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Burris talks about what's he's accomplished, life after the Senate
By Daniel Hoffmann | Daily Herald Correspondent

Roland Burris

 

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Published: 9/19/2010 12:01 AM | Updated: 9/19/2010 12:19 AM

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Roland Burris soon will leave the office he was appointed to amid a cloud of controversy in late 2008 as one of the last acts of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

More than a year and a half later, Burris says he is proud of what he has accomplished and will continue to work for the people once he leaves public office.

The 73-year-old senator and former Illinos comptroller sat down with the Daily Herald in his Washington, D.C., office to talk about his time in the Senate and what's next, though he declined to discuss Blagojevich's retrial.

Here is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Q. Debate continues about the expiration of income tax breaks created under former President Bush. Do you support President Obama's plan to let only those for households with incomes of $250,000 or more expire and what do you consider rich when it comes to an annual salary?

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A. It's not a matter of being rich. It's a matter of earnings and standards of living. Two-hundred, fifty thousand or more is what we call disposable income. And anyone with disposable income should carry a little bit more burden than the average worker. We're only talking about 3 percent of the population. If we don't do that, there will be a $700 billion hole in our revenues. Do I support Obama's plan to let Bush tax cuts expire? The answer is yes. But for those who are making $250,000 a year and over, there should be a revert back. After Bush left, we had to face a 12 trillion dollar debt. That's what the tax cuts did.

Not everybody in the Democratic Party would agree with you.

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A. My thought is that most Democrats support that. Even some Republicans think that it might happen. Hear what (House GOP Leader) John Boehner said. ... We cannot have another $700 billion hole.

How do you think that people in Chicago's suburbs will remember you as a senator?

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A. I had a major position on health care reform, concerning the public option, which led the way for major compromises and improvement. Thereby, we were able to pass those pieces of legislation. My role with that 60th vote on a couple of occasions was crucial. My legacy is my ability to have an understanding of these issues and cast their meaning for the people of Illinois.

What are you intending to do after you leave office?

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A. I won't go somewhere and curl up in the corner. You're going to see me doing something. ... When I lost my race for governor in 1994, I created a major organization, the Coalition of African American Men, working in the community, giving speeches, practiced law, ran a consulting business. So I will be very active. I will help raise money for people running for office, talk to and counsel a lot of young people,

You made an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court against a ruling ordering a special election to fill our the end of your term in office, before the new term begins in January. Do you think you have a chance to win this fight?

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A. I hope the Supreme Court will take this appeal and overturn the ruling. I think the judge overstepped his balance. Therefore, that is a legislative decision as to who the candidates will be. We're seeking to test whether or not a judge can name candidates for a special election. If you read the 17th Amendment of the Constitution, you will see that it is the responsibility of the state legislature.

What would it change if you could keep the seat until January?

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A. It would help the Senate in terms of its agenda. They would have an experienced senator in, who is knowledgeable and has a library of information of what has transpired during the whole 111th Congress. When I first came here on Jan. 15th, I had no idea what it took. There is a major learning curve in this business. I think it would be more harmful to the voters of Illinois to change horses in the middle of the stream than to let me finish out the term as it was anticipated.

What is the most important thing the next senator should focus on in order to improve the lives of people in Chicago's suburbs?

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A. Jobs, even in the suburbs. Under the Bush process, we were victims of loss with 8 million jobs and we have almost 14 million people currently unemployed in this country. The economic consequences of that are devastating. City county, state government, not to mention the federal government... Those dollars have not been paid into their perspective treasuries. And those jobs are now all gone overseas. We have to get manufacturing back. Illinois is on the verge of doing that.

Why did you decide not to seek re-election?

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A. It was something I had to come to grips with. I would like to stay in the Senate, but I'm in a lot of debt now and I've got to overcome that debt that I have incurred. I had to make a choice, whether or not I was going to stay a U.S. Senator or a campaigner. And I chose to be able to put my efforts into representing the people of Illinois. I just dug in, learned the rules, learned the Senate, got that mess that you all were talking about in the press, made a commitment to the people and become a senator, not a candidate.

What did you think of the jury's decision in the Blagojevich trial? According to you, should he be retried on the 23 counts that the jury could not agree on?

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A. That matter is still in the court and I have no comment on the governor situation.