First a lot of bad news, but read on for a positive game-changer.
If there’s one thing Republicans across Illinois should all be able to agree on at this point, it’s this: the Illinois Republican Party is dead.
And I don’t mean dead like people said it was after the innumerable other disappointing elections for the GOP in Illinois over the past couple of decades. Let’s not kid ourselves, 2022 is far from the only year the Illinois Republican Party embarrassingly underperformed the GOP in states where the state party takes a serious approach.
I mean dead, dead like the Do Not Resuscitate Order kicked-in. Dead as a doornail.
Losing has become the norm for the Illinois Republican Party—and it really has very little to do with some moderate vs. conservative divide, even though that’s the exclusive narrative parroted by some lazy journos in this state year after year.
Just ask so-called “moderate,” former governor Bruce Rauner (if you can find him down at his now permanent home in Florida, or at his Montana ranch or maybe the one in Wyoming). Rauner capitulated to the Left (or maybe just to his liberal spouse) on just about every social issue one could name and yet lost his 2018 reelection bid even more miserably than Darren Bailey lost this year, and Bailey lost pretty miserably (by 12-and-a-half points).
So this latest disastrous election in Illinois was hardly some outlier—and it certainly didn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention.
The Illinois Republican Party simply isn’t organized to win elections. A blind man could see it in a minute.
Absent serious innovation, it’s actually silly for Republicans to expect anything but continued losing by the Illinois Republican Party.
I mean honestly, what did people think would happen when the Illinois Republican Party disenfranchised its own voters?
That’s exactly what happened back in 1985 when some selfish Republican party bosses jammed through legislation in Springfield which created a new alternative in state law for selecting the state party’s central committee which is the Illinois Republican Party’s governing board.
The Illinois GOP’s state central committee is basically like a corporation’s board of directors.
But unlike every corporation which gives every shareholder a vote for its board members, the Illinois Republican Party now denies 99.99% of Republicans a vote for their top party leaders.
Everyone knew back in 1985 that the new alternative being written into state law was only going to be chosen by the Illinois Republican Party. The Democrats have kept direct elections for their state central committee to this day—the same voting rights every Republican had in the state GOP prior to that 1985 change.
There was never a legitimate reason to change the method of selection which disenfranchised Republican voters. Some aging men simply decided they wanted to consolidate power and they had grown tired of the fact that real elections would sometimes put an actual leader with a spine on the state central committee.
These non-rubberstamps had the annoying habit of using their position on the central committee to ask embarrassing questions, like why were Republicans in Springfield raising taxes? — or whatever.
And I say men because they really were the exclusive driving force behind the power grab. There was of course the late Jim Thompson, then governor, and in the state senate it was James “Pate” Philip.
So in other words, you had moderates and conservatives uniting to screw the rank-and-file.
In 1985 I was graduating from college and wasn’t involved in politics beyond being a huge supporter of President Reagan. But I’ve read the news articles on the subject from back then and I’ve talked to some of the really old timers.
There was significant opposition to the power grab by many Republicans at the time, and some of the strongest opposition came from the Illinois Federation of Republican Women. Members of that organization and many other individual Republicans warned of what would happen if democracy was gutted.
Unfortunately, not enough people listened, and the party bosses had their way. It was, after all, the 1980s, Illinois was a Red State, the GOP controlled most of the levers of state power, and Ronald Reagan had recently won the state in a landslide (13 points) on his way to reelection in 1984.
Surely telling Republicans they would no longer have a meaningful voice in their own party wouldn’t upset the status quo.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well as history has shown, a lot went wrong. Taking the Illinois Republican Party away from rank-and-file Republicans has been an unmitigated disaster.
What we have now is a system which, far from fostering party growth, is actually full of bad incentives that have kept the Illinois GOP in the ditch.
Today, under the system used only by the Illinois Republican Party to select its state central committee, a relatively small handful of committeepersons elected at completely separate party organizations are the only persons who get a vote at the state party for a state central committeeperson, one from each U.S. congressional district (Illinois only has 17 left).
So far starters, that’s an incredibly cockamamie system. It was obviously never really thought out. Again, some men who already had power simply decided one day they wanted more power—and they gave no thought to how it would hurt our party or voters down the road.
I’m confident that most any Republican would agree that if they could only have one vote for a Republican party official, it would be for their representative at the big dog, the state party, as opposed to the lower-level representative at their local county party.
However, what I’m saying is every Republican deserves a vote again for their representative in BOTH party organizations, county and state. That’s the way it used to be for the many decades when Illinois was a Red State. Illinois Democrats who now run circles around the Illinois GOP on every front still do it that way.
