WASHINGTON - JANUARY 25: (L-R) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) gather for U.S. President Barack Obama's State of the Union address on Capitol Hill January 25, 2011 in Washington, DC. During his speech Obama was expected to focus on the U.S. economy and increasing education and infrastructure funding while proposing a three-year partial freeze of domestic programs and $78 billion in military spending cuts. (Photo by Pablo Martinez Monsivais-Pool/Getty Images)
This Friday, Durbin and Kirk will host a meeting of nuclear power experts at the Dirksen Building, to discuss whether Illinois is prepared for the sort of nuclear meltdown that followed the Japanese tsunami.
They sat together at the State of the Union address, urged NASA to donate a space shuttle to the Adler Planetarium, and held a press conference on lakefront safety after Snowmageddon 2011 stranded cars on Lake Shore Drive.
Why are they getting along so well? Maybe because, for the first time in over 40 years, we’ve got two senators who seem destined for long careers, and have no ambitions beyond their current office.
Durbin and Kirk could become Illinois’s most effective pair of senators since Paul Douglas and Everett Dirksen, who served together from 1951 to 1966. Douglas, a former University of Chicago professor and 5th Ward alderman, was one of the Senate’s greatest liberals. Dirksen, a former congressman from Pekin, began his career as an anti-Communist McCarthyite. Both senators agreed on civil rights, though. Douglas championed racial equality for his entire career. As Senate Republican Leader, Dirksen held the balance of power between Northern and Southern Democrats. He worked with members of his party to break the filibuster blocking the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Durbin began his political career as an aide to Douglas. The senator had lost the use of an arm in World War II, so Durbin handed him papers to sign. Having lost his father when he was a teenager, Durbin found a replacement in Douglas. His eldest son is named Paul Douglas Durbin. Like Dirksen, Kirk is conservative on military and economic matters, but liberal on social issues. In one of his first major Senate votes, he voted to end the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy barring gays from the military.
Since his election to Senate in 1996, Durbin has served alongside a series of short-timers. In 1998, Carol Moseley Braun was defeated by Peter Fitzgerald, who couldn’t even get along with members of his own party, and retired after one term. Fitzgerald was replaced by Barack Obama, who spent most of his four years in the Senate running for president. For the last 14 years, Durbin has been the senator from Illinois. Now, it looks as though we have a complete set.
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