By DOUG IBENDAHL • June 12, 2008
If you weren’t able to attend the Illinois Republican State Convention over the weekend in Decatur, keep checking back here for more reports.
We’re going to keep doing our best to give you the most truthful accounts of the good, the bad, and the ugly. This was our State GOP’s first convention in four years, and many lessons can be drawn from a big event like this that should be of use to serious Republicans going forward.
What I loved about this event was that it provided the perfect character test. Republicans merely had to observe the various actors on parade in Decatur to be able to separate the wheat from the chaff.
The Decatur convention provided just enough rope for the weak of will and the weak of character to hang themselves once and for all. The relative public nature of a convention meant that the old guard had to perform their dirty tricks in more sunshine than they prefer.
In fact it’s pretty obvious that State Party Chairman Andy McKenna, Jr. and his handlers would have preferred not to have held this convention at all. Any time their actions are put on display in front of lots of Republicans, their undeserved titles are potentially at risk. We had this convention for one reason only – Illinois law requires one at least every four years.
The hangers-on had to run the whole playbook of dirty tricks this time. Too many good Republicans were already on to them. One could almost smell the fear from those incompetent few that they might lose the privilege of clinging-on through yet one more huge embarrassing disaster for the Illinois GOP at the polls. Heaven forbid.
In the coming weeks we’ll explain which of our party officials and operatives should never be taken seriously again – for any office or political job, no matter how small – at least not on our Republican side. In some cases, that’s how badly they betrayed their duty to Republicans and our Grand Old Party. We’ll also highlight some of the patsies they enlisted, in the hope that other Republicans won’t make the same mistake in the future.
But I’m most anxious to share with you the stories of the real leaders, the principled Republicans who stood up for something more than selfish self-interest – often in the face of shameful harassment and in some cases even alarming threats of retaliation. In some cases, leaders emerged and spines were found from sources I wouldn’t have predicted going in.
The most encouraging news is that the good far outnumbered the bad and the ugly in Decatur. The vast majority of Republicans are honest and decent people. The ongoing challenge is to find leaders who are worthy of the folks they are supposed to serve.
The good news is I met a lot of those better Republicans in Decatur.
If anyone was unable to attend the convention over the weekend, there is another way to get a good feel for what happened. Just pick up the book Animal Farm, by George Orwell, that classic allegorical novel about the corrupting influence of political power.
Seriously, if you haven’t read it since you were in school, it’s worth checking out again. You’ll likely appreciate it much more now. It’s a short novel and I’m pretty sure the whole thing can be read online these days for free.
Needless to say the writing is much better than what I’ll be doing here. All you have to do is substitute in the name of the appropriate State GOP official or hack for the corresponding animal role in the story. If anything, Animal Farm is probably LESS bizarre than much of what Republicans witnessed in Decatur.
Our convention had all the Animal Farm parallels, including goofy convention rules that were subject to change at a whim when necessary. In some cases, legitimate rules were just ignored, and in other cases silly ones were made up out of thin air and applied for the first time in Illinois GOP history.
Don’t have a copy of the convention rules? Too bad. Just say “aye” and approve them anyway. Even Orwell never thought of that one.
Robert’s Rules of Order certainly would have been nice at this thing – but those age-old, proven procedures weren’t exactly consistent with what some wanted to accomplish.
Decatur even had the equivalent of Animal Farm’s dogs – Republicans last weekend came to know them as “the white shirts.” This was the large contingent of hired security personnel, at least some (possibly all) of whom were reportedly moonlighting state prison guards. I suppose we can all sleep a bit sounder at night knowing that the guards are obviously pumping at least as much iron as the inmates.
I don’t begrudge those guys for making some extra money by taking on an extra weekend gig. And since we haven’t read about a prison break in Illinois recently, they must do a fine job during the week.
But their large presence this weekend was not only overkill, it was more than a little insulting to the fine Republicans in attendance. Besides, the only bad behavior I witnessed in Decatur was coming from those on the stage, not from the audience where the white shirts were assigned.
Every single Republican I talked to from the rank-and-file came to Decatur prepared to work in good faith, in hopes of making the Illinois GOP at least marginally less dysfunctional. It was McKenna and his clan who had other ideas.
And that brings us to the final parallel, contained in Animal Farm’s conclusion. As everyone surely knows, at the end the animals start getting up and walking on two legs. That happens of course after they adopted over time, all of the bad behavior and corrupt practices of the humans they spent so much time condemning.
This weekend regular Republicans witnessed the culmination of years of rigged party elections, incredible disrespect for the rank-and-file, complete abandonment of GOP principles, thug tactics, zero accountability or sense of responsibility, and the utter mocking of any sense of fair play or honest brokerage. Our old leadership proved yet again it has really no interest in advancing the Republican flag.
Neither McKenna nor any of his handlers seems to give the slightest thought to the obvious question: how do you treat proud Republicans like inconvenient chattel one week, and then expect them to get excited and volunteer the next? The answer is of course – you can’t.
About the only questions McKenna left unanswered this weekend were, by exactly how many points does Andy want Obama and Durbin to win Illinois? And, how many more seats does he want us to lose in Congress, and in the State House and Senate?
God only knows what McKenna is thinking. But in less than five short months we’ll all be able to measure the results of his actions in pretty specific terms.
The old crew that kept a stranglehold on the microphone and the convention floor in Decatur clearly are not in this game to build the Republican Party. Instead, everything revolves around the desires of a selfish few, desperate to keep collecting any residual crumbs of privilege a GOP title can still garner.
There are few crumbs left – but they expect what remains, no matter what they have to do to be first in line. Duty to Republicans and our once Grand Old Party be damned. In Decatur they proved it matters not how much they embarrass themselves or how big of buffoons they become.
Yes, this weekend it was plain for all to see. In a sort of surreal retro version of Animal Farm, Andy McKenna and his buddies have gone backwards and decided they would rather be in the sty.
It finally happened. The old guard officially declared themselves Chicago Democrats.
Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.