An important message for all supporters of President Trump in Illinois (Part 2)

By DOUG E. IBENDAHL • March 29, 2019

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Last time in Part 1 you got a dose of reality about the state of affairs for Republicans in Illinois. This time I want to offer some concrete action items which I hope all Trump supporters in this state can unify around and promote.

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As I wrote in Part 1, the Illinois Republican Party simply isn’t organized to win elections. Instead it’s organized around preserving a closed, unwelcoming system whereby entrenched hangers-on who have learned how to game that closed system are able to hold onto a party title, a title too many of them proceed to do little or nothing with.

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The things some selfish people do to protect that closed culture, like the rigged state GOP convention we witness every four years, the lack of communication, the unprofessionalism, and the refusal to seriously welcome fresh faces, all deter good people from getting involved.

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And no one should be surprised when it also guarantees electoral disaster.

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Sitting around just bitching about the Democrats isn’t enough. That’s not a strategy. Although it’s certainly been tried, a lot, and the Illinois GOP keeps limping along from bloodbath to bloodbath.

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The simple fact is we’re hampered right now by a lot of failed “leaders” in the Illinois Republican Party who are just sitting around on their big titles. They preach unity, while at the same time they refuse to lift a finger to seriously unify around our President and his winning agenda. Oh sure, they might say they support the President when preaching to the choir at some GOP event with only die-hard Republicans present, but that’s a given and it’s an easy thing to do. That’s not outreach.

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This is not only inexcusable, it’s nonsensical. President Donald Trump is the only Republican out there who voters across the country are truly excited about, and the Trump campaign is where all the excitement and energy is. Whoever or whatever is in second place isn’t even close.

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Donald Trump has not only made America great again, he’s made politics fun again. We need new people on the field who get it and are savvy enough to capitalize on the opportunity Donald Trump has given us.

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Trump supporters are the smartest and most professional people. You know the status-quo means more failure in Illinois, and another embarrassing loss in this state for Trump next year.

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In the spirit of real innovation, here are some specific action items serious Trump supporters can be working on NOW to help with Trump’s reelection campaign next year.

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Help recruit Trump supporters for GOP office, or better yet, run yourself

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Every two years, outside of Cook County, both Republicans and Democrats elect precinct committeemen in their respective party’s primary. In other words, anyone running for precinct committeeman this next time will be on the same March 17, 2020 Republican Primary Election ballot in Illinois as President Donald Trump & Vice President Mike Pence.

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If you are a true Trump supporter, how can you pass up that historic opportunity?

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There are nearly 7,000 total precincts in Illinois outside of Cook County. Sadly, typically no Republican even bothers to run in over half of those precincts. That’s such a lost opportunity for the party—and for President Trump if that failure is allowed to continue this cycle.

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Our goal this cycle should be to make certain we have a real Trump supporter running for committeeman in every single precinct across the state. You don’t need anyone’s permission.

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If you live in Cook County, note there is a unique but similar legal structure. Instead of electing precinct committeemen to 2-year terms, there are 30 Republican township committeemen in suburban Cook, and 50 Republican ward committeemen in the City of Chicago, all elected to 4-year terms. The 30 township committeemen were chosen in 2018. The 50 Chicago ward committeemen are up for election this cycle, in March of next year.

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The Republican Precinct Project has more explanation, and the simple forms you need as a candidate. We’ll update the dates on the site once the Illinois State Board of Elections has those finalized, which will be soon. But we already know the petition circulation period for the March 2020 primary election will begin around early September this year. The directions and forms currently posted will remain unchanged.

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I founded the Republican Precinct Project 8 years ago because our state party was doing nothing to recruit (it still isn’t). Even if you decide not to run yourself, your help in recruiting and sharing that resource with other Trump supporters you know would be a huge help.

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And if you ever have a question about the forms or the petition circulation process, I encourage you to contact me. I practice a lot of election law and I’m happy to field questions free of charge at doug.ibendahl@mail.com. All I ask is that you first review the simple instructions at the Republican Precinct Project.

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Let’s give the Illinois Republican Party back to Republicans

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Republican voters need a broom, a way to sweep out the do-nothings in our state party who just want to sit on a title, and the people who have refused to lift a finger to help our President.

