State lawmaker called out by President Obama during Springfield speech

Thursday, February 11, 2016
Lawmaker talks about Obama shout-out
Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, is known for going against his party on issues.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A day after President Barack Obama called out state Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, during his address to the Illinois Legislature, the lawmaker talked about his moment in the spotlight.

Dunkin, who is a lightning rod in Illinois politics because he goes against his party line, said he took pride in the moment that he was called out by Obama, a friend, when he talked about the value of compromise.

"I cannot and should not be condemned for moving the needle forward and helping some of our most vulnerable citizens," Dunkin said. He said he just wants to get a state budget to fund desperately needed social problems.

The South Side Democrat, sometimes called the "Runaway Rep," has brazenly defied his party's unquestioned leader - House Speaker Michael Madigan.

Dunkin has sided with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner on several key votes denying Madigan the supermajority needed to override gubernatorial vetoes.

"People are sick of the state of Illinois by way of our pension, our debt crisis, our public education and us not having a budget," Dunkin said.

On Wednesday, President Obama visited the Illinois General Assembly, and appeared to defend Dunkin's willingness to compromise with Republicans on budget issues.

Obama told the audience in Springfield: "Where I've got an opportunity to find some common ground, that doesn't make me a sellout to my own party."

When Dunkin stood and cheered, the president responded: "We'll talk later, Dunkin."

On Thursday, Dunkin took it in stride, noting that he had received an invitation to the White House before Obama's visit.

"I'll see him," Dunkin said. "I'm a phone call away. He knows I have his support."

Dunkin said he's critical of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan's relatively curt welcome and lack of response to the president's "building better politics" speech.

"The Speaker is probably not used to any other powerful men, certainly in the state of Illinois, that he has to provide deference to," Dunkin said.

His challenges to the Democratic leadership has caused some powerful forces to gather against him. Dunkin will face a Madigan-backed opponent, Julianna Stratton, in the March 15 primary.

"He wants to make sure that people like me are silenced so he can continue to control the state of Illinois with an iron fist and keep the state going backwards," Dunkin said.

Dunkin expects to visit the White House after the primary and hopes he won't be considered a lame dunk by then.