During the Eighth Annual Elmhurst College Governmental Forum, U.S. Senator Mark Kirk spoke on topics ranging from nuclear arms negotiations with Iran to his hard-fought recovery from a crippling stroke.
The Republican senator from Illinois, in a discussion with Chicago Tribune Editorial Page Editor Bruce Dold, addressed America’s Challenges: At Home and Abroad during the Governmental Forum, held on April 9 at the Drury Lane Conference Center in Oakbrook Terrace. The audience of more than 500 people included elected officials, business leaders, area residents and students from Elmhurst College and York Community High School.
Among other subjects, Senator Kirk’s remarks addressed his legislative efforts “to stop a nuclear Iran,” the controversy over Indiana’s religious freedom bill, gang crime in Chicago, Medicare and Social Security reform, and whether he will use attack ads during his upcoming re-election campaign (“Hell, yeah!” he said, adding, “We call them contrast ads.”)
Kirk said he strives for bipartisanship in the Senate, trying “to serve as the bridge between Republicans and Democrats; to be the guy everyone wants to work with.”
He also acknowledged the feuding taking place within the Republican Party, and suggested that the GOP’s ideal presidential candidate is a fiscal conservative, a social moderate and a national security hawk, “to make sure we balance the books and protect the country.”
Kirk also spoke movingly about the massive stroke he suffered in January of 2012, his recovery and his overall health. Although the stroke “took out” his left leg and arm, his verbal skills have returned, he said. And since returning to office, he has put together a “stroke agenda” to help more people who have recovered from a stroke to return to work.
In dealing with the stroke, Kirk said his “toughest moments” were in the ambulance that rushed him to the hospital. His doctor had said things were “looking dicey,” so Kirk held hands with one of the technicians in the ambulance. “I held her hand really hard,” he said. “I was sure the stroke was taking over, so I wanted my last breath on Earth to be taken while holding hands with another human being.”
One of his most triumphant moments was when, after nearly a year of intensive rehabilitation, he climbed the 45 steps of the U.S. Capitol and returned to work. His journey has led him to realize how much he can accomplish, and he hopes it will inspire others as well: “We all have our own stairs to climb, so we need to make sure we never, ever give up.”
The Elmhurst College Governmental Forum is one of the region’s most widely respected venues for the discussion of the vital economic and governance issues facing Illinois. The Governmental Forum brings together highly accomplished governmental and civic leaders, business experts and policy analysts to offer their insights on topics ranging from how to foster long-term economic growth to how to resolve the state’s fiscal crisis.