Where’s Waldo? State Legislators and Their Caucuses

Here’s an abbreviated version of Webster’s dictionary’s definition of the word “caucus”:

a closed meeting of a group of persons belonging to the same political party … to decide on policy

Did you know that the Republicans have a caucus in both the Illinois state senate and the Illinois state house? It’s easy to assume few people know this since rarely is ever a sound heard coming from them.

Despite the high number of low information voters in Illinois, there is a general awareness that our state has some serious problems. Despite our state constitution requiring a balanced budget, our state government has been running a deficit for many years. If a person pays attention even a little bit they’ve no doubt heard about our state’s bond rating being lowered, our long list of unpaid bills, and our government employee pension crisis.

Illinois even gets a lot of national attention due to the severity of its fiscal problems — so you have to assume there are a good number of Illinoisans who are up on our state’s problems. The problems have been getting worse at a faster rate since the Democrats won the governor’s mansion and both chambers in the General Assembly a decade ago. You would think there would be a backlash against the party of the political left.

If you thought that you’d be wrong. In fact, Illinois Democrats gained a lot of ground in the 2012 election. How can that be? Don’t the polls keep telling us that the public wants to “throw the bums out”? Why hasn’t there been a political earthquake strong enough to turn this ‘blue’ state ‘red’?

There are several reasons for that, of course. The number one problem in politics is always a personnel problem — and the Illinois Republican Party’s leadership has been completely incompetent. Is that too harsh? No. How can you lose to a group of people (the Democrats) that the public knows has screwed up the state?

State legislators hold relatively small offices when you look at a state as geographically big as Illinois. It would be asking a lot to expect any one member of the house or senate to make a statewide impact on public sentiment. There’s good news, however: as I noted above, the Republicans in each chamber caucus together and in a lot of ways work as a team.

One way they’re clearly not working as a team, though, is when it comes to attempting to inform their fellow Illinoisans about exactly what’s wrong and what exactly the Republicans are proposing to do about it. One state senator or state rep is small; as a team, the Republicans in both chambers have sufficient numbers to get statewide attention to their cause.

So why don’t they? I started yesterday’s post with what the book of Proverbs has to say about a lack of vision. That’s what it is. No vision. No imagination. No big thinking. No credible outreach to the voters or even the press. Instead of working as a group to advance one or more policy, the Republican caucuses act as silent bystanders as the state slides further into the hole.

What about the reality that there is disagreement within the caucuses about what to do about any number of issues? I’d argue that if there isn’t enough common ground within the caucus on what the solutions are to the massive problems facing the state then it’s time for the caucus leaders to start thinking about financing primary challenges for their colleagues who might be a better fit inside the Democratic caucus.

Up next: The right and honorable (and useless) members of congress.

First published October 24, 2013.

Image credit: blog.zap2it.com.