Illinois State Senator Richard J. Durbin
Richard Joseph Durbin was born on November 21, 1944 in East St. Louis, Illinois. After graduating from Assumption High School in 1962, Durbin attended Georgetown University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1966 and his law degree in 1969. After law school, Durbin returned to Illinois where he initially started a law practice before agreeing to become legal counsel for then Lieutenant Governor Paul Simon. In 1972, Durbin agreed to become legal counsel for the Illinois State Senate Judiciary Committee, a position he held until 1982. In 1982, Durbin was elected as the Democratic Party representative for Illinois’s 20th District, the congressional seat once held by Abraham Lincoln. Durbin served seven terms in the House of Representative before successfully running against Pat Quinn in 1996 to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the Senate seat of his former boss Paul Simon who was retiring. Durbin was easily able to beat Republican Al Salvi in the general election and was sworn in as the Democratic Senator from Illinois on January 3, 1997. Since then, Durbin has been reelected twice and now stands as the state’s senior representative in the U.S. Senate.
After his first several years in the Senate, in 2004 Durbin elected by members of his Democratic Senate colleague to the position of Assistant Floor Leader or Whip. At the time of his election to the position, the democrats were the minority party in the Senate and so the official title to his position was Assistance Minority Leader or Senate Minority Whip. The Minority Whip is the second-ranking member of the minority party behind the Senate Minority Leader. As Minority Whip, Durbin was responsible for gathering votes (or making sure members vote as the party leadership wants) on major issues of importance to the party. Additionally, Durbin assisted the Minority Leader in his duties in developing a party position on a range of subjects; communicated the party’s position; negotiated with the majority party and served as the chief spokesperson and representative of the party when the Minority Leader was not present. When the democrats gained the majority in the Senate in 2007, Durbin became the Assistant Majority Leader or Majority Whip, a position he has served in up until this day. His duties as the Majority Whip are similar to those he had as Minority Whip namely he makes sure party members votes as party leadership wants, he assists the Majority Leader in his duties developing the party position, communicating the party position and representing the party in the absence of the Majority Leader.
In addition to his party leadership positions, Durbin is also the chairman of two Senate subcommittees. While the larger Senate committee have overall authority in consideration and drafting bills as well as recommending measure to the full Senate to vote on; subcommittees are tasked with specific aspects of a committee’s area of specialization and to make recommendation to the full committee. In some cases, subcommittees are granted investigative or oversight duties of government departments and Executive branch activities.
As a subcommittee chairman, Durbin controls the subcommittee business such as the schedule of hearing, meetings and votes on legislation; supervision and direction of the subcommittee staff; to preside over meetings and facilitate discussion and to ensure that subcommittee meeting are timely and on time.
Durbin is also the co-chairman to several Senate Caucuses. A caucus or study group is comprised of a group of Senators the meet regularly to discuss, research and pursue common areas of interest or legislative goals as well as developing positions on specific policies and creating voting blocs in support of legislation. As co-chairman, Durbin is responsible for help setting the issues that the caucus will focus on and developing the overall policy objectives of the caucus. Currently, Durbin is co-chairman of the Senate Hunger Caucus, the Senate Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education Caucus and the Congressional Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Caucus.
Since his election into the Senate, Durbin has been a member of four standing committees (a standing committee is permanent committee focused on a specific subject area) and one joint committee (a joint committee includes members of both the House of Representative and the Senate). Senator Durbin’s committee assignments include: (1) the Senate Appropriations Committee, which has authority over the amount of money Congress gives the government to spend; (2) the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which has oversight over foreign policy legislation (such as treaties) and confirmation of top-level Department of State officers; (3) the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has authority over federal criminal law, human rights and is responsible for the confirmation of both federal judges and Supreme Court justices; (4) the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration which oversees the rules that govern the Senate and (5) the Joint Committee on the Library, which has authority over the Library of Congress
Senator Durbin not only serves on the committees mentioned above but is also the chairman of two subcommittees including: (1) the Appropriation Committee’s Subcommittee on Defense, which is tasked with determining the amount of money the government, can spend on military, defense and the armed forces and (2) the Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights, which has jurisdiction, among other areas, over human rights law, Constitutional amendments as well as the enforcement and protection of constitutional rights. Additionally, Senator Durbin is a member of a number of subcommittees including: the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, the Subcommittee on Immigration, Refugees and Border Security and the Subcommittee on African Affairs.
As a newly elected congressman in 1982, one of the first issues Durbin became involved in was healthcare. Having personally experienced the heartache of the early death of his father to lung cancer, which was brought on by cigarette smoking, when he was 14 years old, Durbin became a tireless advocate for smoking bans leading to his 1988 sponsorship of legislation that banned smoking on “short-haul” domestic commercial flights. This legislation went on to catalyze support for smoking bans on all domestic flights as well as most international flights that originate or end in the U.S. The American Lung Association awarded Durbin the Lifetime Achievement Award for the considerable work he has done to educate the public and regulate the tobacco industry on the dangers of smoking.
Durbin’s interest in healthcare followed him into the Senate. Indeed, as a Senator, Durbin has authored, sponsored or supported a range of healthcare legislation geared towards improving the healthcare of American families and children including the American Cures Act which provides funds for increased investment into biomedical research and the Affordable Care Act which aims to reform health insurance programs so that the majority of Americans can have and afford high quality health care coverage.
Similarly, Senator Durbin has been an early and consistent supported of consumer protection especially for food safety protections. Indeed, Durbin is widely regarded as one of the top experts in the Senate on food safety issues. Additionally, Durbin was sponsored and authored a number of Bills that look to ensure the safety of food. His achievements in his area include legislation that resulted in the consolidation of the federal food safety system into a single food safety agency as well as a Bill authorizing an increase in the power of the Food and Drug Administration’s ability to inspect and decline both foreign and domestic food supplies.
Over the years, Durbin has also become a strong advocate for immigration reform. He is one of the chief proponents for the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act which would provide undocumented immigrant students who show great potential to contribute to American society the opportunity to gain legal status. In his support of this legislation, Durbin has argued that passage of the DREAM Act would stimulate the economy eliminating the stigma of illegal migrants for a group of people that can potential contribute millions of dollars into the U.S. economy. Durbin also argued that it would benefit the military services by allowing qualified young people to join the U.S. Armed Forces rather them be forced back to a country that they never lived in or have deep connections with.
Senator Durbin is considered one of the more liberal democrats in the Senate. To be sure, not only was he given a liberal ranking of 89.3 by National Journal magazine but he’s also gotten high sores from range of liberal non-governmental organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, which gives him a liberal rating for civil liberties and civil rights of 75% , the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People gave him a liberal rating of 100% and the League of Conservation Voters scored Durbin with a score of 85% for voting pro-environment.
Accordingly, Senator Durbin’s voting record on the key legislation over the past several years have been squarely in support of liberal positions. As mentioned above, he voted for the Affordable Health Care Act. He has shown support for: same-sex marriage, immigration reform, abortion rights, gun control reform, higher tax on the wealthy and the extension of unemployment benefits. Most recently, Senator Durbin voted with pro-environmental advocates for clean energy tax credits. On the other hand, he has opposed more conservative legislation generally supported by his Republican Party and more conservative Democratic Party colleagues such as stricter punishments to reduce crime, the privatization of social security, pro-life legislation and the expansion of the military.
U.S. Senate, (2014). The Official U.S. Senate site for Senator Dick Durban. Retrieved on June 25, 2014, from http://www.durbin.senate.gov
U.S. Senate (2014). The Official site to the United States Senate. Retrieved on June 25, 2014, from https://www.senate.gov/index.htm