GALESBURG–One of U.S. Senator Richard J. “Dick” Durbin’s (D-IL) first jobs after graduating from law school in 1969 was working on the staff of then-Illinois Lieutenant Governor Paul Simon.
Simon later became a two-term U.S. Senator and a Presidential candidate, and Durbin, 63, now serves in his late political mentor’s Senate seat. As the Democratic incumbent and senior U.S. Senator from Illinois, Durbin is seeking his third consecutive term. He sees the recent economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and health care as the biggest issues in the 2008 election.
Durbin was one of 74 Senators who recently voted in favor of House Resolution 1424, now commonly known as the $700 Billion Bailout Bill, although he did not see it as a complete economic fix to our staggering economy.
“In my eyes, we had two choices – do something, or do nothing,” Durbin says of the Resolution for which Senators Barack Obama (D-IL, Presidential candidate) and John McCain (R-AZ, Presidential candidate) both voted. “Doing nothing would have been criminally negligent on our part.”
During his past 12 years in the Senate, Durbin has introduced legislation that gives tax credits to the self-employed and to small businesses to assist in providing health care to employees, and tax credits to families to help with the cost of childcare and a college education. He supports labor, environmental and human rights standards for the United States’ trading partners to ensure fair trade. Durbin also supports the repealing of some of the Bush Administration’s tax reforms, which he says provided a tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.
“Keeping taxes on middle class America low is something I support, so some of the Bush tax cuts should remain,” Durbin says. “But the tax rates that the President cut on the wealthiest Americans must be restored to the levels of the 1990s.”
In 2002, Durbin was one of 23 Senators (21 Democrats, one Republican, and one Independent) who voted against the authorization to invade and occupy Iraq. He remains proud of his vote and supports an immediate timetable for withdrawal. Durbin cosponsored several bills that provide such a timetable.
“We have to make it clear to the Iraqis that it is time to stand on their own two feet,” Durbin says. “The Iraqis must decide their own future.”
On health care, Durbin supports an employer-based plan to universal health coverage and publicly-financed assistance to that plan.
“We spend more money on health care than any other country in the world – almost $8,000 per person,” Durbin says. “But unfortunately, the results of our health care system don’t show it. If you’re [uninsured] in the American health care system, you’re vulnerable.”
Socially, Durbin is a pro-choice Democrat with a 100 percent approval rating from Planned Parenthood. He also holds perfect ratings from the Humane Society, Citizens for Tax Justice, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Children’s Defense Fund, the national trade union AFL-CIO, and the American Public Health Association. He has received failing grades from Right to Life, Americans for Tax Reform, the National Rifle Association, and the Christian Coalition.
Durbin was born in East St. Louis to an Irish-American father and a mother who emigrated from Lithuania. He graduated from East St. Louis Assumption High School in 1962, and attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1966 with a degree in Economics and Foreign Service. Durbin, like both of his parents, worked on the railroad during his summer vacations to help pay for his education. He obtained his Juris Doctor from Georgetown in 1969.
Prior to becoming a United States Senator, Durbin practiced law in Springfield, Ill. He worked for then-Lieutenant Governor Simon from 1969 to 1972 and served as legal counsel to the Illinois State Senate Judiciary Committee for the next 10 years. After an unsuccessful 1978 run at the Lieutenant Governorship, he returned to his law practice and taught at Southern Illinois University. In 1982 he was elected U.S. Representative from Illinois’ 20th District, a position he held until his first U.S. Senate run in 1996. In 2002, Durbin was re-elected by a margin of over 20 percent.
Durbin now lives in Springfield with his wife, Loretta. Together, they have two daughters, Christine and Jennifer, and one son, Paul. In 2005, Durbin’s Democratic peers in the Senate elected him to the rank of Assistant Democratic Leader of the Senate (Democratic Whip), the first Illinois Senator to hold the position since Everett Dirksen in the 1950s. In 2007, when the Democrats became the majority party in the Senate, Durbin rose to the rank of Majority Whip. He cites that as a main reason he feels he should be re-elected in 2008.
“I’m in on the decision-making,” Durbin says. “And that means that Illinois will be sitting at the table, too.”