But it’s not just about respecting Republican voters, as important as that obviously is, it’s also about the way our current state central selection system has crippled the party from top to bottom.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of good committeepersons and chairs in the county Republican organizations, but because they are the only voters at the state party level some have learned to game our now easily rigged system. Our party loses some of the best people because they can’t believe the unprofessionalism and the rigging that goes on just to allow certain people to keep a state party title—which many do little or nothing with.
Some of the best Republicans in the state have simply given up because they have better things to do than deal with an unprofessional organization that’s clearly not serious.
Sadly, our Illinois Republican Party today is little more than a rubberstamp for the failed misfits who thought it was a brilliant idea to hand the Republican ballot line for the top state office to a dishonest career Democrat and enthusiastic BLM supporter (Richard Irvin).
When that crew talks about “reforming” the GOP in Illinois it’s always along the lines of: “We need to communicate our ideas better, and we need to get more Republicans to volunteer to get-out-the-vote, and we need to do a better job of reaching out to minority communities and independents, and we need more money.”
As if those aren’t the same stale platitudes parroted by state party officials after every bad election for decades. (By the way, in case anyone else is keeping score, by my count Don Tracy is the ninth state party chair chosen just since 2000.)
But enough negativity.
The good news is there’s a true reform we can accomplish that will immediately make the Illinois Republican Party relevant again.
Very simply, let’s give the Illinois Republican Party back to Republicans.
That 1985 legislation I told you about provides the opportunity. The GOP bosses who engineered the power grab back then possibly left in the language inadvertently. It doesn’t matter.
The point is the end of state statute 10 ILCS 5/7-8(a) provides:
A political party may, by a majority vote of the delegates of any State convention of such party, determine to return to the election of State central committeepersons by the vote of primary electors.
What I would urge is the calling of a SPECIAL state Republican party convention for next year (the next regularly scheduled state convention is not until 2024) for the main purpose of putting the return of direct elections before the delegates for a fair up-or-down vote.
The old guard in this state certainly isn’t above rigging a convention, they’ve certainly done it before and I’ve been a witness on multiple occasions, but I’m confident that if we keep the sunlight on they’ll have to keep it fair. And if the reform gets a fair vote from delegates fairly chosen, I’m confident it will be approved.
Restoring accountability through a real vote will energize this party immediately. No one is saying restoring direct elections for the state party is a cure-all. Absolutely not. But I will definitely say it’s a necessary, if not a sufficient condition, to get the Illinois Republican Party out of the ditch.
In other words, it’s step one—not the only step required but it would be a very big one.
If our party did choose to restore direct elections (i.e., that other alternative already contained in state law), ALL Republicans would again have a vote for their representative at the state party. That real election would be the Republican Primary in 2026, since it’s a 4-year term and all state central committee members were just chosen this July in a process the state party did only the bare minimum to communicate.
You probably don’t know who your state central committeeperson is because many of those we currently get under our existing system like it that way.
Actually doing something might alert others that there’s even such an office to seek. I’m serious. That’s the organizational culture we inexplicably brought on ourselves.
But if a person wants to win a spot on the state central committee via a REAL election, they’re going to have to work, and they’re going to have to talk to all Republicans instead of just a few title holders lower on the totem-pole.
Under the direct election alternative every Republican would actually have TWO representatives at the state party. Both a man and a woman are directly elected from each congressional district. And I for one think that’s a great thing.
Under the cockamamie system we use now only one state central committee member is chosen from each district—and then that person personally chooses a deputy. And given the old boys club our current system was intentionally designed to protect–it’s always been a big majority of men getting the real title who then choose their female sidekick.
If we had restored real elections two decades ago when I and many others started pushing this reform (or even just 5 years ago) I don’t think our main choices for governor this year would have been between Richard Irvin and Darren Bailey. I think our party would have produced someone better.
But more importantly, our party would have the kind of organization in place by now to have made winning statewide a realistic possibility.
Calling a special convention for the specific purpose of restoring real democracy would be a truly historic event. It’s something folks would tell their grandkids about. It would be a serious event, but also a lot of fun. One part business, and one part pep rally which dejected Illinois Republicans desperately need.
It could be so big some Republican presidential aspirants might even show up. Donald Trump for example (he’ll always be my choice hands-down) being the successful businessman he is would get this reform immediately. I’m guessing he would only wonder how we allowed such an absurd system to stay in place for so long, as no successful business would dream of being jury-rigged this way.
I would urge the Illinois Republican Party to go even further. Until real elections and accountability are restored, stop begging good people for money as you’re only going to squander it on propping-up a failed status-quo.
To the failed old guard I ask, are you really serious about bringing more people of color, women and independents into the GOP in Illinois? Are you really serious about trying to get more people to volunteer?
Then how about this: be honest with people for a change. Admit you have absolutely no clue how to grow a party organization. Admit you’ve been more concerned about keeping a title so you can feel like a big shot than you have been with actually taking on the Democrats and their media lackeys.
And for crying out loud, give the people back their vote.