Can Illinois Republicans Capitalize on the Impasse?
By all odds, the Illinois Republican party should be out on the hustings with a top-rated candidate for governor. Reason: never has the Democratic party of Illinois ever looked worse. Its junior Democratic U. S. senator stands condemned as a bribe-giver wanna be. Its past Democratic governor has been arrested, impeached and tossed out on his ear. Its current Democratic governor glided into the lieutenant governorship using the ill-gotten dough from his predecessor since the two ran as a team: and didn’t squeal in protest until his boss ran into trouble with the feds.
Moreover the current Democratic governor is unable to deal with a recalcitrant Democratic legislature on ethics-his credibility dashed because of his campaign manager’s offer to lobbying groups to buy face-time with the governor at $15,000 a pop-for which the governor has blamed his staff rather than manfully taking the blame himself. The Democratic governor and the Democratic legislature are considering raising taxes in a recession: a sure toxic that can lead to defeat.
The Speaker of the Democratic House is dragging his feet on ethics reform presumably because the proposed rules will be too strict for his step-daughter, the Democratic attorney general who wants to run for governor, to meet. The Democratic state treasurer who wants to run for the Democratic senatorial nomination is a young banker who bankrolled with loans some of the Mafia.
With all that going on, you’d think the Republican party would be priming for a fight with a battalion of potential candidates knocking on its door. Not so. And the reason is simple.
Gone are the days when the so-called “A-List” of sturdy contributors and fund-raisers from the business community were able to sit down, interview and decide to finance and back good candidates. When I moved back here from Minnesota in 1964 (a bad year for the GOP) the crowned heads of the senior business community would meet for lunch weekly, in Room 100 of the Chicago Club. The leaders of all the major industries were there-men who had given much of their lives and free time to civic, philanthropy and politics. One was my boss, the CEO of Quaker. At age 36, I attended as a go-fer, taking notes and seeing the questions they asked were satisfactorily answered. Who were they? Most of them are dead now but they represented the banking industry, consumer goods, engineering: about 20 in number with lists that ranged into the hundreds who wanted to join them. The great unwritten rule was that they were to decide on candidates without any “deal” being made with the candidates to help their particular industries if and when they get elected.
You can fault the process but it worked well. They picked candidates they would raise money for and once agreed they went out and by God raised money in sufficient amounts for the whole ticket, from top to bottom: U. S. senator, governor, attorney general, treasurer, secretary of state and on and on. If a guy didn’t get their support, he was free to run and raise his own money. Some did and beat the system. Not often, though.
That group of 20 would be exhilarated now because of the great opportunity beckoning for their party. By now they would have completed the interviewing candidates informally at lunch and taking notes. Long before this they would have come forth…in private…with a suggested ticket and a budget. But that hasn’t happened now. Why not?
Because the Republicans are bereft of those men (almost all of whom are dead or long retired)? Very possibly. Instead of a gang of 20 or more, very-very tiny minority of prosperous givers meet occasionally with the state Republican chairman, Andy McKenna, as their head. The meetings are lethargic and mainly gossip, all the while nothing is done. Mainly names are lofted up and shot down. This candidate is too old, this candidate has freckles, this candidate ran once before for something and antagonized my Aunt Julia. This candidate who’s a lawyer was at one time a tort lawyer and we gotta block him.
The result of this glacial pace is that we are almost at June in the crucial year before election and no major league candidates have been encouraged to run-with the pledge of solid campaign support. No ticket has been suggested, a ticket that needs finances in double-digit millions. Some think the reason is that there is a purposeful stall: that McKenna wants to see it stall on dead center so he can arise and say, “okay fellas, since nobody will do it, I will.” McKenna is a man of wealth and his father who is key in all this has great connections.
That’s a possibility but the real reason for the stall may well be the inexperience of the tiny group that deliberates. Only two of them ever ran for anything statewide. Collectively, the small group frankly may not know the trade of raising significant money. The trade that old gang of 20 knew.
My point is simply this. The main line job is governor: because from that reasonable party-building can occur. Who do they favor for governor? Mark Kirk is not available. But who’s for senator? Had they given a thought about…for example…Terry Barnich? Odds are they never heard of him until he was killed. No, I don’t think they would have given him a shot. The state central committee had rejected him once before-before they went for Alan Keyes. That’s what I mean by culpable inexperience.
There’s a guy running for governor with a foot-long Polish name (ed. Adam Andrzejewski) who uses as an argument his inexperience. Inexperience in raising money, inexperience in knowing anything at all about governing, inexperience at knowing any of the legislators. He says it’s a big selling point. Do you want a brain surgeon to remove your tumor who’s chief claim is that he isn’t burdened by past surgical mistakes? Do you want an airline pilot who is a citizen pilot, willing to take a crack at the controls if somebody hands him a manual?
Inexperience in party processes is evidently the malady. Nobody…but nobody…knows what to do. Never, ever have I seen my party so bereft of fund-raising strategic judgment bearing on candidate selection and encouragement. The more I think of it…
The more I think of it, it may very well be a purposeful stall: for Andy McKenna. Well… given what he’s done as state chairman …with his quiet, understated approach…he could become the candidate for governor of a party that frankly doesn’t know what it should be doing. And thus isn’t doing it.
If so, seeing how unlettered he is in state government, he’ll be the practitioner of the original Amateur Hour. Like Major Bowes, not American Idol or Dancing with the Stars. What he should do is tell us if this is his game or not. And if not, what’s the delay?
Tom Roeser is the Chairman of the Editorial Board at the Chicago Daily Observer.
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