Gov. Blagojevich is starting his second term making a smart choice for a top job. He's tapping wounded Iraq war vet Tammy Duckworth to be the new director of the Illinois Veterans' Affairs Department.
"I thought it was a natural fit for me and my background," Duckworth told me.
Duckworth, a Democrat, said after being defeated Nov. 7 by Peter Roskam in a congressional contest that caught nationwide attention, she started pondering her future.
Duckworth rejected suggestions to lobby or to write a book (she wondered, "don't you think I have to win an election first?") or to consider other government jobs when the call from the governor's office came through.
After talks with Blagojevich chief of staff John Harris and then the governor, Duckworth, a major in the Illinois National Guard, signed up for her next mission.
Taking over the Veterans' Affairs Department was an easy call given "my commitment to veterans and health care issues," said Duckworth.
"I just wanted to stay in public service," said Duckworth.
She will replace Roy Dolgos, who will be moving over to the Transportation Department. Duckworth's appointment to the $102,000-a-year post is effective Dec. 15 and is subject to state Senate confirmation.
Will focus on 'Veterans Care'
Duckworth, 38, as many know from her high-profile campaign, lost her legs and mangled an arm when her helicopter was hit in Iraq by a rocket-propelled grenade. Before she starts her state job, where she will oversee a $94.2 million budget and 1,135 employees, she will return to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington for a few days to get some adjustments to her prosthesis.
Duckworth said a priority will be bolstering Blagojevich's new "Veterans Care" program and "making it available to more veterans."
Low-income veterans between the ages of 19 and 64 who do not have medical, dental or vision insurance would be covered under a state plan for $40 a month. Only a handful of veterans have enrolled to date in the program launched last September.
She told me she is not going to rule out running for office again, but is "not ready to do that right now." Said Duckworth, "with this position I have a really great opportunity."