By DOUG IBENDAHL • May 8, 2012
Democrats have been trying to make political hay by spinning the idea that Republicans are engaged in “a war on women.” Obviously I think that caricature is an absolute bum rap. It’s just empty rhetoric one expects during a heated campaign year.
But there’s a situation brewing in central Illinois where Republicans risk lending legitimacy to the Democrats’ attacks.
U.S. Rep. Tim Johnson, R-Urbana, created a circus when he announced after winning the GOP Primary in March that he didn’t want to run for reelection after all. Now his Republican replacement on the November ballot must be chosen.
The district at issue is the newly drawn 13th Congressional. It encompasses all or parts of 14 counties. According to state law it’s those 14 Republican County Chairmen who get to make the pick. Any voter can presumably pass their comments and preferences on to those 14 County Chairmen, but at the end of the day only those party officials get to decide.
The 14 County Chairmen have set Saturday, May 19 as the day they’ll make the final vote and name the new nominee.
The County Chairmen have reportedly narrowed their choice to four candidates.
In my opinion the hands-down, stand-out choice is former Miss America Erika Harold. She’s a Harvard Law School graduate and currently practices law at the top-notch Chicago law firm of Burke, Warren, MacKay & Serritella. Yes, she now lives in Chicago, well outside the 13th Congressional District, but she’s originally from Urbana and still has family there.
I’ve never met Erika Harold but I have mutual friends who have worked closely with her in politics and in the legal profession. Every single person I’ve talked to who knows her, only has great things to say.
Harold is highly qualified – and to top it all off, she just happens to be black and a woman. She’s also no newbie on the political scene. In 2002 Harold served as Youth Director for the campaign of conservative Republican Pat O’Malley’s campaign for Governor. She was also a delegate to the 2004 Republican National Convention and had a speaking role.
Erika Harold would be a Rock Star candidate – absent the ego – who would immediately energize a moribund Illinois Republican Party. It would be difficult to think of a more ideal leader to grow our party. If we were searching for someone to appear on a recruitment poster for the GOP, we couldn’t do better than Erika Harold.
But I don’t want to make this too much about race or gender. Again, Harold is a highly qualified candidate and she just happens to be a black woman. But for crying out loud folks, there are only about ten black Republicans in Illinois right now. Would we really reject one for the sake of choosing a white male with far inferior qualifications? And yes, obviously I exaggerate about the ten black Republicans in this state. (It’s probably closer to five.)
Of the four remaining candidates there’s another woman who is also spoken of very highly by Republicans I respect. Kathy Wassink of Macoupin County is a successful businesswoman who has also spent time in the political trenches helping other Republican candidates. She appears to be a very solid choice also.
The two remaining candidates are Rodney Davis and Jerry Clarke. Both have been on a government payroll much of their lives. Clarke works for Congressman Randy Hultgren now, but he formerly worked for the outgoing Tim Johnson. Clarke got too cute in jockeying to be the replacement, so much so in fact that even his old boss had to throw him under the bus. I could say much more about why Clarke is unacceptable, but my strong sense is he no longer has a realistic shot at getting the nod.
That leaves Rodney Davis of Taylorville. I have no idea how the accounting works, but Davis jumps around between the federal staff of Congressman John Shimkus, the political operation of John Shimkus, and the Illinois Republican Party. I’m told he isn’t currently, but at least until very recently, Davis was the State GOP’s acting executive director.
John Shimkus is a Congressman of no accomplishment. To the extent I think of him at all, only two things come to mind. He broke the term limit pledge he made to voters when first elected, and he failed to protect young male House pages from his predatory colleague Congressman Mark Foley. Oh, and Shimkus is also known for tweeting a lot of Bible verses so we know what a great Christian he is. Thank goodness. One shudders to think how often he wouldn’t keep his word if he wasn’t a great Christian.
Bottom line, I can’t imagine why any County Chairman would listen to John Shimkus. Listen to his advice and do the opposite would probably be sound strategy.
Davis’ experience with the State GOP rates him an equally weak recommendation. The Illinois Republican Party is nationally recognized as one of the most disorganized and worst run in the country. Things are so bad the National Party feels forced to send in outside resources out of fear that Illinois GOP dysfunction could jeopardize Republican control of Congress. And just recently we learned GOP operatives and officials put our party at further risk via a ridiculous contribution funneling scheme.
If Davis and Clarke had any decency they would both voluntarily withdraw their names from consideration. Neither has done anything to deserve a promotion in politics – and certainly nothing entitling either one to a big job like U.S. Congressman.
The good news is there are two highly qualified candidates left, Erika Harold and Kathy Wassink.
This thing is far from over, but while I’m not familiar with every County Chairman in that district, I do know there are some very good ones. It’s obvious the group is taking this huge responsibility very seriously.
If the County Chairmen ignore the pressure they are surely getting from the usual suspects and failed establishment players, the Illinois GOP may soon have a great story to tell for a change.
Just one final thought. Up until now it’s only been liberal Democrats talking about “the war on women.” But if a white male is handed a prized ballot spot over two women who are far more qualified and deserving, it’s going to be Republican women talking about the Republican war on women. And this time the charge will have a lot of merit.
Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.