The Illinois Race for Governor: The State Could Be Purple in a Cycle and Red by 2020

That’s what I’ve been telling people — Illinois can be competitive again for Republicans by 2016 and back to its formerly red state status by the year 2020. But not with Bruce Rauner and all the wrong people running the party.

Unsurprisingly, the Rauner campaign has been hiring some of the most infamous political hacks in Illinois. Names we haven’t seen or heard since the Judy Baar Topinka for governor campaign or since Denny Hastert’s career was finally put out of its misery — are back on the payroll.

The party’s State Central Committee is still dominated by people who can’t think their way out of a wet paper bag. Too few GOP county and township chairmen have an understanding of the potential of their organizations. Political hangeroners and patronage employees still crowd out the kind of activists that would be worth something with the right leadership.

The General Assembly Republican caucuses are as flat-line as ever. Legislative leaders continue to be unimpressive, but my complaint is now more with the silent conservatives that populate the caucuses because 1) they empower lackluster leaders, and 2) they demonstrate no vision for reaching their fellow citizens with a reform message.

That’s a pretty depressing rundown, I know, but for those of you just joining us in politics, you can get caught up on what’s been taking place in Illinois for many years by clicking deep into the archives here, here, and here.

In light of this, what explains my seemingly crazy optimism about what’s possible?

First, there is a growing number of people who understand the political problem and the solution. Second, and I’ve lived most of my life in Illinois and I know this isn’t Vermont or California, Massachusetts or Oregon. Illinois is surrounded by purple and red states, and the people of Illinois are not much different from their neighbors.

The political problem continues to be summed up in one word: personnel. Start changing the personnel and Illinois residents will begin to hear a message they haven’t heard since the 1998 campaign, and before that, Reagan’s re-election in 1984.

Illinois government is a mess on so many levels yet voters here keep reelecting the same group of people. Why is that? It’s simple. I’ll let Allysia Finley explain it as she did in her Wall Street Journal article “Quinn Has Big Lead in New Poll”:

One lesson from the 2012 presidential election is that voters will re-elect an unpopular incumbent if they don’t believe there’s a credible alternative.

And here you can actually make that plural, “incumbents.” Of both parties. Many Illinois Republican elected officials who are basically worthless enjoy long political careers. Some even run statewide after lackluster legislative stints. You can’t blame it all on Democrats, and in fact Illinoisans in the know — know that it’s the Illinois GOP that is the real problem.

Those of us who have been diagnosing the ills and prescribing the cures for what ails the “grand old party” have mostly been ignored. We’re the ones who have been thinking long term, unafraid of challenging failed leadership, and clear about what is needed to bring about a renaissance: hard work, cleaning house, and the construction of a party with people who are in it for the right reasons.

Sounds like a bunch of over-simplified goody-two-shoes garbage, doesn’t it? I’ve got some news for you that might be shocking so you might want to sit down:

  1. Personnel matters in politics. The Illinois GOP is in the shape it’s in because of its lousy personnel.
  2. Politics has a lot of parallels to the business world — character and competence in leadership can make all the difference.

For an example of numbers 1 & 2 read about Sergio Marchionne, a kind of Mr. Goody-Two-Shoes CEO of Fiat who came in to revive Chrysler a few years ago. It’s not complicated, folks, it’s really not.

Watch the video below and apply it to IL GOP politics. If the working of party politics is a mystery to you, don’t worry — it is a mystery to over 95 percent of activists too. You don’t need to know the “inside baseball” to see the principle.

Now, some people reading this might get confused and think, hey, Bruce Rauner is a business guy like Marchionne! Wrong. Next time let’s look at Rauner’s record in business.

In the meantime, enjoy this 14 minute video from 60 Minutes: