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Tammy Duckworth heads to Congress

Congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth meets with her supporters mediWednesday Nov. 7 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

Congresswoman-elect Tammy Duckworth meets with her supporters and the media Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times

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Updated: February 3, 2013 6:07AM



This is another in a series of stories on people and events that shaped our communities in 2012.

In a congressional race that garnered more than its fair share of the national media spotlight and gobs of outside cash, Democrat Tammy Duckworth decisively beat tea party darling and Republican Joe Walsh in November to claim a seat in Illinois’ 8th District.

Following the 2010 census, the freshly made boundaries of the 8th District had been gerrymandered by the Democratic-controlled state Legislature to favor a member of that party — and left Walsh, of McHenry, no longer living within its borders.

So Walsh had a choice: Either run in a primary against fellow GOP freshman congressman Randy Hultgren of Winfield, whose 14th District is where Walsh calls home, or run in the 8th set up to favor a Democrat.

With the redrawn 14th District more heavily Republican, Hultgren easily defeated Gurnee Democrat Dennis Anderson.

Walsh, who beat incumbent moderate Democrat Melissa Bean in 2010 to claim the congressional seat, chose to run in the 8th and faced Duckworth, who bested Raja Krishnamoorthi in the spring Democratic primary.

Adding to the confusion that is Illinois politics, Duckworth had run and lost for Congress once before — in the 6th District against Republican Peter Roskam.

The 8th now includes most of Elgin and Carpentersville, East Dundee, Streamwood, Hoffman Estates (where Duckworth lives), Schaumburg and Glendale Heights.

With the attention given the tea party during and after the 2010 election cycle, Walsh became known for his appearances on cable TV pundit gab fests, advocating its small-government, low-tax, no-compromise positions. He also became known, via viral YouTube videos, for displaying a bad temper — and from media reports of divorce woes that since have been settled involving owing about $117,000 in back child support to his ex-wife.

The Duckworth campaign wound up bringing up the latter in attack ads it ran in the last portion of the race. She also had heavy-hitting backers, including President Barack Obama, his campaign manager and former chief of staff David Axelrod, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin.

Outside money

Relatively recent court decisions opened the doors wide for largely unaccountable political action committees of all stripes to throw outside money into elections, and the 8th was among those that saw millions spent by both sides.

According to USA Today, the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation reported that the right-leaning Now or Never PAC and FreedomWorks for America spent close to $4 million to try to defeat Duckworth.

The Sun-Times reported that $7 million was spent by Walsh or on his behalf in the battle. With 99,922 people casting votes for him, that came out to $70 per vote. The Duckworth campaign and those groups supporting her effort spent $4.7 million. With 120,744 votes, that meant $39 was spent per vote.

While money didn’t turn the tide to favor Duckworth, Sun-Times columnist Carol Marin speculated that an Oct. 18 appearance at a debate on WTTW Channel 11 played a role in swaying voters — particularly female ones — toward Duckworth.

At that session, Marin reported, Walsh stated that his position on abortion was “pro-life without exception” and that “the life of the woman is not an exception.”

Marin reported that Duckworth retorted, “I’m pro-choice without restriction, and here though, Mr. Walsh ... what he said — not for rape, incest or life of the mother — he would let a woman die rather than give her, than to give the doctor the option to save her life.”

Walsh’s abortion views played into an election season where U.S. Senate candidates Todd Akin of Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana also made controversial comments about abortion — and also lost.

Veterans issues

In a July statement that may have alienated some veterans, Walsh also criticized Duckworth for talking about her military experiences, claiming true heroes don’t do so, and that all Duckworth talked about was her service.

As her Web page points out, Duckworth had been a captain in the Army National Guard, was mobilized for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and deployed in 2004.

“As a Black Hawk helicopter pilot, she was one of the first women to fly combat missions in Iraq until Nov. 12th, 2004 when her helicopter was hit by an RPG. Tammy lost both legs and part of the use of her right arm in the explosion, and was awarded the Purple Heart for her combat injuries,” the website states.

Duckworth has prior experience working in Washington, having been appointed in 2009 by Obama as assistant secretary of veterans affairs. Prior to that, she had been director of Illinois’ Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

As such, since her election, Duckworth has been speaking out on veterans’ and disability-related issues.

In a column she wrote in December for the Huffington Post, Duckworth noted that she will be working to overturn current law where “if a service woman becomes pregnant as a result of sexual assault and chooses abortion care, her military health insurance will not cover it. Requiring military women to pay out of pocket in these circumstances is a policy that is out of line with most other federal health insurance plans, such as Medicaid, and it is discrimination, plain and simple.”

According to reports, Duckworth also spoke out in favor of a United Nations treaty based on the United States’ Americans with Disabilities Act that calls for basic human rights for the disabled. Despite the support of war heroes and Republicans Bob Dold and John McCain, 38 Senate Republicans voted against the measure, which needed a two-thirds majority to pass. Some claimed the treaty was a threat to American sovereignty.

Reports stated that Duckworth recently visited Washington and will have a first-floor office being made handicapped-accessible in the Cannon House Office Building.

On Wednesday, she will become the first woman with disabilities to serve in the House and the first born in Thailand.



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