public integrity felonies identified by the– by the Justice Department.

We also need to end the earmark system, which has become horribly corrupt with– with– the– as we talked about, the Bridge to Nowhere, the rainforest– in Iowa, the Miss Texas museum, et cetera.  Going forward, I think we need to have more transparency, especially on the– federal campaign side.

I broke with my party early and backed the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform legislation.  Now we need to go further, and have all candidates disclose contributions within 24 hours on the internet.  And for all of these groups that are helping out, my opponent and I, supposedly in this race, that we should have all of the donors disclosed.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Mister Treasurer?

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
This is probably the starkest choice in this race.  If you turn the TV on after or before this, you're going to see that Karl Rove and the independent expenditures that are fueling– Congressman Kirk's commercials every single day are having a dangerous impact on the future of our democracy.  Which is why I am very proud to be the first candidate in the history of Illinois to run for the U.S. Senate, not to take money from federal lobbyists and corporate packs.  We have to end the special interest group on Washington D.C. politics.

The Wall Street Journal called Congressman Kirk a pig at the trough, one of the most prolific special interest fundraisers in the history of the U.S. Congress.  I am fully in favor of helping Senator Durbin pass comprehensive– campaign finance laws.  I think Citizens United was– was a dangerous step backward.  Congressman Kirk says he supports that decision.  Congressman Kirk has taken over $10,000 from the Citizens United– pact.

There is a very important vote on the Disclose Act– which would– put some safeguards in place, just so we know who's spending this money.  Congressman Kirk is against the Disclose Act.  That is a fundamental difference.  Until there's significant campaign finance reform, until there's filibuster reform, things aren't going to get better in Washington D.C.  As you turn your TV on, they're only going to get worse.  We can't afford to let Karl Rove come into town and steal these elections.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Carrie Lester.

CARRIE LESTER:
A federal judge last week ruled the stop enforcement of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, banning openly gay troops from serving in the military.  The– Obama administration wants Congress to repeal the law.  Would– would you please explain whether you support or oppose the court decision, and– how you would vote on repeal of the law if it did come in the Senate?

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
Yes, Carrie, I am for the immediate repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.  I agree with our– military leaders.  We have kicked out over the years almost 14,000 men and women.  Fourteen-thousand men and women who are willing to die for this country.  We told 'em they're not good enough.

Meanwhile– we are letting felons– and other individuals into the military.  We're one of the only industrialized nations to do so.  It's wrong.  It goes against the spirit of what this country was founded on.  It makes us a less secure nation at a time when we need– the right personnel.  So, we have no business telling these people who want to die for this country that that's unacceptable.  I am for the immediate repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
I voted to continue the current policy, and– I'm a little confused as to what the administration's policy is right now.  At first, Secretary Gates said he wanted to wait until the Joint Chiefs of Staff who actually run our military put forward their recommendations in December.  Then a federal judge struck down the policy.  Then the administration moved to block that federal judge and its striking down the policy.  I'm totally confused as to where the administration is.

I think we ought to listen to the men and women who run the U.S. military.  It is one of the most complicate organizations on Earth.  Operating in all 24 time zones, and if you remove a policy, speaking from some military experience, you've got to be able then to look in the eyes of a first sergeant or a chief and say, what is the new policy.  How are we going to run this ship or this platoon today.  And without a replacement, you cause confusion in the ranks.

CARRIE LESTER:
As a follow-up question to you both– where do you stand on gay marriages and civil unions, and– do you believe that it's the federal government's responsibility to take that up?  Or should it be decided on a state-by-state basis?

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
Well, to answer your first question– I am in favor of full marriage equality.  I believe that this country was founded on fairness, on treating people equal– equally.  That's how my parents– raised me.  And I think we're going to look back in 20 or 30 years and be embarrassed that we didn't work– move sooner on this.

I'm not saying we should stuff this down any church or religion's throat.  But I'm saying if my fiancée and I can have certain rights and go to City Hall, and have certain hospital visitation, certain pension rights, then we should let that be available for everyone.  We have bigger problems to focus on.  Let's remember what this country's all about.  And again, we're going to look back, and be embarrassed that we didn't act soon enough.

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
I– I oppose gay marriage, and– I support civil unions.  But I also don't think we should have a federal takeover of all marriage law in the United States.  I think the federal government is already trying to take over too much.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Charles Thomas?

CHARLES THOMAS:
I want to go back to negative political advertising as allowed under the Citizens United– decision, because I don't think that Congressman Kirk was– was able to fully address– the issue.  Do– do you believe that these– these– these entities, such as American Crossroads– should disclose their donors and– and who's behind them?  And would you urge those who have assisted your campaign to reveal to Illinois voters who's actually behind these– these negative ads?

