By Ron Brzoska
Since last Tuesday, I have seen a number of news reports and articles telling us what the results of the Illinois primaries mean for us that live here, and how it projects to the rest of the country. Since they completely miss the mark, I am compelled to relate my experience and tell you what I have learned.
If one general conclusion can be drawn and a brush swept broadly across a banner in the sky, this is what it would have to say. This is quite a statement when you compare it to the bloodbath Illinois experienced in November of 2012. I should be more specific. The ILGOP establishment is weaker than ever before. I say this for a number of reasons. First and foremost is Bruce Rauner. The final tally will say that he only won by three points. This is a misnomer. Rauner would have won by well over ten points in a four man field if it weren't for the massive GOTV effort made by the unions that came to back Kirk Dillard. The party is now embracing Bruce Rauner, but they need to do some introspection and answer these questions for themselves:
  • After the debacle of 2010, why weren't they able to recruit a field better than two retreads and a one that would be easy to blackmail? Did they try?
  • Is it ok for republicans in Illinois to recruit from voter bases that are decidedly not Republicans only to be beholden to them later.
  • Will Bruce Rauner be as interested in furthering the Republican party as he has been in furthering his own ambitions?
  • Will the Rauner voters stay with the party after he is gone?
  • Why was the only real hope and excitement for Illinois' future provided by someone who is known as Rahm Emmanuel's vacation buddy?
Another area of weakness was exhibited by the House Republican Organization (HRO). They seem to favor compliance over participation in the political process. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars protecting their candidates from primary challenges. This has House Minority Leader Jim Durkin beside himself. He was so upset that he held a press conference where he sounded more like an Occupy Wall Street protester lamenting the Koch Brothers than a Republican leader. He was not happy with the dollars spent by Liberty PAC, Illinois Family Action, and others to unseat incumbents that had voting records that Michael Madigan approved of, but their constituents did not. When asked if those same restrictions and levels of transparency should be applied to the HRO, Durkin refused to answer. Do as I say and not as I do.
This weakness manifested itself in the nastiness exhibited in this election. You have the ugliness of the Rutherford scandal. Then there was Goel v Kaifesh, Sandack v Matune, Sullivan v Bednar, Gorman v Bellar, and others. Without rehashing any of the details and bad blood, it is safe to say that strong leadership within the ILGOP would not have tolerated it and candidates would have been less inclined to behave that way in the first place.
The last point demonstrating Republican weakness, was some Republican candidates appealing to Democrats to vote for them as a last resort. While theses candidates never uttered the words "Democrats, vote for me" their operatives actively made calls, posted on social media, and handed out fliers. The polling firm of Ogden and Fry has reported that approximately 65,000 votes for Kirk Dillard could be attributed to Democratic crossover votes. There obviously had to be some kind of effect down-ballot. I'm certain that my state rep district was decided by Democrats. I know teachers that were called and told to pull republican ballots, and I saw democrats tell my state rep that they voted for him. Ask yourself what if this happened in our governor's race. What if Dillard had won, and he had the Democrats to thank? He didn't run a social conservative platform (he made appeals, but it was not the thrust of his race). What couldn't the Republicans offer that an "outsider" could?  Could we have been proud of that?
There were encouraging signs however. Although they didn't win their races, the campaigns of Doug Truax and Chris Balkema have to be eye openers. Both were a lot closer than expected and there is reason to believe that Democratic crossover would have benefitted them. God willing, this is not the last we hear of these two conservatives.
We also got some great victories across the state of Illinois. We have a promising candidate to take on Tammy Duckworth in Larry Kaifesh (CD-8). A handful of state reps give us a reason to feel the future is bright in election night winners Mark Ekhoff (34th), Jeannie Ives (Re-elected in district 42, but faced an establishment challenger), Peter Breen (48th), Keith Wheeler (50th), John D. Anthony (75th), Mark Batinick (97th), and Reggie Phillips (110th). Along with these gains are stories of victories in every county across the state. We have something to believe in and are waking up. Let's keep it going.