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September 18, 2008

Duck, duck, goose?

Tammy Duckworth is back in the news.

The Iraq war veteran, who lost both her legs during a helicopter crash, nearly defeated now-Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) in 2006, in one of the most closely watched House races that year. Since then, she’s been working as Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D-Ill.) director of Veterans’ Affairs. (She's also been mentioned as a possible Senate appointee, if Obama wins the presidential election.)

But now she’s drawing fire for her role at a campaign event for Democrat Dan Seals after she used the government’s state-owned vehicle to drive to the political rally. She has since apologized, but Seals’ opponent, Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), is using the controversy to tie Seals to the unpopular governor.

More, from the Chicago Tribune:

That "mistake" allowed U.S. Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Highland Park)—whom Seals hopes to defeat Nov. 4—to take a dig at Duckworth, one of Gov. Rod Blagojevich's highest-profile appointees.

"It is worrying to see a Blagojevich staffer showing up in a state of Illinois car, when it appears to be a direct violation of the law," said Kirk, a four-term incumbent who represents the North Shore's 10th District.

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Duckworth's appointment also came after the Tribune reported federal authorities were investigating allegations that veterans who were supposed to be given preference for state jobs had been shortchanged by a system that rewarded those with political connections.

The state van gaffe marked the second time a Seals campaign event was overshadowed. In May, Lincolnshire officials charged Seals more than $2,000 when his gas-giveaway campaign stunt caused a massive traffic jam that required extra police patrols to keep cars moving during the lunch hour.

Duckworth said she decided to discuss her views on veterans issues at the request of Seals, a self-employed business consultant from Wilmette who has made the war an issue. But as soon as she finished her speech, she was asked whether her appearance at a campaign event conflicted with her role as a state official—such out-front involvement in campaigns is rare for state agency directors.

"I'm a veterans advocate because I am an Iraq War veteran," said Duckworth, an Illinois National Guard major who lost both legs while serving in Iraq. "That's why I'm here. I'm not here because I work for the state of Illinois. That has nothing to do with why I'm here. That's a completely separate issue."