The most screwed-up State Rep race in Illinois

By DOUG IBENDAHL • November 3, 2012


You need a scorecard for this one. 


Incumbent Angelo “Skip” Saviano is in a heated race against challenger Kathleen Willis in the newly drawn 77th House District (far Northwest Side of Chicago and O’Hare area suburbs).


Most Republicans are very confused by this race because they see the “R” by Saviano’s name and also see Mike Madigan helping Kathleen Willis in a big way, so the assumption is Saviano must be some kind of good guy we should be working to save.


That assumption couldn’t be more wrong.


First of all, Madigan isn’t going after Saviano for the reasons a Democrat would normally go after a Republican. Madigan doesn’t have a problem with Saviano’s voting record. Why would he? Saviano has supported the Democrats’ agenda nearly 100% of the time in Springfield. Saviano has consistently been one of Mike Madigan’s staunchest allies. Or at least he was for many years.


Saviano is really a Democrat as any normal person would define the word. The “R” by Saviano’s name is just a relic from the old days when Illinois was a Republican state and those who sought the fast track to money, power or influence ran as Republicans. Judy Baar Topinka is another obvious example.


On Friday, Greg Hinz of Crain’s Chicago Business did an excellent job explaining what’s really going on in this race.


It’s all personal. Hinz cites two reasons for Madigan breaking his long-time alliance with Saviano. First, the two clashed over the running of the agency that oversees Chicago’s McCormick Place. Saviano was fine with Rod Blagojevich’s influence, Madigan wasn’t.


But the serious bad blood likely derives from Lisa Madigan’s torpedoing of a casino license for Rosemont back in 2005. Lisa Madigan killed the deal, alleging (with more than a little justification) that the Rosemont boys had mob ties. Well guess what, the Rosemont boys are Saviano’s friends.


As if that wasn’t enough, Saviano – fuming over the casino decision – reportedly voiced a personal insult about the Attorney General. Well, if you personally insult the Speaker’s daughter, you’re going to pay a price. I don’t blame him. I think any self-respecting father would feel the same way.


So for many years Saviano eagerly did Mike Madigan’s bidding and Madigan gave Saviano a pass despite the “R” by his name. Madigan no doubt got a great kick out of having a mole inside the Illinois GOP, ensuring his opponents remained a joke.


But Mike Madigan only tolerates so much sliminess. Eventually enough was enough. This is the first time Saviano has faced a serious challenger and it’s in a new district Madigan drew to make it difficult for Saviano.


Yes, Madigan’s operation is bringing the hammer down on Saviano. But before any naïve Republican feels sorry for Skip, consider this. Just a few days ago, Luis Gutierrez, one of the most left-wing Democrats in the U.S. Congress endorsed Saviano. (I told you this race was screwed-up. And oh, by the way, Saviano’s challenger Kathleen Willis is reportedly a past Republican.)


With the help of Gutierrez and all of Saviano’s other liberal Democrat friends, Saviano may survive this time. Polls have him slightly ahead. But even if Saviano pulls it out on Tuesday he’ll remain on the endangered political species list. If Madigan doesn’t close the deal on Tuesday, Saviano is likely cooked in two years – that is if he even decides to run again.


The most ridiculous part of this drama is that Mike Madigan is doing what Republicans should have done, but never had the guts to do. Saviano should have been ousted from GOP office long ago. It’s embarrassing that Madigan has to be the one to do it. Madigan’s motivation for cleansing is different from mine obviously. But until more Republicans find a spine, I’ll take what I can get.


This race also illustrates how lame Illinois GOP Chair Pat Brady’s “Fire Madigan” shtick truly is. It’s beyond silly to whine about Madigan, when for all of these years we’ve had a senior official in our own party who is not only more liberal than Madigan on issues Republicans supposedly care about – but Saviano’s also been one of Madigan’s top go-to guys in Springfield.


If Luis Gutierrez’s endorsement isn’t enough to convince you that Saviano is bad news for the GOP, here are more facts: 


Saviano’s voting record as a State Representative is more pro-Democrat than almost any Democrat. View a summary HERE.


Saviano regularly accepts campaign money from some of the most liberal Democrats and related organizations in Illinois. View a summary HERE


Few Democrats have contributed more money to Democrats and liberal organizations over the years than Saviano. Included in the long list of donees are Rod Blagojevich, Richard M. Daley, and even Mike Madigan! View a summary HERE


Saviano not only contributes financially to Democrats, he has actively campaigned for Democrats, even when an exceptionally well qualified Republican was in the race. See HERE


Democrat supporter/funder Saviano is also Chairman of the House Republican Organization (HRO), the political/fundraising arm of the GOP’s State House caucus. 


Democrat supporter/funder Saviano is not only a public official – he is also one of the top officials in the Illinois Republican Party. Saviano has been one of the 19 members of the State Central Committee for many years. 


Democrat supporter/funder Saviano remains one of the most vicious opponents of the direct election reform (SB35/SB600). Saviano has repeatedly used his position as a State Representative to stonewall positive change. With the help of Tom Cross and a clueless collection of lickspittles, a top Democrat supporter/funder has kept himself at the head of our Illinois Republican Party.


Even if Kathleen Willis is successful Tuesday in the contest for State Representative, Saviano will of course remain at the head of our State GOP as a member of the State Central Committee.


Bottom line, when you’ve got a Republican Party run by a guy who votes like a Democrat, funds the Democrats, and campaigns for the Democrats (even against good Republicans), you don’t have a Republican Party. My guess is the election on Tuesday will confirm that once again.


Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.


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