U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin accused his Republican opponent, state Sen. Jim Oberweis, of being a “walking inversion,” and called on him to raise the wages of those scooping ice cream at Oberweis dairy stores across the state as well as disclose the ratio of women to men in his business.
In a sit-down interview with Early & Often, the Chicago Sun-Times political portal, Durbin, 69, blasted Oberweis’ proposal to raise the minimum wage only for those who are older than 26.
“I mean, they may be ice cream dippers to you, but these are college students working their way through school. These are single moms raising kids. They’re veterans coming back. And you say: “nope, don’t raise the minimum wage because they haven’t reached the age of 26?” Durbin said.
Durbin, the second highest-ranking Democrat in the U.S. Senate, discussed a broad range of topics, including his wifeLoretta’s work as a lobbyist, his opinion on whether there should be a Barack Obama high school, and what he has to show for all of his years in Washington.
It doesn’t appear Oberweis will see eye to eye with Durbin anytime soon.
“Dick Durbin’s policies have resulted in the worst economic recovery in U.S. history and devastation for the poor and middle class in Illinois,” said Oberweis spokesman Dan Curry. “He’s possibly thelast person on Earth Jim Oberweis would go to for advice on how to run his successful businesses.”
Durbin was particularly animated when talking about recent endorsements Oberweis has touted in the African American community. Two ministers have supported Oberweis, something Durbin referred to as a “novelty.”
“I’ll tell you this: If Mr. Oberweis wants this battle fought among African-Americans in Chicago or in Cook County — be my guest,” Durbin said. “I think [with]my voting record, my support of the president and my support of programs that will make a positive difference in their lives, I’ll do quite well.”
Oberweis, 68, of Sugar Grove,sharply criticized Durbin on the senior senator’s urging of Walgreen Co. to remain in the state. Oberweis blasted Durbin as using intimidation tactics to keep Walgreen from leaving the country to take advantage of a tax inversion that would have saved the company billions of dollars. When Walgreen decided to stay in the state, Durbin waslauded as a leading voice in that effort.
“I think that’s a senator’s responsibility. To work to keep businesses in this state and to keep them in this country,” Durbin said. “Now, here comes my opponent and he’s saying: “oh, you shouldn’t do this. There’s a reason why he’s saying that. Jim Oberweis is a walking inversion.”
Durbin cited Oberweis’ wife claiming permanent residence in Florida and the husband and wife filing separate taxes to take advantage of tax breaks in Florida.
“Jim Oberweis has refused to disclose his state income tax return. The obvious question is out of the million-dollar-plus salary … how much did he pay Illinois income tax on?” Durbin said. “I think it’s a question he ought to answer. I disclose all my income tax … schedules included.”
Here are questions and answers from Durbin’s sit down with Early & Often. This exchange was edited for space.
Q: Can a politician be in office too long?
A: I think it’s really up to the voters to decide. For some politicians two years is too long and for others, 20 years isn’t long enough. Voters have to make that decision.
…I believe my time in the Senate has helped the City and the state, it’s helped Chicago. I think that my position in the Senate gets us access to a lot of opportunities that we wouldn’t have otherwise.
Q: What kind of access do you have? Barack Obama is president…how often do you have face time with him? Are you in the White House more often than other Senators?
A: Because of my leadership position, I get to meet with the president more frequently. And he’ll call from time to time. We’ve spoken once a week for the last couple of weeks…once in awhile he invites me to lunch, the two of us. I go to a lot of meetings in the Oval Office with the president and other leaders in the Senate.
Q: Is there something that you can point to and say all those ties … helped Illinois residents?
A: I think a lot of politicians overstate that, in terms of: ‘this is what I did for the state.’ I’m not that kind of person. I’ve been part of some efforts and I hope I’ve added something…they go from some of the highest levels like the national competition for the Digital Manufacturing Lab – we won it . Illinois won it. And we did it by putting together a spectacular application.
Years ago, through earmarks and efforts, I changed the Chicago shoreline. I didn’t do it individually. I did it through earmarks with Mayor [Richard M.] Daley. But I secured the funds to take away what was this deteriorating shoreline. These big old blocks of stone tumbling into the lake. Now, look at what we’ve replaced them with. It is a modern shoreline that will serve us for a long time to come.
Q: Do you think there should be a Barack Obama high school in Illinois?
A: There’ll be time for that. There will be the right time, right place.
Q: Do you think it’s too early because he’s still in office?
A: I do. I think it’s a good decision to wait…I would say the South Siders want it and have good claim for it. That’s one of the elements of the decision.
