Second chance for the Illinois GOP

Dan Proft Dec. 21, 2008, 9:00am

Six months ago, the conviction of Tony Rezko was met with unrestrained glee by those with leadership titles in the Illinois Republican Party.

On November 4, Illinois Republicans lost two longtime GOP Congressional seats (those vacated by Hastert, Weller), a net three State Representative seats, and witnessed the incursion of Democrats on to county boards in what were once the hallowed Republican collar counties of Will, DuPage, and McHenry.

Last week, the arrest of Rod Blagojevich was met with unrestrained glee by those with leadership titles in the Illinois Republican Party. They love that hamster wheel.

There is virtual unanimity that Blagojevich should be removed from office. If he declines to take the stairs, he will be exited out the window. Either way, he is done.

What is less clear is whether Republicans can make contact with the spinning curve ball that has been lobbed in their direction or if they will remain content to boo the pitcher from the stands.

Early indications are not encouraging as the state Republican Party just released a television commercial in support of a special election for Obama's Senate seat that attacks Lt. Governor Pat Quinn while referencing Lisa Madigan, Mike Madigan and Dick Durbin as "leaders."

Putting Pat Quinn in the crosshairs on corruption while promoting the Madigans and Durbin as part of the solution is like attempting to take down a Colombian drug cartel by targeting the teenage drug mule while lauding the kingpins as job-creating small businessmen.

So before those in charge of the Illinois Republican Party endorse Lisa Madigan for Governor or make some other such counter-intuitive offering, let me suggest in vain what I have suggested party leaders do since the Rezko conviction.

Two things.

First, make the "Chicago 9" wear the jacket for what has occurred on their watch. It is not just Blagojevich. It is also Rich Daley, Emil Jones, Mike & Lisa Madigan, Jesse White, Dan Hynes, Alexi Giannoulias, and Todd Stroger. These nine Chicago Democrats control $70 billion worth of government and 125,000 public sector jobs in Illinois. They operate the levers of power in this state. They should all be held to account.

Second, instead of exhibiting unbridled jubilation, Republicans should display humility and contrition. Apologize to Illinois citizens for past bad acts and bad actors (particularly with George Ryan inconveniently in the news again). Explain to Illinoisans that the party as it existed a decade ago is not the party that it is today, that there are new leaders emerging with fresh ideas that substantively address the salient concerns of Illinois families. Petition for their renewed consideration in the wake of what the Chicago 9 have wrought.

If Republicans cannot distinguish themselves in this environment, then we will deserve our irrelevant status.

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Illinois Governor Pat Quinn
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