U.S. senator visits State Fair, discusses Blagojevich, capital punishment, climate change
By REBECCA ANZEL
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD — Dick Durbin was at the Illinois State Fair Tuesday to talk about agriculture. It was Ag Day, after all.
Instead, the state’s senior U.S. senator spent a significant amount of his time with the press discussing state politics and policy. Durbin specifically addressed questions about members of his Democratic Party who made recent headlines.
State Sen. Tom Cullerton, from Villa Park, was indicted by a grand jury earlier this month on federal charges of embezzling funds from a labor union. He will be arraigned Wednesday.
Former colleagues of House Speaker Michael Madigan were subjects of FBI raids. The scope of that investigation is unclear.
And former Gov. Rod Blagojevich is serving time in a federal prison in Colorado. He is back in the news after comments made by U.S. President Donald Trump about a possible commutation.
“Listen, neither political party has a monopoly when it comes to virtue or moral turpitude,” Durbin said. “It is human nature and the weakness of human nature that leads to Democrats, Republicans and those not in public office to commit crimes. We should be intolerant of it, speak out against it, and work together on a bipartisan basis to avoid it.”
The senator addressed Trump’s continued consideration of forgiving Blagojevich’s 14-year prison sentence, which he received in part for his efforts to sell the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama when he became president.
Durbin told reporters he thought the judgement Blagojevich received was “excessive” and “does not really match up with the crimes that he committed.”
“You know, what he did was wrong,” Durbin said. “He was arrested, prosecuted, convicted obviously, incarcerated, disgraced and separated from his family for seven-plus years.”
He added that he knows it is not an opinion shared by his Illinois colleagues, many of whom told Capitol News Illinois on Monday that Trump should not forgive the rest of the former governor’s prison sentence.
Durbin also weighed in on comments made this week by Republican state Rep. David McSweeney, of Barrington Hills, who supports reinstating capital punishment in the state in the wake of mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio and recent gun violence in Chicago. McSweeney said he plans to either sponsor or co-sponsor legislation to that end.
Durbin said there is “no reason to turn back to it,” and that he thinks the death penalty does not have the “deterrent effect” its supporters say it does.
“I don’t think it’s any day at the beach to be given a life sentence,” he said. “I don’t think that is going to stop these people who have reached such a level of mental anguish that they go out and kill innocent people.”
When he had an opportunity to talk agriculture, the senator had a message for Illinois farmers, one he said is “a little touchy” — climate change, and how the Prairie State’s agriculture industry can benefit from the changes and adaptations that result.
He pointed to wind turbines as an example of a way farmers can benefit from green energy. The land chosen gets an economic boost — “a pretty good deal,” Durbin said — and the turbine does not interfere with the agriculture business of the farm, he added.
“There are ways to reduce the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions that the farmers can be part of and do in a way that comes back to their economic benefit,” Durbin said. “I use the wind turbines as an example — 20 years ago, people didn’t see this coming, but now it’s become a major part of generating electricity. Rural America has to be right smack-dab in the middle of this conversation.”
“Market forces,” he added — not looking at regulations as penalties but as opportunities — are the key to adaptation in agriculture.