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
I think all of the groups that– are entering Illinois to support my opponent, the big unions, and– and all their operations, and the ones trying to support me– should reveal their donors, and should be fully transparent.  There's a real difference, also, in– in what I would call the Paul Harvey rest of the story on my opponent.  He says he doesn't take money from federal lobbyists, but he takes tens of thousands of dollars from state lobbyists.  Many of whom have direct business before your office.

He says he doesn't take money from corporate packs, but he is so aligned with the unions, he wouldn't raise any money from corporate packs, but he does take money from union packs.  It's the rest of the story constantly with my opponent that you have to look into.  The (UNINTEL) losses, the bank loans, the federal lobbyists not taking, but state lobbyists to take money from, no corporate packs, but you take a ton of money from union packs.

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
I have to give the Congressman credit.  He is a great politician.  He didn't come close to answering your question.  He never does.  Instead, he does a beautiful turnaround.  Karl Rove is coming here, and American Crossroads, with exorbitant sums of money.  They're trying to determine for the people of Illinois who their next Senator, who their leader will be will in Washington D.C.

There is a Citizens United Supreme Court decision which I am vehemently against– against.  I think it's a step backwards.  There's a Disclose Act, again, which would put some basic rudimentary safeguards in place.  Say who– funds it.  Don't let foreign corporations decide who your next Senators are.  But again– we shouldn't be surprised at someone at the Wall Street Journal called a pig at the trough, one of the most prolef– prolific special interest fundraisers in Congress– is– afraid to take them on.  He's bought and paid for by– Wall Street firms, which is why he voted for the bailouts of the biggest banks in the world, proudly, twice, then voted against– suspending executive pay bonuses six times.  And then, votes against Wall Street reform.  And then– he's owned by the health insurance companies.  Votes their way every single time.  This is typical Washington D.C. politics.  People are sick and tired of it.

CHARLES THOMAS:
If elected and serving in the United States Senate, and a Constitutional amendment to basically nullify the effects of Citizen– the Citizens United decision should come up, how would you vote?  Would you vote for a Constitutional amendment?  To basically nullify– Citizens United.

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
Charles, are you asking me.

CHARLES THOMAS:
Yes.

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
First of all, I– I would– I would not.  I think the key issue is disclosure.  That we need– reforms that have every candidate or every group seeking to influence election– disclose their donors.  And secondly, we should do it within– 24 hours on the internet.  But in this debate, I would have to say, Alexi, there you go again.  You've just criticized me a second time for voting for the TARP legislation when you told, on tape, and on camera, the Chicago Tribune that you would've voted for it as well.  So, are– are you flip-flopping on that now?

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
I would've voted for it.  I said I would.

CHARLES THOMAS:
We're getting off the subject.  I– I would like to– for you to answer the question about a Constitutional amendment if– if it has to get to that.

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
Charles, I'll– I'll actually answer your question.  I'm– I would be in favor of a Constitutional amendment.  I think this was a dangerous decision by the Supreme Court.  We're seeing what's happening on our airwaves with Karl Rove.

You know, Mark Kirk helped Karl Rove destroy the economy, and now Karl Rove is repaying the favor with millions of dollars.  That's– that's– flies in the face of what this democracy shall be about.  Senator Durbin has worked hard on campaign finance reform.  We need to pass the Disclose Act.  And if it comes to a Constitutional amendment, I would be favor of it, Charles.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Whichever one of you wins this race will have a chance to vote for Supreme Court– nominees.  And probably the most controversial nomination– of the last generation is back in the headlines today.  We reported that– Jenny Thomas, she's the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas, also the head of a Tea Party affiliate called Liberty Central, called Anita Hill this weekend, and asked her to consider apologizing– to her husband, Justice Thomas.  So– so, Congressman Kirk, does Anita Hill owe Clarence Thomas an apology, or is it the other way around?

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
I– I think that's long ago and far away.  My– my– my philosophy on judges is that judges should make– decisions based on the interpretation of the law, not making new laws.  The genius of our system is that laws should be made by elected representatives of the American people, who then stand accountable in the very next election, before their constituents of their Congressional district or their state.

In– in the consideration of the judges we've just had with Justice– Sotomayor, I felt that she was– too forward-leaning on making new laws, and was very open about that.  So, I would've opposed her.  But with Justice Kagen, I applied– Alexander Hamilton's federalist– standard that says it is not up– up to individual Senators to make the appointment.  It's up to them to see if the President's appointment is appropriate, is not subject to family favor or some sort of corruption, and to see if it's the best appointment they think that this President at this time would make.  And so, I announced that I would favor Justice Kagen's– appointment.  Going forward, I would– hope that we would have federal judges that were largely conservative, small c in nature.  That always– deferred as much as possible to the elected representatives of the American people– to– make the laws, and then the justices interpret them.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
I know, but I'm just trying to get your sense of what was a single cultural and political moment.  Would you have voted for Justice Thomas?

