Profiles in Courage: Charles Hernandez and Peter LaBarbera

By DOUG IBENDAHL • March 11, 2010


“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood . . . if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt


In some quarters at least we’re seeing more Republicans standing up and challenging Illinois’ old go-along-to-get-along culture. It’s very encouraging.


Today I highlight just two examples of real courage. Charles Hernandez and Peter LaBarbera both ran for State Central Committeeman last week. Both knew going in they had little chance of prevailing. But both stepped-up because they decided someone had to. Both challenged very entrenched and very flawed incumbents on the Illinois Republican Party’s State Central Committee.


While both came up short in the voting last Wednesday night, both men enjoyed the experience. I hope their stories can serve as an inspiration to others.


Charles Hernandez is a Chicago Police Detective who challenged incumbent Skip Saviano for State Central Committeeman in the 5th U.S. Congressional District. To my knowledge, Saviano had never had a challenger before.


I had never heard of Charles until he called me a few weeks ago. He’s been a lifelong Republican and pro-life conservative but our paths just hadn’t crossed before. I found out we were both at the outstanding Illinois Family Institute dinner back in October that featured keynote speaker Mike Huckabee – but we didn’t meet in that big crowd either.


Charles had my article about the upcoming county conventions and the races for the 19 State Central Committeemen. He asked my opinion about mounting a challenge against Saviano.


I was up front with Charles about the sad reality. Winning would be something close to impossible.


The 5th Congressional District is entirely contained within Cook County. The screwy system our party currently uses to select the State Central Committee creates problems everywhere, but in Cook the deck gets extra stacking in favor of the incumbents.


Absent SB600 and direct elections, the odds of dislodging a Skip Saviano from our State Central Committee are something close to zero. That’s why it’s hardly a coincidence that Tom Double Cross has kept Saviano assigned as the main hatchet man against SB600 in the House.


In the Hernandez vs. Saviano race, only around 20 people were eligible to participate in the voting last Wednesday night. That included about 18 GOP Chicago Ward Committeemen whose wards are all or partially located within the 5th Congressional, and two suburban GOP Township Committeemen.


I explained to Charles that many of those committeemen are Saviano’s long time friends. They know Saviano’s pro-Democrat record, but most don’t care an iota. Skip is their guy. If any of those committeemen had a problem with Saviano’s Democratic voting record in the State House, or the major financial contributions he regularly makes to, and receives from Democrats, someone would have surely spoken up by now. Saviano has even campaigned for liberal Democrats over good Republican challengers, and few say a peep. (See proof here.)


It was also my sense that Leyden Township alone probably had nearly the weighted vote majority that Saviano would need to win. And there was zero chance of persuading the Leyden Township Committeeman to peel off from his good friend Skip.


Even after recognizing the reality, Charles decided to forge ahead. He wanted to use the race to show the Republican flag and to highlight Saviano’s unbelievable ties to, and support for, liberal Chicago Democrats. If the committeemen wanted to give Saviano another term, at least there would be some attention paid to those votes for a change. It wouldn’t be the usual rubberstamp affair.


Charles did his best to contact the committeemen with a vote in his race. While some were supportive or at least sympathetic, some didn’t even call him back.


I called Charles last Wednesday to wish him luck that night and to thank him for standing up. I wasn’t exaggerating when I told him that he should be very proud to get one committeeman to vote for him out of the 20.


Charles walked in to the Cook County Convention last Wednesday night not knowing a soul – beyond those he had talked with by phone. Saviano was so confident, he didn’t bother attending. He had more than enough lieutenants there to keep things under control.


Charles used his speaking time to make his case, and he even had the confidence of mind to successfully challenge a defective proxy someone had brought to the convention. Everyone had to respect the fact that you aren’t going to intimidate a Chicago Police Detective. Charles has seen it all.


No surprise, Saviano won handily. We still don’t know what the exact weighted vote was – but it turned out that at least two committeemen voted for Charles. And a few others abstained – which maybe means some were getting close to finding their backbones. Maybe they were too afraid to vote against the resident Democrat on our Republican State Central Committee – but they didn’t vote FOR him either.


Hey, in Cook County, that’s progress folks.


Charles Hernandez is exactly the kind of stand-up leader our Illinois GOP needs. Let’s all encourage him to stay involved.


Peter LaBarbera challenged incumbent Roger Claar in the 13th U.S. Congressional District. Unlike the 5th Congressional where Charles ran, the 13th is a solid Republican district, comprised mostly of big chunks of Will and DuPage Counties. The 13th includes only a small corner of Cook.


But despite the many Republicans in the 13th, no one was stepping-up to challenge Claar, a guy with his own ties to the Democrats and an ally of his close friend George Ryan until the very end.


That’s why Peter stepped-up. He thought Republicans at least deserved to hear from an alternative.


Probably every active Republican in Illinois has at least heard of Peter LaBarbera. He’s been in the conservative trenches for many years and he currently heads up Americans for Truth. Peter is the bane of the Loony Left. But the guy is fearless. In the past I’ve witnessed Peter calmly standing up to truly vicious attacks by militant gay activists in particular. Given what I’ve seen Peter put up with, I knew nothing in GOP politics could faze him.


Unfortunately a majority of the elected Precinct Committeemen in the 13th stuck with Roger Claar. But Peter called me afterwards and it was obvious he had a great time campaigning for the post and addressing the DuPage County Convention.


Peter LaBarbera and Charles Hernandez stood up to say our party can do better, and that Republicans deserve better. The trailblazers often don’t succeed their first time out. But hopefully their example will inspire others to join the cause of building a better Illinois Republican Party.


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


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