IL GOP officials make desperate attempt to keep their titles

By DOUG IBENDAHL • March 11, 2011


Well Republicans, here we go again.


The Illinois Republican Party’s State Central Committee (“the SCC”) held its quarterly meeting in Springfield Wednesday night. This is our State Party’s senior governing board – those 19 individuals that 99.99% of Republican voters still get no say in choosing.


And in a desperate attempt to guarantee that you never get a say in choosing your representative on the SCC – that same SCC sought to further entrench itself Wednesday night.


A few want to distract from true reform regarding the way we select the members of our SCC. This is just the latest red herring intended to con the rubes. Don’t be one of them.


Real reform means real accountability and real elections – and that’s what SB35 (formerly SB600) is about. As an aside, the legislative process on the bill had to begin all over again with the start of the new General Assembly Session in January. In fact just yesterday, SB35 won a big victory when it passed out of the State Senate’s Executive Committee.


You may recall that in the prior General Assembly there was similar panic among the same usual suspects as SB600 began its legislative march forward. Days after SB600 passed out of Senate committee in March of 2009, the SCC enlisted a very expensive Washington, D.C. law firm (one with a lot of big name Democrats in fact) – and they promised to sue the taxpayers of Illinois if Republicans got back their right to vote. No, I’m not kidding. Read our story from back then here.


Andy McKenna was State Party Chairman back then. Now it’s Pat Brady. Different faces but basically just interchangeable, clueless patsies for the same failed political culture. The “sue the taxpayers over better democracy” thing was a huge embarrassment for McKenna so now Brady is enlisted to try a new scam.


Back to Wednesday night’s meeting. Behind closed doors – in secret executive session – the SCC adopted the following amendment to the Illinois Republican Party’s bylaws:


Proxy voting at county conventions shall not be permitted except that the newly-elected County Chairman of any county shall cast the vote for any precinct (in the case of Cook County – any ward or township) not represented at such county convention in the same proportion that the elected Precinct Committeeman, City of Chicago Ward Committeeman, or Cook County Township Committeeman shall have cast their votes.


State Party officials are now patting themselves on the back, crowing that they’ve solved the infamous “voting of vacant precincts by GOP County Chairmen” problem. Not only is that completely untrue for starters – but the bylaw amendment specifically states that vacant precincts will be voted by the County Chairmen!


This is ridiculousness and dishonesty on a whole new level for Illinois politics – and that’s saying a lot.


No one is more concerned than I about the incredibly high vacant precinct rate in our party. In fact that’s why I’m so committed to the Republican Precinct Project.


But that’s a separate issue from SB35. In fact the amendment just adopted by the SCC is only going to make the work of serious Republicans harder. But Pat Brady and the SCC clearly don’t care. In fact they’re deliberately trying to confuse the issue.


What the SCC just did was to create yet another bad incentive for a selfish GOP County Chairman (and yes, while a distinct minority, there are a few out there among the 102) – to not work to recruit good Precinct Committeemen. The message being sent is the more vacancies you have in your county – the more “power” you’ll have every four years when members of the SCC are picked.


Further, some Precinct Committeemen will only be recruited for their votes for a certain candidate for State Central Committeeman. Once the County Convention is over and their vote has been harvested, they’re never seen again on the field. That’s already a common occurrence.


What the SCC did Wednesday night isn’t a “compromise” and it’s certainly not a step forward. It’s just the latest cynical con.


The real problem is that our current system for selecting the SCC is flawed to the core. Vacant precincts are encouraged by our current system – and even if voting them was truly ended – that wouldn’t even begin to remedy the problems. Vacant precincts are just the tip of the iceberg.


The basic problem with our current system is the complete lack of accountability. That was evident yet again this week when silly bylaw amendments were made in secret behind closed doors. We’ve also seen it repeatedly in the rigged conventions, the bad management, the use of the State Party’s resources for the benefit of favored candidates in primaries, the constant dishonesty – and of course the lousy elections and near complete takeover of state government by the Democrats.


I’ll of course be writing more on this subject, but here are just a few more reasons why the bylaw change is silly.

  • Under our current system, one SCC member is chosen from each U.S. Congressional District. Of the 19 districts, 11 are located all or partially in Cook County. Well Cook County doesn’t even elect Precinct Committeemen! That’s by law. So all the talk about “vacant precincts” isn’t even relevant to the county where a majority of the SCC members come from! In all of Cook, only 80 committeemen (50 Ward and 30 suburban Township Committeemen) get any say at all in choosing the SCC under our current system. Some SCC members are chosen by fewer than 5 people. (And yes, there are Republicans in Cook County. In fact in the typical election, Cook all by itself produces around a quarter of the statewide Republican vote. Even second place DuPage brings in far less than half the Cook total. That of course has very little to do with the strength of the GOP in Cook – and almost everything to do with just the sheer concentration of people.
  • Pat Brady said in a statement yesterday: “This amendment is good for the Party. It empowers the Precinct Committeemen.” That’s absolutely absurd. Rank-and-file Republicans remain completely shut-out of course, but even Precinct Committeemen are disenfranchised. For example if you’re the typical Precinct Committeeman casting your modest weighted vote, your “power” is pretty much non-existent relative to one person, a County Chairman, who could easily be casting thousands of votes representing vacant precincts. In the largest counties, a single County Chairman would be casting tens-of-thousands of weighted votes. In many cases, there’s little reason for an individual Precinct Committeeman to even show up at his or her county convention.
  • And last but not least, the voting of vacant precincts is already prohibited by Illinois law! The bylaw amendment adopted Wednesday night clearly runs afoul of the Illinois Election Code at 10 ILCS 5/7-8(a), which reads in part: “Each ELECTED ward, township or precinct committeeman shall cast as his vote one vote for each ballot voted in his ward, township, part of a township or precinct in the last preceding primary election of his political party.” [Emphasis added.]

In other words, the system we currently use for picking the SCC is bad and irreparably flawed – but even its governing statute says only elected committeemen are supposed to have a vote for members of the SCC. We sounded the alarm about this fact last year well in advance of the county conventions. (See for example here and here.) But Pat Brady and the SCC chose to ignore the law. They deemed keeping themselves in power more important. The result was a disaster.


It’s clear that our Illinois GOP officials have learned nothing. What happened Wednesday night was all about incumbent protection. Once again we’re witnessing failed, utterly clueless officials who don’t want to give up their little perks and privilege. They want to keep putting their own selfish interests ahead of the Party and you – the Republican voter. It’s just one more illustration of exactly why we must return to direct elections for the members of the SCC.


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


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