Elections Central: A Profile of Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth

Alex Wong

Alex Wong

“I didn’t put my life on the line to defend our democracy so you could invite Russia to interfere in it.”

Her voice broke various times during her speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She sounded weary. Perhaps it was from the toil of waitressing part-time to pay for college, losing both legs in a near-death experience in Iraq, or the frustration that must come from trying to pass legislation in Congress.

Standing on prosthetic legs, Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth’s (IL-08) words carry the weight of her experience. She was born in Bangkok in 1968, and lived in Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Her mother used to take her to the roof of their home to watch the bombs explode in the distance. “She didn’t want us to be scared by the booms and the strange flashes of light.” Exposure to warfare was a part of her family’s history: her father, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps and fought in Vietnam, can trace the family’s military service back to the Revolutionary War.

Following in her family’s footsteps, Duckworth became a commissioned officer in the United States Army Reserve in 1992. She was working on her PhD in 2004 when she was deployed to Iraq. Eight months later a rocket-propelled grenade hit the side of her Black Hawk helicopter. She remembers seeing a ball of flames coming at her and later realizing that the helicopter’s pedals, along with both of her legs, were gone. She recounts that her pilot in command, Chief Warrant Officer Dan Milberg, miraculously brought the aircraft down to safety. The injuries on her legs, one leg was vaporized and one was crushed, along with the immense blood loss and injuries on her right arm could have killed her, but her crew didn’t give up on her.

They pulled her from the aircraft and though they too had suffered serious injuries, her crew insisted she be the first attended when help arrived. She was rushed to a nearby camp, and then on to Germany for surgery. She was in and out of consciousness for eight days.

Duckworth spent six months recovering at Walter Reed Hospital, and it was then she realized it was her duty to serve the many other Americans who risked their lives in the line of duty. She ran for Congress in 2006 and lost the race to then State Senator Peter Roskam. She took up an appointment as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.

In 2009, employees of the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs alleged that Duckworth was “largely unresponsive to evidence related to veteran mistreatment and inadequate investigations conducted by the VA’s inspector General.” The two employees, Christine Butler and Denise Goins, allege in a lawsuit that Duckworth reprimanded them for whistleblowing, thus violating ethics laws.

Today, this lawsuit is stirring up trouble for Duckworth, who is gearing up for the remaining weeks of her campaign for Senator of Illinois. On June 24th, an announcement was made that the twice-dismissed lawsuit had now been settled for $26,000 from the state with no finding of wrongdoing, according to the Chicago Tribune. Duckworth’s campaign commented on the settlement, saying it was “appropriate for what was always a frivolous workplace case.”

These comments from the Duckworth campaign inflamed the conflict, leading the plaintiffs to call for a trial. The trial date was set for August 15 of this year and was later vacated by a judge, who gave the plaintiffs 21 days to sign the agreement.

This case has not gone unnoticed by the media, and especially not by the Kirk campaign. A website was created that makes a reader answer questions like “Who told a former employee “keep your mouth shut” if she wanted to keep her job?" and very clearly points a finger to the lawsuit. This particular website only gives two response options to its questions: “Tammy or Trump.”

Two years after this lawsuit began, Democrats redrew district lines and created a northwest suburban district especially for Tammy. She beat out Republican Joe Walsh and became a member of the US House of Representatives in 2012.

Duckworth has sponsored bills as represented below:

Bill Sponsorship, Congresswoman Duckworth (IL-D)

X axis= Topics, Y axis= Percent of total bills, according to Govtrack

Today Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth is running against one of the most “imperiled Republican incumbents,” Senator Mark Kirk. Twenty-four of the thirty-four United States Senate seats up for election this year are held by Republicans. If the presidency goes to Donald Trump, Democrats would need to win five seats in the senate to reach a majority. If the presidency goes to Secretary Hillary Clinton, Democrats need only win four seats.

This particular Congressional race is important not just because it has a chance of switching from Republican to Democrat, but because Democratic challenger Duckworth would be the first Asian-American woman to represent Illinois in the United States Senate.

Her positions on some issues are: support for the resettling of 100,000 Syrian refugees in the United States; support for the Iran deal, saying the US could not walk away from the agreement drawn up among its allies and attempt to negotiate alone; is pro-choice; supports increasing regulation on guns; support for pathways to citizenship and the DREAM Act; and against wasteful spending on defense.

Voters can watch Congresswoman Duckworth debate incumbent Senator Mark Kirk in three televised debates this fall. The first debate will take place on October 24th at the University of Illinois at Springfield. The second debate will take place on October 26th at the City Club of Chicago. The third debate will be sponsored by the League of Women Voters in Chicago and the date is TBD.

These debates will help voters know their candidates' opinions and stances on issues more intimately. It is important to note, however, that Illinois tends to be a "blue state that tends to vote even bluer in presidential elections."

Given that Congresswoman Duckworth's opponent, Senator Mark Kirk, is a Republican who has broken off with the party on various issues and is considered to be one of the most imperiled incumbents, it is likely that Congresswoman Duckworth has a good chance of winning her bid for the Senate. Her life experiences bring a unique and important perspective to Congress. Congresswoman Duckworth is one person to keep your eye on today, at the debates, and beyond.