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I just explained how precinct committeemen are chosen across the state, as well as township committeemen and ward committeemen in Cook County. But you may be wondering how those senior posts in the Illinois Republican Party are chosen, i.e. those 18 members of the state central committee, one from each congressional district.

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When it comes to the central committee of the state GOP organization, the organization that most Republicans care about the most and the organization that has the most influence on the direction of the party in the state, Republican voters don’t get a vote for their representative on that committee. Instead, only the committeemen elected to the county GOP organization get to come over and also pick the state central committeemen at a separate organization, the Illinois Republican Party.

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It’s a cockamamie system of organizational governance and it’s why most Republicans have no idea who even represents them on the state GOP’s central committee. Your state central committeeman doesn’t have to listen to you, and frankly, given how difficult it is to even locate contact information for any member of our state central committee, they don’t want to hear from you.

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And for those of you who are rightly frustrated about the Illinois GOP not respecting its own Platform, our system of picking the state central committee explains why. The 18 on the central committee don’t listen to you because they don’t need you to keep their big titles.

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In many cases, not all, our current system attracts people who just want to feel like a big shot. Suggest that the job should be about working in the trenches recruiting more voters and supporting one of the best Presidents in history and they’ll look at you like you have two heads.

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This organizational governance stuff may seem dry, but it’s important. Our current jury-rigged system for picking the state central committee is infused with all kinds of negative incentives which are inconsistent with winning elections for public office at all levels. For example, we regularly see county GOP conventions being rigged, and our state GOP convention every four years is ALWAYS rigged. It’s also why the vacancy rate statewide for precinct committeemen is shamefully high and why few even try to recruit. Selfish officials are gaming a bad system at the expense of the party and Republican electoral prospects.

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And it’s all done for one reason, because they can. The way we currently pick the state central committee has taken accountability out of the equation.

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Worse, all of the rigging and unprofessionalism deters good people from wanting to get involved. People attend their first rigged party convention and say “Who needs this nonsense?” We need more and better people to achieve change, but good people get frustrated. It’s a circular, destructive cycle that’s gone on for many years.

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It wasn’t always this way. Essentially from the birth of our party with Abraham Lincoln up until the 1980s, Republicans did directly elect the state central committee (rank-and-file Democrats in Illinois still have the right in their state party).

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What happened was the Illinois GOP’s old guard decided a few decades they didn’t like those pesky Republicans (and yes, I’m sure they were talking about conservatives) trying to have a voice in their own state party. The rank-and-file had become a nuisance for the bosses. So the good-old-boys decided to consolidate power and remove accountability. Back in the 1980s I’m sure arrogant Republican officials never envisioned Illinois being a Blue State and they figured they could get away with anything.

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Those Republican bosses changed the system of selection, but only for the Illinois GOP. Illinois Democrats loudly said they would stick with real elections for their top state party officials.

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Illinois has been a Blue State ever since Republicans lost their voice in the Illinois Republican Party. Is that surprising?

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I and many others have been pushing for restoration of direct elections for the state GOP’s central committee for close to two decades now. We came close to making it happen a couple of times, but in the end the old bosses have always used their power to rig to squash real innovation. After viciously fighting the idea of Republicans voting, they then whine about yet another election bloodbath where not enough Republicans voted.

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The good news is we have a new leader on the field with Donald Trump, and he has firsthand knowledge of the GOP’s rigged system. Recall during the 2016 campaign cycle he was on the receiving end of some really awful rigging, both during the primary process and in the selection fight for delegates to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. The never-Trumpers pulled out all the stops, on multiple fronts, in their failed effort to deny Trump the nomination.

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On many occasions during 2016, Trump repeated this truth: “I will say this: it’s a rigged system, it’s a crooked system, it’s 100% crooked.” Trump wasn’t even talking about the Illinois Republican Party specifically–but wow, if he only knew.

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For more information on the direct elections reform, see: Here’s how Direct Elections will revive a lifeless Illinois GOP. I wrote that piece 7 years ago but the analysis remains true, and I’m sure the lies the old bosses spout in opposition haven’t changed either. Also see: Reawaken our Illinois Republican Party – Vote for a Return to Direct Elections for a point-by-point refutation of the lies the old bosses have used for years to selfishly protect a failed system.

