By DOUG IBENDAHL • May 30, 2011
Are you upset about Illinois redistricting? Yeah me too.
But frankly I’m a lot less upset with the Democrats for doing the same thing Republicans would have done had we been in charge. We would have drawn maps favorable to our side too. We’ve done it before. Republicans shouldn’t kid themselves.
I’m a lot more disgusted with the awful GOP management that got us here. The new maps are the natural end result of all the rigged party conventions, endless lying to the rank-and-file, selfish misuse of the party franchise, and general unprofessionalism.
So much destruction has been done over the years by the likes of Tom Cross, Skip Saviano, Pat Brady, Randy Pollard, Andy McKenna, Judy Baar Topinka, Bob Kjellander, etc., etc., trying to prevent Republicans from voting – there was finally no party around to win the races necessary to give the GOP a seat at the map drawing table this year.
But after the blown opportunity at the polls last year, surely our officials are finally getting serious, right? Wrong.
In fact Tom Cross, Pat Brady and a few others have a brand new scam they hope will con at least a few gullible Republicans. If they can enlist even a handful of Judas goats to their side, they’ve got help in spreading misinformation intended to keep the rank-and-file disenfranchised and voiceless.
Sure, that means the GOP remains the minority party in Illinois with no end in sight. But guys like Tom Cross don’t care. They’re happy being medium sized ducks in a small pond.
The latest line from Tom Cross and Pat Brady is that we don’t need Senate Bill 35 because the Illinois Republican Party has adopted what they call a “compromise.”
But in fact our State GOP has done no such thing. In fact what we’re witnessing is Tom Cross’ most shameful lie yet. And that’s truly saying something.
Here are the facts on the “compromise” that Cross, Brady and a few others want to hang their hat on.
The Illinois GOP’s State Central Committee (the “SCC”) held its last quarterly meeting on March 9th in Springfield.
Here is the bylaw amendment the SCC passed in secret, in closed executive session at that meeting:
“The weighted vote for vacant precincts, and precincts not represented at the county convention, shall be allocated to each candidate based on the proportion of weighted votes they received from the elected precinct committeemen.” (See Article II.A.2 of the State GOP’s bylaws.)
Folks, do not be played for a fool. That amendment is most certainly not a “compromise.” It’s incumbent protection, pure and simple. In fact the 19 current State Central Committeemen have only attempted to make a bad system worse.
If you honestly think the 19 incumbents are going to huddle behind closed doors and come out with anything that doesn’t make it easier for them to keep their titles, then I’ve got a bridge to show you.
Incredibly, while some are dishonestly claiming they “took care of” the so-called “vacant precinct problem” – in reality the SCC locked in the destructive practice in their bylaws on March 9th.
Read the new bylaw language again if you have to – but note that it clearly directs that vacant precincts shall be voted. County Chairmen no longer even have a choice. The bylaws now require the voting of vacant precincts.
Think how absurd this is. It’s bad enough that 99.99% of Republicans don’t have a direct vote for the members of the State Central Committee. But now let’s say you live in a precinct not represented by a Precinct Committeeman. Our State Party is saying don’t worry – your vote will be cast for you. And never mind that no one even bothered to ask you who you prefer for the job. Your “vote” will just be cast for the majority candidate, automatically.
And as far as casting votes “in proportion” – that’s equally absurd. It would be just like if in the last presidential election you didn’t vote – so 62% of your vote was automatically cast for Barack Obama, because that’s the percentage he received in Illinois.
It’s ludicrous. The idea that you don’t have a direct vote is bad enough. But it’s truly insane to suggest that your vote can be cast automatically based on the voting patterns of strangers who live elsewhere – strangers who will not even bother to consult you regarding your preference.
But it gets even worse. Note that the bylaw amendment includes this language: “. . . and precincts not represented at the county convention.”
What that means is that even if you are a Precinct Committeeman and you don’t make it to your County Convention – your votes are automatically cast for you. Maybe you were headed to the convention and your car breaks down. Too bad. Your votes get cast automatically based on what the rest of the county did.
It’s also clear that the people who drafted the silly new bylaw provision are willfully ignorant of our party’s structure.
For one thing, approximately one third of the state’s Republicans are in Cook County – and Cook doesn’t even elect Precinct Committeemen! That’s by law. The Democrats don’t either and that’s a system they won’t change.
Also, State Central Committeeman is a congressional district-wide office. This county vs. county focus is completely wrong and creates even more bad incentives for dishonest and destructive games. For starters, it unnecessarily pits Republicans against Republicans in different counties, for completely artificial reasons.
Even more incredible, the voting of vacant precincts is already prohibited under Illinois law – even under the bad system our party currently follows. Any reasonable reading of the following provision of the Illinois Election Code makes it clear that only elected committeemen should be voting for SCC members at the county conventions: In other words, any attempted bylaw change is irrelevant. Statute always trumps an internal rule or bylaw, as even a first year law student knows.
10 ILCS 5/7‑8(a): At the county convention held by such political party . . . Each elected ward, township or precinct committeeman shall cast as his vote one vote for each ballot voted in his ward, township, part of a township or precinct in the last preceding primary election of his political party. [Emphasis added.]
Tom Cross’ “compromise” flies in the face of another provision of the Illinois Election Code regarding Precinct Committeemen:
10 ILCS 5/7‑9(i): [T]he chairman of the county central committee of the appropriate political party may fill the vacancy in such office by appointment . . . however, no such appointment may be made between the general primary election and the 30th day after the general primary election. [Emphasis added.]
That statute is intended to protect the elected Precinct Committeemen from having their voice at the County Convention diluted by a County Chairman filling the vacant precincts with his or friends right after the primary election. (The County Convention must be held no later than 30 days after the primary – thus the 30 day waiting period on appointments.)
Our State Party thinks it’s being cute by just eliminating the appointed Precinct Committeeman component. They think they can get around the law by simply taking people out of the equation. The vacant precincts will now just be voted automatically – essentially by computer.
It’s absurd to suggest that one can do automatically – what is specifically prohibited if done by an appointed live person.
What we’ve got is a cynical game – one that hurts both the rank-and-file and all Precinct Committeemen who expended the time and effort to get elected to the position.
This latest dishonesty is just one more argument for passage of SB35. We’ve got a State GOP now that won’t level with Republican voters about even the simplest things. Even their “reforms” do exactly the opposite of what they say.
With SB35 and the return of direct elections, most of the silly games and attempts to rig the system all go away. Proper incentives replace the horribly destructive ones inherent in our current system for picking the SCC.
I would also note that the issue of “vacant precincts” is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what’s wrong with our current system. The overriding problem could be summarized as lack of accountability. An SCC that decides on its own not to follow a law simply because they feel it’s not already rigged enough in their favor – is just one example. An SCC that allows its Chairman to endorse in a primary without saying a peep - as Pat Brady was allowed to do for Mark Kirk last year – is just one other example.
Direct elections means that the SCC members will know they will have to face Republican voters in a real election on a date certain. Just that knowledge will make even our current group of 19 marginally better SCC members overnight.
SB35 won’t perform miracles. Next year is shaping up to be a very bad one for the GOP in Illinois no matter what.
But when you’re facing a serious challenge, serious people step up and do as much as they can to limit the damage.
We know Tom Cross isn’t serious. We’ll soon find out if any of the other Republican State Representatives.
Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.