By DOUG IBENDAHL • October 13, 2013
There is exactly one black female Republican running in a competitive district for Congress in this state – and incredibly our Illinois Republican Party continues to openly work against her.
That woman is Erika Harold who is taking on first term incumbent Congressman Rodney Davis in the Republican primary in the 13th U.S. Congressional District.
Erika Harold may still be best known as Miss America 2003 and Miss Illinois 2002. But she’s also a Harvard Law School graduate and respected attorney. Erika is also far from some political newbie. She was Youth Director for the gubernatorial campaign of Republican Pat O’Malley in 2002. In 2004 she was not only a delegate to the Republican National Convention – she was a featured speaker at that year’s convention in Madison Square Garden in New York City. Her speech focused on support of George W. Bush’s faith-based initiatives.
Ms. Harold is also an active volunteer in prison ministry and is on the board of directors of Prison Fellowship, a respected nonprofit organization founded by the late Chuck Colson.
Erika Harold’s candidacy is one of the few positive things the Illinois GOP has going for it right now. Year after year our party talks about outreach to minority communities. Erika Harold does more than talk about it, she’s actually doing.
That’s why it was so disgraceful back in June when a GOP official referred to Ms. Harold as a “street walker,” and worse. So intense was the outrage the party official in question was forced to resign.
So the Illinois Republican Party learned its lesson right? Well no, of course not.
Party bosses refused to allow Ms. Harold to speak at Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair in Springfield in August. In fact she was snubbed twice in one day. She wasn’t allowed to speak at the breakfast meeting of the Republican County Chairmen, and she was shunted aside again at the main rally on the fairgrounds that afternoon.
And the stupidity continues. The Illinois Republican Party’s governing board (the State Central Committee) held a regular meeting on Saturday, October 5 in Bolingbrook. One of the matters discussed was whether Erika Harold’s campaign should be given access to a resource known as the GOP Data Center.
The GOP Data Center recently took the place of what used to be called Voter Vault – but the general idea is the same. Basically it’s a tool which has detailed voting histories and other information on essentially all voters in the country. It’s useful for any campaign or party organization in targeting mailings and other get-out-the-vote efforts. Candidates currently collecting petition signatures would also find it useful for confirming that petition signers are in fact registered voters.
The matter came to a head at the October 5 meeting because Harold’s campaign had for weeks made multiple requests to the State Party for Data Center access. Those multiple requests were met with stonewalling and refusals.
Now the State Central Committee has locked in the decision to deny Erika Harold use of the GOP Data Center. This took some unbelievable mental gymnastics. The richest part is the report of the crocodile tears shed by Chairman Jack Dorgan and others over “concerns” that Democrats might get access to the GOP Data Center.
Yes, gee, if we only had a way to confirm how someone voted before we give that person access to a resource which is a compilation of everyone’s voting history. Good grief.
Illinois Republicans have a serious problem. It’s not just that we have some officials who are sleazy liars. It’s worse than that. We’re stuck with liars who aren’t even smart enough to make up “good” lies.
I would have more respect for Dorgan and the rest if they were simply honest about the fact that they’re working against Erika Harold because she’s running against the incumbent Rodney Davis. Dorgan and the State Central Committee like Davis. He was the State Party’s executive director under disgraced former Chairman Pat Brady. When the State Party was running out of money, Davis is the guy who supervised the scheme that laundered contributions from two Chicago billionaires into the State Party’s coffers. In the State Central Committee’s mind, Davis did a good job. The fact the Illinois GOP lost nearly every race there was to lose last year doesn’t enter into the equation.
Dorgan and the State Central Committee are making up new rules out of thin air to punish Erika Harold. It’s as simple as that.
Consider for example the Illinois GOP’s own sign-up form for the GOP Data Center specifically contemplates its use in a contested primary (see the last paragraph). There is absolutely nothing in that agreement even hinting that a candidate like Erika Harold could be denied.
More fundamentally, it’s not the State Party’s job to try and pick winners and losers in a Republican primary. Further, the GOP Data Center is not even the State Party’s asset to begin with. It in fact belongs to the national party, the Republican National Committee, and it makes the tool available to all state parties free of charge. The job of a state party is to get the tool into the hands of Republican candidates and Republican organizations. The whole point of the GOP Data Center is that when properly utilized, Republicans mutually cooperate to refine and enhance the database, and it becomes a more effective tool over time. Achieving this goal of course assumes that your state party understands at least the basics about building a party. Here in Illinois, too many of our top officials clearly don’t have a clue.
So a model Republican like Erika Harold is denied a tool by an organization which doesn’t even own that tool. Adding insult to injury is the fact this verdict comes from our new Chairman Jack Dorgan who has a long and extensive history of working on the side of the Democrats. See here, here, here and here.
Dorgan knows nothing about building a Republican Party. He may have learned a lot about Democratic machine politics from his Chicago friends like former Democratic State Senator James DeLeo, but he shows little interest in the Republican Platform and really has no clue how to inspire the GOP grassroots, if it doesn’t involve the outdated and discredited patronage system. Dorgan not only represents the past, he represents the Democratic Party’s past.
So we Republicans are going to allow people like this tell us who is – and who is not – a deserving Republican candidate? We’re all just supposed to sit around and let some old men disrespect a former Miss America? It’s not only beyond absurd – it’s shameful that so few Republicans have the courage to stand-up for good people.
A party run this sleazily and unprofessionally can’t win, and certainly not in a state that’s already “blue.” The real question that voters are asking is – does it even deserve to?
Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.