Published: 2/9/2009 2:36 PM | Updated: 2/10/2009 9:55 AM
By Nicole Milstead | Daily Herald Staff 

SPRINGFIELD - When Dan Duffy stood up to speak during Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment trial, it’s likely few in the Illinois Senate knew his name.

But the freshman Republican lawmaker from Lake Barrington quickly left an impression with his new colleagues, using his few minutes in the spotlight to essentially tell veteran members they’d let the governor get away with questionable behavior far too long.

“How is it that the majority in this chamber, the same people who have presented this case reflecting years of corruption, are the same people that have praised the governor by giving him three pay raises over the past two years?” asked Duffy in the waning moments of Blagojevich’s impeachment trial.He singled out Senate Democrats, who controlled the chamber throughout Blagojevich’s tenure.

Blagojevich “said he couldn’t have done any of this without their help and support,” Duffy said in his speech. Senate Democrats backed Blagojevich on several health-care policies that the former governor launched even though he never got permission to spend taxpayer money from the entire General Assembly, as required by the state constitution.

Since his speech, Duffy said he’s received positive feedback from the public on his comments. But his colleagues, and Senate leadership in particular, paid attention as well.

Recently, Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, informed senators that Duffy’s speech had reminded him that there’d been a problem assigning parking spots to lawmakers. The spots had been assigned based on seniority, alternating between Democrats and Republicans.

Problem is, Cullerton explained, Duffy is the most junior senator on the GOP side and therefore the last Republican to get a spot. But under this process Duffy ended up getting a better parking spot than several Democrats who all had more seniority. There are 37 Democrats and 22 Republicans in the Senate.

That was Cullerton’s way of letting Duffy know his parking spot was being reassigned.

The Lake Barrington lawmaker took it in stride, saying he doesn’t think there’ll be any payback for his blunt impeachment trial commentary.

“I don’t think anyone is that petty here in the Senate,” Duffy said.

Duffy recently sat down with the Daily Herald to explain why he said what he did during the impeachment trial and the reaction to it. Here’s a transcript of that conversation.

Q: What made you decide to give a speech during the impeachment trial deliberation phase?

A: It was obviously a very historical moment and I wanted to stand up and speak on behalf of my district.

Q: Your comments blamed Senate colleagues for letting Blagojevich get away with it for so long. That’s not the usual opening speech for a freshman lawmaker. Why did you feel that approach was needed?

A: My speech and my comments were about corruption. I ran on a campaign platform that I feel very passionate about, (which) is ending any type of corruption in Illinois politics, and that’s what I talked about. It wasn’t a Democratic thing. It wasn’t a Republican thing. It was a corruption thing. I think we need more transparency in government. And we need to do everything we can to end any type of corruption that’s going on right now in our government.

Q: What kind of public feedback have you received from your impeachment trial floor speech?

A: I have received very, very, very positive feedback. People have been sending me e-mails telling me that it’s very refreshing, it’s good to have someone in there to speak up. People are tired of the corruption in politics. I am very encouraged that we have a new Senate president that is talking about openness and fairness and working together on both sides. So I think it is going to be a good future for Illinois

Q: What’s been the feedback from fellow senators?

A: Some people definitely felt that it was a little harsh for the first speech on the Senate floor. But I think they understand that it wasn’t a Democratic or Republican thing. I just came off a year and a half of campaigning against corruption and I came from my campaigning directly to the Senate floor to a corruption trial for the first time in Illinois history trying to impeach the governor of Illinois. I was also caught up in the moment and wanted to express my concerns.

Q: Are you concerned that you may have just dug your own political grave?

A: No. I don’t think anyone is that petty here in the Senate. They understand. Everyone knows that there is a situation in the past in Illinois government and I think people on both sides here want that to be cleaned up, they want to do everything we can to increase transparency and give the confidence back to the citizens of Illinois.