An Open Letter to Illinois Republicans

Dear Fellow Republicans:

After attending the first “Illinois GOP Reform Tour” meeting yesterday in Lisle (DuPage County), let me report that too few Illinois Republicans really understand yet just how ridiculous their Party’s leadership team really is.

Despite having attended political events for over twenty years, I still don’t know exactly how to classify what I witnessed yesterday.

Rank and file Republicans have long suspected that there is severe incompetence at the top of our Party. Especially after the party leadership worked behind the scenes last year to help get Judy Baar Topinka a primary election victory – a woman who couldn’t even get 40% of the vote in the general election against a scandal-ridden incumbent governor.

And after they fielded the most pathetic statewide ticket of candidates in Illinois history. And after they lost five state senate seats and blamed it on the Sunnis and Shiites. And then refused to step down in disgrace.

I’ll leave it to my colleagues to get into more detail in future articles about what took place yesterday. I won’t bother discussing, for example, the post-meeting social gathering at a nearby restaurant featuring Party Chairman Andy McKenna, a handful of political want-to-be-somebody’s, and the Chicago Tribune’s Rick Pearson and the Daily Herald’s Eric Kroll. One can easily suspect what that was all about.

Here’s just a short outline of the event:

  • The amiable DuPage GOP Chairman (and state Senator) Dan Cronin began by welcoming the few hundred assembled in the small hotel meeting room. He then ran through the obligatory list of elected officials present – as if they deserved special recognition for all they’re accomplishing for us in this BLUE STATE.
  • Sen. Cronin then read the ground rules – which were summed up as “keep your mouth shut – if you’ve got a question – write it down and maybe we’ll read it.” Ah, grassroots participation! (If you’re afraid of taking questions from DuPage County Republicans you’ll be afraid of just about anything.)
  • Then Andy McKenna talked about how bad Gov. Blagojevich is. Seriously, he really did. Of course McKenna left out the fact that terrible Rod had crushed Andy’s candidate Judy just last November.
  • Andy then introduced a new website and “web-ad” to the clearly unimpressed meeting attendees. The site is “” – which no doubt is shortened from the more appropriate “”
  • Sen. Cronin then read some of the most unintentionally funny questions to a panel consisting of a state rep, a state senator, an old-guard county party chairman, and Andy McKenna, who took turns answering them like they were starring on a cable access TV show.

Towards the end of the hour Sen. Cronin gave his colleague Sen. Chris Lauzen a chance to explain his support for bringing back direct elections to the party structure. From the reaction of the assembled it clearly was the only time of the evening when they heard an authentic and passionate argument for a real reform.

Most of the rest of the Q&A that proceeded Lauzen’s couple minutes was like a bad skit on a sketch comedy TV show.

Clearly many of the good people who showed up yesterday wanted to give the meeting organizers the benefit of the doubt. But let me tell you – our Party leadership hasn’t earned that benefit.

It would have been fine if this was some little county or township political organization trying something out. But when you get to the level of the state party this kind of experimentation is an exercise in amateurish time-wasting.

Why do I say that? Because competent, intelligent people who truly understand what a state party should do would be doing it. Yesterday’s meeting was just more proof that those with their hands on the steering wheel don’t know how to drive. Andy McKenna doesn’t really know what to do – so he opens a new website.

The most amazing (and scary) thing about the event was that afterwards the organizers seemed happy with what they’d wrought. While I had a dozen or more conversations with activists who were puzzling over what they had just seen, the Party Chairman, the paid staffers and consultants, and a few legislative participants seemed pleased as punch.

One of the people I spoke with afterwards was Dennis LaComb of the United Republican Fund. Dennis told me – unprompted – that we were never going to see any reform until we had completely new leadership in place. I couldn’t agree more – it’s what we’ve been saying all along.

The purpose of this letter isn’t just to fill you in on this silly meeting in DuPage, but to remind you again that until more new people get involved we will not see the desperately needed change in the IL GOP.

In Plato’s Republic the sentiment is expressed that a punishment exists for those who fail to engage the political process:

“Now the worst part of the punishment is that he who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one who is worse than himself.”

Take it from someone who was at the Lisle Hilton yesterday witnessing the first of the “IL GOP Reform Tour” meetings. It’s worse than you think.