Ryan, Topinka, and deja vu

The human capacity for hope is amazing indeed. We know, because we once had hope about the Old Guard of the Illinois Republican Party. At the latter part of the last century a man named George Ryan was running for Governor. Eight years later – history is repeating itself.Maybe you don’t remember. Most conservatives were thrilled in the summer of 1997 when Jim “the haircut” Edgar decided that he didn’t want a third term. The MSI scandal was in the headlines, and in the old days of weak U.S. Attorneys, if you removed yourself from office federal prosecutors more often than not returned the favor and removed you from their sights. Of course the world has changed a lot since then. U.S. Attorney Pat Fitzgerald has arrived.

Back then, conservatives were thrilled because they hoped they might finally see some governing according to Republican platform principles. It was George Ryan’s turn to run for governor, and old timers with long memories recalled a day when George made conservative noises.

In fact, George made a lot of conservative noises in 1998. As he ran for Governor, a lot of his “plans” included solid conservative themes. Hope was kept alive.


Then came January 1999. George was sworn in and had a bag full of big spending and bad policy proposals all ready to go. Competing theories exist as to why history took that turn. Some argue that George never was a conservative. Another was that George’s idol was big spending Jim Thompson and he couldn’t wait to take his turn handing out goodies. There are others.

Regardless, the 1999 spring session of the General Assembly had more bad legislation introduced and passed than had been seen in years. “Illinois First,” Wirtz, and Crisp are now infamous words for those who witnessed the first few month of George’s tenure. The only way it could’ve been worse is if the Edgar/Netch tax swap idea had made it through.

The reason this story is important is that while it happened during the last century, the George Ryan wing of the party hasn’t yet left the scene. Judy’s candidacy is the sequel, and next spring’s G.A. session will be as bad if not worse if Topinka wins this November. You can forget any 11th hour “plans” she might announce this fall to fool those who support the Republican platform.

Sure, there are those conservatives who think Judy will be different because Judy will listen to them. Pardon us while we laugh. Judy’s staff was trained by old guard stalwarts who have been at this for 30 years.  In case you haven’t figured it out yet, they’re not in politics to advance good policy.

We’re students of history and people. We assume the average conservative supporter of Topinka spends a lot of time in front of a mirror marveling at the brilliant political acumen and superior wisdom of the person whose image is reflected back. “You can convert Topinka-ites into reformers,” the muse tells them.


Those of us who have been here before know otherwise. We know the definition of the term “useful idiots,” and have learned from our mistakes. Our hope this time is that history won’t repeat itself, and that a true rebuilding will begin after Topinka loses.