WASHINGTON -- Since becoming a state in 1818, Illinois has sent 53 senators to Washington and the newest, Sen. Mark Kirk, mentioned 13 of them in his first formal floor speech on Tuesday -- the long forgotten Ninian Edwards for one.
Kirk read his remarks from a three-ring white notebook, perched on a lectern on his desk, on the last row on the GOP side of the chamber. Kirk was sworn in on Nov. 29 to fill the remaining weeks of President Obama's Senate term, and next month he begins a full six-year term. After his speech, Kirk told me he figured he would get it out of the way now, because there will be about a dozen freshmen joining the Senate when the new session starts in January and they all will probably want to start off with a maiden speech.
Sen. Dick Durbin was in the chamber for the speech, and Kirk sent him compliments. "We have pledged to work closely on issues that will benefit the people of our state," Kirk said. Durbin is the Majority Whip -- the No. 2 leadership position in the Senate -- and Kirk noted he is "one of the few senators from Illinois to hold such a position of distinction."
The first part of Kirk's speech was devoted to telling the stories of Illinois senators from the past -- Edwards was one of the first two -- with Kirk singling out a few -- former Sen. Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.), one of the Senate giants -- a Senate office building here is named after him -- and Kirk said he modeled himself after him.
"If there is one of our Illinois senators whose spirit hangs closest to me as I begin my service here, it is Dirksen's," Kirk said. His reputation as a "fiscal conservative and a social moderate is one I hope to follow in my service to the Senate."
Kirk retold a story he offered up before about Obama: that they first ran for Congress in the same year, 2000. "It is ironic that I won my election and President Obama lost his, but 10 years later Illinois had its favorite son in the White House."
Patrick Fitzgerald, the Chicago based U.S. Attorney -- no relation to former Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) who secured his appointment -- has a fan in Kirk. "We will forever live with the embarrassment of convicted criminals like Gov. Blagojevich, but with the leadership of Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, we found the right prosecutor to slowly restore integrity and honesty to our state."
Kirk once again used a line oft heard on the campaign trial as he closed his speech: "I stand before you a fiscal conservative, social moderate, national security hawk" who brings a commitment to "above all, thoughtful independent leadership."
And Edwards -- he was an Illinois senator and governor too.