Madigan-Birkett Debate Live on WSIU-TV

By Gus Bode

Candidates for Illinois attorney general Lisa Madigan and Joe Birkett went head to head live on WSIU-TV Thursday night in the second of a series of debates to take place before the general election in November.

Madigan, D-Chicago, came into the sound check with a brief description of her day.

“We had a lovely afternoon in Carbondale,” Madigan said. “We took our van and had Barbeque at 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro.”


Birkett, R-Chicago, arrived at Studio A in the nick of time and took his place at the podium on the left.

The debate began by Madigan giving her case against Birkett.

“He is trying to flip-flop his way into the attorney general seat by flip-flopping his message to the mainstream,” Madigan said.

Birkett didn’t take any time to attack his opponent in his opening statement but he spoke about his experience as a prosecutor and his character.

“In court I’m known as a tough prosecutor,” Birkett said. “At home I’m a family man.”

The first question from the panel concerned Lisa Madigan’s father, Speaker of the House Mike Madigan and public corruption. Madigan went on to say she supports all investigations into political and public corruption whether it involves a Republican, Democrat or her father.

Birkett said he also supported investigation into corruption and fired back with a knock on Madigan’s experience.


“My opponent has never tried a case,” Birkett said. “She’ll do anything to distort my record. My opponent hasn’t worked in a court room and I’ve done it for 21 years.”

He was also animated in his belief that Madigan is riding the coat tails of her father to get elected.

Madigan supports abortion rights and Birkett is anti-abortion. Madigan said she would work to ensure abortion rights. Birkett said that he would work to uphold the law as it is given.

The controversial Rolando Cruz case was frequently cited. Birkett was a prosecutor during the Cruz case. Cruz was sent to death row for the murder of a 10-year-old girl before being acquitted during a third trial in 1995.

“You’re using the grave of a 10-year-old girl as your campaign platform,” Birkett said of Madigan, saying he dropped the ball during the case hearings.

Both candidates support workers rights and the Prevailing Wage Act.

“Too often now the attorney generals office has turned its back on Illinois workers,” Madigan said.

Birkett said that as one of 10 children he has three brothers who are union members, and he supports unions. He also said sexual harassment should be looked at in regards to worker’s rights.

Both candidates support the death penalty and both believe Gov. George Ryan should not issue a blanket commutation for all prisoners currently on death row. Instead, both candidates support individual review of each case.

“We must implement changes necessary so we can go ahead with the death penalty in cases of vicious and heinous crimes,” Madigan said.

Birkett said a blanket commutation would be unjust but added that if Madigan had to try the case, she would be thrown out of court because she is not qualified.

Both candidates agreed the rise of methamphetamine labs in Illinois was a growing problem, and both have formed plans on targeting the issue.

Both candidates are also opposed to the privatization of prisons and prison food services.

“It’s a horrible injustice to men and women working in prisons,” Madigan said.

The candidates did disagree on the issue of prescription drug costs. Madigan said she has outlined a plan to go after drug companies that are involved in illegal activities and make sure that people can afford to both fill their refrigerators and their prescriptions.

Birkett said he will enforce the law and that the position of attorney general doesn’t extend far enough to cover some of the ideas Madigan expressed.

“Not only should the attorney general uphold the law but they should also be an advocate for senior citizens,” Madigan said in rebuttal.

Both candidates said they would support the persecution of convicted terrorists with the death penalty.

In closing, Madigan said the differences between her and her opponent could not be greater. Birkett said those differences are healthy differences.

Birkett knocked Madigan’s record again and Madigan knocked Birkett’s record again.

“I became a lawyer to be a prosecutor, not a politician,” Birkett said.

Madigan said she believes that the attorney general should do more than just prosecute.

Both candidates stepped down from their podiums after the television screens faded to black.

“You’re always your biggest critic but I feel good about it,” Birkett said while wiping the sweat from his brow. “She spent so much of her night attacking me. I wish I had more time to speak about my background and experience.”

Madigan was all smiles and busy chatting with the camera crew and campaign associates.

“I feel good about it,” Madigan said. “Debates are always fun. I think we covered a good range of issues this evening.”

There will be at least five more debates in this race before the November election. Two will be televised and others will be on radio.

Reporter Arin Thompson can be reached at [email protected]