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Can Illinois Republicans Capitalize on the Impasse?

Thomas F. Roeser 28 May 2009 7 Comments

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.

image Chicago Club


  • Chris Robling said:

    The only thing greater than our inability — so far — to mobilize is the opportunity presented by history (Rod\\\’s impeachment, trial and removal) and politics (Dem do-nothing Gov. and General Assembly, Toddster, Daley\\\’s reign of error).

    Thanks, Tom.

  • Wayne Wolkowicz said:

    Hi All:

    I live in the Fifth Congressional district. I was hoping that the national Republican or Illinois branch would have put some money into the special election. As far as I could tell, not one damn red cent was spent by either entity. I guess that as a conservative in the fifth, I do not count or exist.

    The Republican party in Illinois is dead, both literally and brain. With the perfect storm for gaining control within out grasp, we do nothing. Except examine our prostates by sitting on our hands.

    We are a nothing party that should be dissolved. We stand for nothing, do not offer a cohesive alternative plan, and we have stopped banging out fists on the table complaining about the sorry state of the state.

    Until such time that we can be a viable party with a common sense plan presented to the voters, we will be a minority party of squabling back benchers that is full of sound and fury, amounting to nothing.

  • vinron said:

    Rod Blagojevich was a really experienced politician. Is that the kind of experience you would prefer over honesty, integrity and transparency?

  • BrunoBehrend said:

    Dear Tom and CDOBS,

    Thanks for posting my response to this on your site.

    I wanted to add my view of Tom\’s pining for the \"star chamber\" process that he so eloquently describes.

    I would argue the days when rich Republican CEOs picked and funded candidates from their lofty “star chamber” are the direct cause of the current state of affairs. The “star chamber” process Tom likes so much is the same one that that gave us Richard Ogilvie (who gave us the income tax and our awful 1970 Constitution), Charles Percy, and the trifecta of Thompson, Edgar, and Ryan, who sold the state out to spending interests.

    These hand-picked leaders were also the ones that loaded up the GOP with patronage hires, dead-weight, and do-nothing hacks. These same hacks are the ones who despised the rise and rejoiced at the fall of Peter Fitzgerald.

    Tell me Tom, what has all this “experience” done to save taxpayers money, save the lives of the unborn, protect 2nd Amendment rights, or prevent the explosion of State and Local spending and debt? When did these \"experienced\" followers stand up the to the rapacity of the public employee unions?

    I would argue that the poor condition of today’s GOP is a direct result of the process you say “worked.”

  • J. Thommes said:

    If the wealthy are looking for someone to support, I would say support the guy with the long polish name.

    This may sound crazy, but we need to expand our ideas outside of the party…Adam has expanded by reaching all people where it counts…in their pocket books…he won’t bend on republican principles, but he will bring all common principles to the forefront.

    I came to the republican party as a foot solider for a candidate in my district who had good policies, but was not favored by the party. This party needs to set their sails and find their Columbus before we end up in the Bermuda Triangle.

  • Henryk A. Kowalczyk said:

    Responding to Tom Roeser reproach that Adam Andrzejewski lacks experience, I would like to ask, what can one learn in Springfield? Besides, pay to play politics. It is my humble suspicion that these neurosurgeons and pilots sent to us from Springfield would be as good professionals as the truck driver who killed the Willis family.

    For more my comments on this subject please follow this link,

  • Paul said:

    It’s funny we hear Republicans say that they do not want “faceless bureaucrats” making medical decisions but they have no problem with “private sector” “faceless bureaucrats” daily declining medical coverage and financially ruining good hard working people (honestly where can they go with a pre-condition). And who says that the “private sector” is always right, do we forget failures like Long-Term Capital, WorldCom, Global Crossing, Enron, Tyco, AIG and Lehman Brothers. Of course the federal government will destroy heathcare by getting involved, Oh but wait, Medicare and Medicaid and our military men and women and the Senate and Congress get the best heathcare in the world, and oh, that’s right, its run by our federal government. I can understand why some may think that the federal government will fail, if you look at the past eight years as a current history, with failures like the financial meltdown and Katrina but the facts is they can and if we support them they will succeed.

    How does shouting down to stop the conversation of the healthcare debate at town hall meetings, endears them to anyone. Especially when the organizations that are telling them where to go and what to do and say are Republicans political operatives, not real grassroots. How does shouting someone down or chasing them out like a “lynch mob” advanced the debate, it does not. So I think the American people will see through all of this and know, like the teabagger, the birthers, these lynch mobs types AKA “screamers” are just the same, people who have to resort to these tactics because they have no leadership to articulate what they real want. It’s easy to pickup a bus load of people who hate, and that’s all I been seeing, they hate and can’t debate. Too bad.

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