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Become a State Delegate to the Illinois Republican Party’s State Convention next year.

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By law, the Illinois Republican Party has to hold a state convention every four years. “By law” is the key, because if it wasn’t mandated by law, it probably wouldn’t happen because the state convention affords an opportunity for positive change.

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We don’t know the exact dates or location of next year’s state convention yet, but it’s sure to be on a weekend either in late May or early June of 2020.

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State delegates from each county get locked-in around a month prior to the event.

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In theory, any Republican with a record of voting Republican can serve as a delegate to the state convention. But if you become a committeeman in your county party as discussed above, you certainly have a leg-up. Your county GOP chair gets to slate the state delegates and it would be hard to reject an elected committeeman.

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Keep in mind, while the State Republican Convention has similarities to the Republican National Convention which will follow later next summer, it is separate. And the good news is it’s much easier to become a state delegate, plus you don’t have to run on the ballot like national convention delegates do. You are simply appointed by the head of your county GOP (in Cook, the individual township and ward GOP committeemen get to make the state delegate picks).

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Much like the precinct committeeman opportunity, few party officials seriously try to recruit delegates for the state convention. At past conventions in Illinois, it’s not unusual for counties to have half or more of their available spots left unfilled.

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Just like with the committeeman spots, we need to have every single state delegate spot filled next year with a true Trump supporter.

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Real work is done at these state conventions. You get to vote on the state party’s Platform for example. Also, while most of the Trump delegates from Illinois who will be going to the NATIONAL convention next year are chosen by Trump’s team and have to run in the March Primary, there is a handful of “at-large” delegate spots to the national convention that delegates at the state convention get to pick. We need Trump supporters at the state convention next year to make certain these coveted spots don’t go to do-nothing old party hacks who haven’t lifted a finger for Trump, but who desperately want to go to the fun party, which is how they view the national GOP convention.

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Last but not least, and what I care about the most, next year at our state convention we can finally restore direct elections for the state central committee, the reform I talked about above. When the old bosses changed state statute back in the 1980s to take direct elections away (but again, only from Republicans) they left a way in the law to restore direct elections, but it has to be done at a state convention.

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At the state central committee meeting last month in Bolingbrook I suggested to a couple of the officials that our party call a SPECIAL convention THIS summer. If I had a say, I would make that event all about President Trump, and about giving Republican voters their vote and their voice back. We could immediately get the Illinois Republican Party out of its rut and get everyone unified around the President’s reelection – plus, it would be a lot of fun.

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Of course since it was my idea I’m sure they won’t do it this year, but the good news is there has to be a state convention next year. Again, that one is mandated by law.

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I’ve already drafted the resolution state delegates would need to adopt in order to make history and make the Illinois Republican Party something other than a pointless organization again, see HERE.

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At the most recent state convention in 2016, the rigged-up subcommittee wouldn’t even pass that resolution forward for a vote by the full delegation on the floor. The failed bosses are so hostile to the idea of Republicans having a vote again that they wouldn’t even allow all delegates to vote on whether Republicans should have a vote again in their own state party.

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A few months after that rigged state convention, the Illinois GOP of course went on to yet another November disaster. Trump lost Illinois to Hillary by 17 points.

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The failed bosses will of course be working to rig our next state convention too. The difference this time is Donald Trump. This direct election reform is right up his alley, not only because he’s personally been the target of party rigging by fellow so-called Republicans, he’s also a Wharton business school grad and successful businessman who has run many corporations. Trump understands this organizational governance stuff and takes it seriously, even if few of our Illinois GOP officials do.

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I’m optimistic that if Trump supporters stand up for Donald Trump in Illinois, he’ll stand up for us. It’s what the man does.

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Our GOP is lucky to be led by Donald Trump, but the man can’t do it forever. However, if Trump supporters rally and unify around his example this year and next, we can leave a lasting Trump legacy in Illinois that will continue to flourish beyond what I’m confident will be our President’s 8-year service.

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I look forward to working with you on making the Illinois Republican Party great again.

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

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