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
For– for Justice Thomas, I think Justice Thomas was confirmed.  He's a good– Supreme Court justice.  But I will tell you– I'm looking forward.  And I'm looking forward especially at assessing– the– the nominations that– President Obama as our President would make.  With one, I felt that he– he erred with a justice that was too forward-leaning.

With the other, I felt that Justice Kagen was careful and considered, not because she thought she would get the appointment, but because she was careful and considered.  And it was his choice to make, and I thought it was a pretty good one.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Treasurer Giannoulias, I'd like you to answer my question as well in a follow-up, and I'll give you the follow-up now– right now.  Is there any member of the Supreme Court who's been appointed by a Republican president on the court right now that you would've supported?  But first, the question about Anita Hill.

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
You know, again, I'll– I'll finally like to agree with Congressman Kirk.  I think– that's passed.  Going forward, obviously, the next U.S. Senator has– some important decisions to make, especially when it comes to the Supreme Court.  We have to understand that the Constitution is a living document– document.  I think we need folks who are practical, who are fair-minded, and who understand that their decisions have a very tangible impact on people's everyday lives.

The biggest example of that, again, is the Citizens United decision.  Which is having a devastating impact on our elections, and the future of this democracy.  So, if you don't think– who your next Supreme Court justice is, these decisions have a real impact on our lives.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
I think every member in the majority in that decision was appointed by a Republican president.  So, I'll ask the question again.  Is there any Supreme Court justice appointed by a Republican on the court today that you would've supported?

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
I can't think of any offhand.  Again, I think the activist-leaning– court right now is– is doing a lot of damage– to our democracy.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Okay, it is time now for the closing statements.  You each get a minute.  And we begin with Mister Giannoulias.

ALEXI GIANNOULIAS:
Well, thank you– for having us.  And– let me just say that tonight we saw a stark difference between myself and Congressman Kirk, who he wants to fight for and who I will fight for.  But ultimately, it's not about me, and it's not about Congressman Kirk.  It's about real people that are dealing with real problems.

Just two days ago, I had a chance to meet a young lady named Callie.  Last summer, Callie lost her job.  Seven months pregnant, just bought a new home, just married.  She lives in your district, Congressman.  For over a year, Callie hasn't been able to find a job.  Hundreds of interviews, hundreds of résumés sent out, she's scared and concerned about the future.  She's not sure what's going to happen to her family.  She's not sure what's going to happen in five years, in ten years, in one year.  To her– to her and her daughter, Naomi.  You see, Callie doesn't want or expect federal government to fix every problem in her life.

She doesn't want a handout or a bailout.  She just wants to know that someone is fighting for her.  She wants to know that someone is taking her struggle and her anger to Washington D.C.  Well, Callie let me tell you this.  Your struggle is my struggle.  Your fight is my fight.  And your anger is my anger.  I will make you very proud as your next United States Senator, and I will always fight for people who don't want a handout or a bailout.  They just want a shot– a shot at the American dream, and the way that my parents, two immigrants, did when they came to this country.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Congressman?

CONGRESSMAN KIRK:
This could be the most important election for the United States Senate in America today because due to a federal court ruling, you will have the opportunity to vote twice for United States Senate.  First, to elect a Senator for six years starting in January, and secondly, to elect a Senator for 60 days, starting right away after the election.

You may have heard that Congressional leaders are planning on a lame-duck session of Congress, a new round of huge spending and taxing bills that I think will hurt the economy, and threaten a double-dip recession.  Their agenda could include a trillion-dollar spending bill.  A bill to take away your right to a secret ballot in a union election.

And– beginning of a debate on a new national sales tax called a value-added tax to drain the U.S. economy of money, and make sure that the government is as large as the one in European states.  I seek to be that– fiscally conservative socially moderate voice that would defend your right to a secret ballot, that would oppose a national sales tax, and that would reign back spending in Washington.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS:
Gentlemen, thank you both.  Illuminating debate.  I want to thank my fellow panelists as well.  Thanks also to the League of Women Voters of Illinois for their assistance with this debate, and the Illinois Broadcast Association, also ABCNews.com, and Facebook.  A lot of thank yous to get through tonight.  Most importantly, thank you for watching.  Please get out and vote on November 2nd.  Have a good night.

Transcript has been edited for clarity.

 

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