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The GOP’s problems extend well beyond Hastert’s old district

If Jim Oberweis was an exception, GOP congressional prospects in Illinois and around the country this year wouldn’t appear to be so dismal. As things look now, Oberweis’ only saving grace will be that November’s embarrassment will have a much smaller audience than March 8th’s special election did.

The list of what’s wrong in the 14th Congressional District mirrors what’s wrong across Illinois and increasingly across the country. In fact, it wasn’t the first district to “unexpectedly” be won by a Democrat.

Long before Phil Crane finally lost his reelection bid in the 8th district, some of us supported challengers to him not because of his voting record but because it seemed he retired on the job. The 8th district is located in the northeast corner of the state and includes parts of Lake, Cook, and McHenry counties. While those challengers failed, Crane never got the message that he needed to change his ways and so it was only a matter of time before Melissa Bean took the seat for the Dems.

The 14th is getting a lot of attention lately, but the sad reality is that it’s not the only Republican district that might go Democrat this year.

In 2006, Peter Roskam won a tight race to retain the DuPage and northwest Cook based 6th district. It was the long time seat of the late Henry Hyde. The odds are he’ll hold on this year, but he might barely escape with his life again.

Congressman Mark Kirk in the north shore 10th district faces a stiff challenge from Dan Seals, who nearly unseated him in 2006.

State Senator Debbie Halvorson might take the 11th from whoever the Republicans slate to fill the vacancy left by primary winner Tim Baldermann. Baldermann’s withdrawal after winning the primary is yet another huge embarrassment for the Illinois GOP.

As in the 14th, circumstances might allow for Colleen Callahan to defeat Aaron Schock in the 18th. Callahan, age 57, looks like she’s bringing something in the way of life experience that the twenty-something Schock lacks. Comments like this from Callahan could prove effective:

“It’s time to ask someone to represent us who has no interest in becoming a professional politician, but rather someone who hopes to use the political process to become a public servant,” Callahan said.

In Phil Crane’s old 8th Congressional District, Melissa Bean is set to hold on to her seat. The young son-of-a millionaire Steve Greenberg has stepped up to run, but instead of being an effective voice for reform, he cast his lot with the same people who run the state party and surrounded Dennis Hastert. There’s no evidence that bunch has the first clue how to win the hearts and minds of a population that lives in McHenry, Lake, and northwest Cook counties.

Greenberg also has decided to listen to a lot of bad advice from Washington, D.C. An example of this advice is from members of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who don’t exactly have a great track record of late. Members of that campaign committee overlap with the House Republican Study Committee (RSC), which is made up of individuals who mostly possess unrealized potential.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m in agreement with the RSC on most issues. I’m just not in agreement with their strategy for impacting the public’s consciousness and moving the ball forward.

For too long the members of the RSC have played the good soldiers and tolerated weak leadership like Hastert’s. For all their good ideas, they lack vision, and have left unused the combined power of their bully pulpits.

The RSC members certainly don’t understand Illinois. If they did, they would’ve tried to overthrow Hastert. Jim Oberweis’ defeat might lead to some real learning on their part, and surely the disaster set to occur in Illinois next November will help even more.

So how did the Republican Party make such a mess of things in Illinois? How can it be that the Democrats, who offer no proven solutions, gain ground while Republicans lose ground?

Clearly it has been a leadership failure. We’ve written a lot about Dennis Hastert. But state government leaders like former governors Jim Thompson and Jim Edgar were really the ones responsible for establishing a culture that has been a disaster for the Party. Hastert just helped build and strengthen it.

General Assembly caucus leaders like James “Pate” Philip and Lee Daniels also did their part during the decade of the 1990s when the state legislative map favored Republicans. Pate and Lee may have done some good things, but Republicans lost ground every year during their leadership. At the end of their tenure, one Philip advisor summed it up by saying there were no Republican strongholds left in Illinois. Some legacy.

A big fork in the road came for Republicans in late 2002 when Frank Watson replaced Pate Philip as leader in the state senate and Tom Cross replaced Lee Daniels in the state house. In both cases, the wrong path was taken, and we’ve been reaping the consequences ever since.

Things can’t be turned around with this current leadership crew of Cross, Watson, Party Chairman Andy McKenna, and National Committeeman Bob Kjellander. The sooner all four are replaced the quicker a rebuilding can be accomplished.

One good thing about the 14th C.D. getting so much attention is that if the national Republican Party wants to see the future – they need only look at Illinois. Unless, of course, they change their ways.

Up next: A GOP civic and political culture reformation is required.

©2008 John Francis Biver

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