Roland Burris having a ball in the U.S. Senate

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For those who might think that Sen. Roland Burris is beset by problems and is weighed down by the constant criticism both from the press and from local and national elected officials of his own party, think again.

DEFENDER STAFF WRITER

For those who might think that Sen. Roland Burris is beset by problems and is weighed down by the constant criticism both from the press and from local and national elected officials of his own party, think again.

Roland Burris is having the time of his life!

"I wish you all could sit in my office and see what calls I get," said Burris, who admits he knew he wanted to be an elected public servant since early in his life.

"I’ve been out to do this (serve in public office) since I was 16," Burris told the Defender. He said he purposely avoided different groupings, and different people all through college, because he just knew elected office was in his future.

"I’m doing this because I love it," said Burris, who feels that serving in the U.S. Senate tops off his political career.

"I always tried to become the policymaker," said Burris, who previously ran for the Senate in 1984 against Paul Simon.

"I tried governor three times," he said, and while he was unsuccessful, he did win statewide posts as state comptroller and state attorney general.

"I wasn’t a member of the Chicago Machine," said Burris, who entered politics from the unlikely launching point of Centralia, Ill. He said that kept him out of most of the bitter political fights in the city, and allowed him to stay above the fray.

But his appointment to the seat by now-impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich brought him intense criticism from the first day. It led to ethics investigations and brought him a subpoena from the Illinois Senate impeachment committee. His testimony at that hearing, and his subsequent affidavits, brought talk of perjury charges, however they were dropped.

Burris, who has been careful not to strike back at his critics, (no one has ever proven that he did anything illegal or unethical) did allow that the attacks on him have come from elected officials using public dollars.

"(Gov. Pat) Quinn and (attorney general) Lisa Madigan, they were the ones pushing against my appointment," he said. It was Madigan who came out with a legal opinion Feb. 25 that said that the Legislature could set a special election for the U.S. Senate seat, even though Blagojevich had already appointed Burris.

None of those challenges were able to unseat Burris, and he said he is now committed to being the best U.S. Senator for Illinois. However, he admits that the legal battles have drained his coffers, and he has legal and consulting bills that have mounted.

That is one of the reasons why he decided that he would not seek reelection to the seat.

"The biggest lie ever told in the media was, ‘Roland Burris changed his story,’" said Burris. He said his story never changed, but he gave further clarifications on the transcripts of his testimony before the impeachment panel.

And while he really enjoys being Illinois’ junior U.S. Senator, he said that his announcement that he was not running brought a new sense of freedom.

"The minute I said I wasn’t going to run the whole attitude changed," he said.

He remains a freshman U.S. Senator, and, he said, "For a freshman in the Senate, the idea is to be seen and not heard." He said he is being seen and heard, because he doesn’t have the luxury of a lot of time. The primary election for his seat will take place in May 2010, and he’d be out of a job the following January. So he said he is pushing forward on his own agenda, making a point of trying to get legislation that benefits veterans and finding better funding for student loans.

"Of the 99 U.S. Senators, I’m number 96," he joked, pointing out how far down the seniority ranks he is. He decried the fact that a lot of false information is being disseminated about Democratic health care reform proposals.

"A lot of misinformation has been put out on purpose to whip up opposition to health care reform, but also to whip up opposition to (President Barack) Obama," he said. "In five years, nobody will be able to afford health care if we do nothing," he said.

"The status quo is not acceptable."

He noted that he was operating in the Senate without much help from the senior senator, Dick Durbin. "Durbin isn’t going to cover me in the Senate," he said.

He also hasn’t spoken to Pres. Barack Obama at any length since he’s been office.

Sen. Burris said he was most proud of the work the Senate has been able to do this year, tackling an aggressive agenda, and now wrestling with health care reform. "We’ve gotten a lot done this year," he said.

Burris also outlined the chain of events that led him to get the appointment, noting that once he was convinced that Barack Obama would win the presidency, he wanted to be among those considered to replace him.

He said he reached out to the Blagojevich people to let them know he was interested.

What he found out from the tapes of Blagojevich made public with his being arrested, was that he wasn’t on any of the lists of potential replacements.

"I thought I was a player," he laughed.

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Copyright 2009 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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