The Baggage The Illinois GOP Delegation Brings To Cleveland

By DOUG IBENDAHL • July 18, 2016


As Republicans from across America descend on Cleveland this week for the Republican National Convention, Illinois can take pride in the diversity of its elected delegation.


Donald Trump deserves most of the credit for that diversity. Kent Gray of Springfield coordinated the Illinois delegate effort for the Trump campaign and he did a fine job slating men and women from a variety of backgrounds and ethnicities.


The best news is Trump delegates won 39 of the 54 slots on the ballot in the March 15 Primary (three from each of Illinois’ 18 congressional districts). Ted Cruz won nine and John Kasich six.


In other words, the Illinois delegation is overwhelmingly a Trump delegation.


Another thing I love is the fact most of the Trump delegates are regular people – taxpayers with real jobs who pay the bills. Many are also brand new to the political process. In other words their hands are clean of Illinois GOP past misdeeds. Many got involved this year solely because of Donald Trump.


Incredibly many in the media deem all of this as some kind of bad thing. Trump delegates have been openly mocked, with the Trump-hating Chicago Tribune (a/k/a tronc) patronizingly calling them “unorthodox.” The dying rag even scoured social media postings of Illinois Trump delegates hunting for embarrassing tidbits.


Meanwhile anti-Trump zealot Pat Brady who proudly stands-by the advice he gave in December on Chicago radio that “You’ve got to take [Trump] out with a headshot” – is still regularly cited by media outlets as if he has a clue.


Instead of serious analysis of this Republican National Convention and the Trump phenomenon, the local press is largely obsessed with rehashing stories about which do-nothing career politicians aren’t going to Cleveland.


No one bothers to ask why a Convention which is centered around a do-er and a successful builder like Trump shouldn’t be grateful that some of the failed politicians from one of the worst run states in the country won’t be transporting their ineptitude across state lines.


Donald Trump represents new hope for the Republican Party. He has yet to be elected to any public office but he’s already making the GOP better and more diverse here in Illinois. He’s expanding the base and is generating energy we haven’t seen in the GOP since Ronald Reagan.


Of course panicky Democrats are going to call him racist and sexist. That kind of blatantly false attack was always expected in the face of Trump’s decades-long record of hiring and promoting thousands of women and minorities. Hillary and her media lapdogs know Trump’s message of making America great again and expanding economic opportunity for all is particularly attractive to African-American and Hispanic folks who remain trapped on the Liberal Plantation.


Donald Trump isn’t the Republican Party’s problem. Trump’s doing his job and so are his supporters.


It’s the failed GOP players who sit around in Illinois carping at Trump who have some explaining to do. It’s their selfishness and total lack of leadership for years which has made the Republican Party in Illinois a less than welcome place for minorities.


Here are just a few illustrations.


Back in May, the Illinois Republican Party held its State Convention in Peoria, just coincidentally around the approximate anniversary date of Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 nomination in Chicago. Out of approximately 1,000 state delegates in attendance, MAYBE ten were African-American. And if black participation did break double-digits this year it was only because the energy surrounding Donald Trump had greatly increased the total attendance over state conventions past.

  • There are no black GOP congressmen from Illinois, and to my knowledge there hasn’t been for a LONG time.
  • There are no black GOP state representatives or state senators serving in Springfield. The Illinois GOP did have one black state representative to crow about for three years, but he resigned last month and took another state job.
  • No black person serves on the Illinois Republican Party’s state central committee (the state party’s senior governing board).
  • No black person serves as one of the 102 GOP county chairmen in Illinois.
  • Out of the thousands of GOP precinct committeemen statewide, there are a handful of black folks, but it’s a very small handful. I would be surprised if the number is much larger than ten.
  • In Cook County right now the county Republican Party is sticking to its “firing” of 13 lawfully elected committeemen on the purported grounds that they aren’t Republican enough. The vast majority of the 13 individuals at issue are black. (Keep in mind there are only 80 elected Republican committeemen in all of Cook County to begin with.)
  • And who can forget that time a local GOP party boss called an outstanding black GOP congressional candidate and former Miss America a “little queen” and a “street walker.”

To make matters worse, a rigged system makes it very difficult to change the status-quo. Illinois Republican Party bosses took away direct democracy three decades ago – and with it went accountability. Rank-and-file Republicans no longer have a vote for their State Party’s top leadership. What we have now on the GOP side in Illinois is a horribly rigged system which isn’t about growing the party. It’s all about keeping the party closed so that a small group of mostly puffy old white men can selfishly snack on whatever crumbs the GOP has left to dispense in Illinois.


Yet another attempt to open up the Illinois Republican Party and restore the vote was squashed again in Peoria at the State Convention in May. Corrupt party bosses wouldn’t even allow the full state delegation to decide the matter. Past due reform was killed in a committee comprised of people chosen by the very state central committee which doesn’t want to face Republican voters in a real election.


Freed of the accountability which real democracy would provide, the party bosses are free to gorge for themselves. We saw that again in Peoria in May. While 54 Illinois delegates to this week’s Republican National Convention were elected at the March 15 Primary, there were still 12 At-Large Delegate spots to be assigned in Peoria at the State Convention (plus 12 At-Large Alternate spots).


A small handful of the At-Large spots went to deserving people. Basically the old men and women let a few deserving women and minorities serve as window dressing. But most of the remaining spots were taken by state central committeemen themselves, or by their public official and/or contributor chums. Few of At-Large spots went to Trump supporters. Some taking the At-Large spots even ran and lost as delegates for other candidates in the March Primary. Basically they got a do-over at the expense of the hundreds of truly deserving rank-and-file Republicans who for the most part wasted their valuable time applying for the opportunity to go to Cleveland.


This is why for example the poster-boy for reforming the Illinois GOP’s rigged system is in Cleveland right now. Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar snagged one of the 12 At-Large spots for himself in May despite the fact he ran and lost as a Jeb Bush delegate in March. He’s also of course one of the entrenched members of the state central committee.


Claar has been going to political conventions for a long time. While he was away at the Republican National Convention in San Diego in 1996, Illinois State Police raided his house in connection with the investigation of a tollway land deal involving a Claar campaign contributor. Claar was a member of the Illinois Tollway Board at the time.


Claar was never charged with wrongdoing, but I just get a chuckle every time I see some gullible reporter suggesting that the Illinois delegation is somehow worse off because it isn’t heavier on such “experienced” names.


I couldn’t be more excited about this week’s Republican National Convention. Not only will we officially have our first nominee in many years who knows how to rebuild our country and put people back to work – we also have in Mr. Trump a man who is dedicated to unrigging a corrupt system so that our Republican Party will once again be a welcome home to all.


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


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