Let’s start with a little math.
There are 22 Republicans in the Illinois Senate. Their time in office adds up to approximately 280 years.
There are 51 Republicans in the Illinois House. Their time in office adds up to approximately 480 years.
Despite this seven and a half centuries of combined legislative experience, rank and file Republicans are typically at a loss to figure out what their elected members of the Illinois General Assembly are doing to advance solutions based on their party’s principles.
It’s to the point in this increasingly blue state that if you want to find evidence for why seventy-three men and women in the General Assembly bother calling themselves Republicans, you need to become the equivalent of a Kremlinologist.
Except for some mail pieces in the weeks before election day or a few scattered quotes in the press every now and then, our GOP elected officials are pretty much invisible to the average citizen. Legislators might keep themselves busy, but they sure have little to show for all those years of service. All their “important” work has thus far failed to impact public sentiment on the big issues of the day.
Fixing out of control state pensions? Setting hard and fast priorities for state spending? Truly reforming the failed public school system? Evidently that work is being left to future generations and future politicians.
Some might even think that it’s naiveté on our part to think anything can be improved, or that our elected members in the General Assembly could be made to share the goals of rank and file Republican voters.
Since there is no message heard or any effort to build a political party, legislators are clearly motivated by other things. For some, no doubt, the position makes them feel important. For others, that part time schedule can’t be beat.
Others hold onto their state house or senate seats because it benefits the job they hold in addition to that of state legislator. Quite a few are lawyers, and their role in the General Assembly may well make them mini-rainmakers for their firms. Others, who are, for example, school administrators or insurance agents, have similar angles. The chance to influence on a few policy matters fills the void of actual substantive legislative accomplishment.
In the 1990s Bill and Hillary Clinton spoke of “the politics of meaning.” The Baby Boom generation is big on that kind of psychobabble, just like they are big on compartmentalizing. Similarly, Republican Boomer legislators probably feel good about being in office, and successfully delude themselves into thinking they’re making a difference despite all evidence to the contrary.
Reform Republicans are increasingly out of patience with a flat-line IL GOP, and refuse to remain quiet while men and women in office use the ballot line only to advance only their own selfish agenda. Status quo Republicans view the reformers as wildly idealistic and unrealistic.
Ponder this: If thirty years ago someone would have proposed the construction of a coast-to-coast network of politically powerful interest groups whose sole purpose was garnering ever increasing gobs of tax money, many people would’ve said such a goal is crazy and not possible.
Thirty years later, of course, millions more Americans receive direct subsidies from local, state, and federal government agencies. Public sector unions dictate all policies coming from the Democratic Party. And many more Americans are dependent on business with the government through contracts and grants, and are just as vested in growing government and increasing taxes as any public school administrator.
Now that this new reality exists, it’s not the reformers who are naïve and unrealistic. The people who think that we can limit government without a renaissance and reformation are the ones without a serious strategy. The party apparatus must be modernized and energized. Elected officials must stop acting as small time ward healers.
The best we can tell is that few if any of the individuals in our GOP delegation in Springfield have any desire to do what’s necessary to turn things around. It’s a good guess that most of them either don’t know what to do or no longer think rebuilding is possible.
Voters in this state still, as of April 2008, have no idea why they should vote for a Republican. And a couple of months into yet another General Assembly session, we see no signs of any organized effort by leaders Tom Cross and Frank Watson to change that sad reality.
Frank and Tom, despite all their failures during the past five years, still hold enough power to redeem themselves if they chose to do so. Their silence and inactivity thus far suggests they’re content to see more of the same.