State Journal Register

December 21, 2002

Fitzgerald backs Frist to replace Lott 


WASHINGTON - Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, R-Ill., said Friday that he supports
Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., to replace Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who resigned as
Senate majority leader in a furor over his racially divisive remarks.

“Senator Frist demonstrated remarkable competence leading Senate
Republicans to our recent majority, and I am confident he will do an
excellent job as majority leader,” Fitzgerald said in a statement issued by
his office. “Senator Frist is a brilliant man, he’s a dedicated public servant,
and he’s a friend.”

Fitzgerald’s decision, which came after a conversation with Frist, wasn’t
announced until after a number of his Republican colleagues had indicated
their support for the former heart surgeon.

Earlier in the day, Fitzgerald had declined to take a position, his aides said.
He issued a statement expressing sympathy for Lott.

“His devotion continues to show through in his care for his caucus and his
concern for the country. Sen. Lott is a friend. My heart goes out to him and
his wife Tricia for what must have been excruciating days,” Fitzgerald said.

While calling Lott’s remarks “ridiculous,” he had firmly supported Lott last
week as the controversy grew over Lott’s racially divisive remarks in
support of 1948 segregationist politics. But on Tuesday the senator
acknowledged the question was no longer Lott’s intent, but whether he
could still be an effective leader.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, said Friday he respected Lott’s
decision and that he believes Lott “is a good man with a good heart.”

Both Fitzgerald and Hastert said President Bush was correct in criticizing
Lott’s comments.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said he hoped that Republicans would “pay
attention to issues of equality from a fresh perspective. This should not
just be a change of players, but a change in the Republican agenda.

“My hope is that the events of the past two weeks will produce more
sensitivity toward Americans who are struggling to achieve equality of
opportunity,” Durbin said.