Q: So you think Rahm made the right decision to pull back on it?
A: I do. This was something that should have been a moment of recognition of the president and a source of pride, [and]it became a controversy.
Q: You’ve certainly known Rahm for a long time. Karen Lewis is getting into the race, who are you backing?
A: I don’t know that Karen Lewis is getting into the race. I know in your business you get into hypotheticals, let’s wait and see.
Q: She has a campaign committee … so would you support her or Rahm?
A: I’ve worked with Rahm and we’ve had a good working relationship and that’s my starting point.
Q: Looking back on your tenure in Washington what would you hold up as your signature accomplishment?
A: I really believed that I focused, earlier than most, on the issue of tobacco and public health. The fact that for over 25 years when you get on an airplane smoking is prohibited was a law that I passed.
Q: That’s been something that’s been associated with you for years. What about the Senate?
A:Ask retailers … about the “swipe fee.” For years this was just imposed on them, they were just told you’re going to pay or else. We changed that law and we protected these retailers. … Immigration: I introduced the DREAM Act 13 years ago, it was my bill … both parties are embracing it as the right thing to do.
Q: The president has decided to stall that for now, was that the right decision to make?
A: I think it was. It was so highly politically charged. It’s hard to believe but the House of Representatives before they left for the August recess, with an overwhelming Republican vote … said basically that they wanted to deport 2 million kids. Then they stood up and gave themselves a standing ovation. It really was a sad moment.
Q: Did you think it was ironic that Jim Oberweis at the state fair was calling you a millionaire?
A: We’re not wealthy, but we’re not complaining. We are lucky to have saved a lot of money over the years…but to compare my situation in life with Oberweis of Oberweis Dairy, that’s an exaggeration.
Q: You didn’t benefit from being in Washington all these years?
A: No, everything’s disclosed … Paul Simon, he said the minute I came on his staff in 1969, ‘We’re going to make a full income disclosure. Every employee on my staff.’ I’ve done it every year. Some years it’s painful, you know? When I first got out of law school it was all student loans. I was technically bankrupt. It was all student loans … people say, just how did you do that? I can point to it year by year.”
Q: Your wife is a lobbyist?
A: She is. …She’s coming to an end. But officially, it’s for this calendar year, it runs out … went to the Senate ethics committee. We said we’re not going to do any federal lobbying, to minimize and avoid conflicts..we were careful as we went through this. There were occasional overlaps. She represented the American Lung Association. Well, as I mentioned earlier, one of their big issues is tobacco. So many of the things she set out to do I was supporting. But that was the case before she was a lobbyist. In terms of ever choosing her clients. In terms of ever trying to influence her clients, never happened. We’re very careful.
Q: You think it’s a benefit to her to have, you know, her husband’s one of the most powerful men in the country?
A: Well, I don’t know about all of that. Perhaps, it opened a door. But there have been several legitimate investigations by journalists into my wife and what she’s done. They’ve come back and said: “We can’t find anything.”
Q: Are you committed if you are re-elected staying for the full six years?
A: I am committed to it. I don’t see any alternative to consider. But I’ve got to win first.
Q: I saw another interview this week where you wake up every morning and you think …
A: Eric Cantor. Open my eyes and say Eric Cantor and jump out of bed. … you never should take any elections for granted.
Q: Do you think he should raise the wage of his employees?
A: I’ve said to him, incidentally, we make disclosures of the salaries of all the people in our office. And I hope that he will make similar disclosure of those who work for Oberweis Dairy. … When you take a close look at Oberweis Securities, you really need a flashlight to find any women at the highest levels of management in his company.
Q: You’re calling on him…
A: Full disclosure. Men and women in the highest levels. Let’s take the top 10 employees at each place. How many men, how many women? Let’s say, how many men and women work at each of these entities and what’s the comparable pay?
I can tell you the answer: Six out of 10 top employees in my office are women and when it comes to my staff more women than men and when it comes to the money, the women make more money than men.
Q: Would you tell him directly, you should raise theminimum wage in his stores?
A: Absolutely. I believe that people who get up and go to work are willing to make that sacrifice … ought to have some respect.
Q. What do you say about African American ministers who have supported Oberweis, saying that Democrats take their vote for granted.
A: I can tell you that I don’t believe that any party is entitled to any vote, you earn it.
Q. Do you think there’s any way Michelle Obama would run for U.S. Senate?
A: No. There’s always speculation, after Hillary Clinton ran. Of course they would ask the question. I don’t see it.