Support for Direct Elections will continue to be a litmus test

Earlier this year Illinois Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna’s announced that there would be no litmus tests for Republican candidates in 2010. As usual, poor Andy was exactly wrong. In fact, one big litmus test has been added in 2009: whether or not a person supports voting rights for rank and file Illinois Republicans.

After all, the Republican failures we’ve seen in Illinois have been Party failures first. Any candidate aligning themselves with the old guard failed McKenna bunch by opposingSB600 has picked the wrong side. And as the field of Republican candidates for governor gets fatter, it will nevertheless remain easy for GOP voters to distinguish between those who get it and those who don’t when it comes to the need for new Party leadership.

The list of failures is long. We’ve lost all of the state constitutional offices – as well as seats in the U.S. House, U.S. Senate, Illinois House and Illinois Senate. It doesn’t get any more thorough than that. Republican Party participation and GOP voter identification in Illinois is at the lowest point in years.

How can a state that was “red” not that long ago turn blue so quickly? One of the best ways is to disallow rank and file Republicans from choosing their own party leadership. That is exactly what a small cabal of party bosses did – and what SB600 seeks to undo.

Just because George Ryan is in prison, Judy Baar Topinka is playing the accordian in her basement and Dennis Hastert is getting rich representing foreign countries doesn’t mean Republican troubles are a thing of the past. In fact Ryan, Topinka and Hastert staffers still pull a lot of strings meaning key people in party and public office are actually just puppets. Staff matters. As long as these failed behind-the-scenes players exercise influence, the IL GOP is going nowhere.

Why? Because their chief aim is not – and never has been – to grow the party. Do you wonder why we have no “political bench”? It’s on purpose. Like Chicago Democrats – these old guard Republicans “don’t want nobody nobody sent.”

Someone said to me just yesterday that at least the Democrats recognize talent when they see it. That’s one reason why Illinois Democrats have got a solid bench of candidates ready to win handily next year here even as the GOP nationally is positioned to gain ground.

Why don’t policy failures result in defeat at the ballot box for Illinois Democrats? Because most Illinois Republicans who are in office don’t understand their job or the role the party can play.

Today is a good day for Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno and her colleagues who supported SB600 in the senate to take along a group of reform minded state house Republicans on a walk over to SpeakerMike Madigan’s office. My bet is that if they ask Mike to call SB600 this week – he will. And we’ll then find out which Republicans in the state house pass the test of supporting SB600. We already know who has failed that test in the state senate.

The Chicago Tribune’s John Kass wrote on the topic just after the 2006 IL GOP general election failure: “GOP voters need broom to clean house.”

SB600 sponsor Senator Chris Lauzen summed it up:

“I would rather cast my lot with the Republican primary voters, than with the current party leadership in picking our state party officials… At the end of the day, Republican primary voters will do a better job in selecting our state party leaders than our current system.”

It should be obvious to everyone but it isn’t—political reform is the precursor to policy reform.