Thursday, March 9, 2006

How Topinka Could Have Had the Election Iced by Now

The Channel 7 debate of the Republican governor candidates seemed to me like a chasm of lost opportunity for Judy Baar Topinka. Tell you why.

She’s had years to build a staff and put on that staff someone who would serve the state and Judy’s personal interests very well: an expert on the state’s economy and budget. I like to think it would be somebody like Blagojevich has: Becky Carroll, a bright young woman, skilled at looking at numbers and equipped with a writing skill. Moreover, I think I’d put on the staff—or maybe on the Treasurer’s campaign staff—someone who would survey various state governors, cull from them the best ideas, attend groups such as the National State Legislative Association, the Republican Governor’s Association and other organizations and keep a book on fresh, workable ideas. The Republican governor of Minnesota, Tim Palenty is an idea trove; Romney in Massachusetts got elected in a Democratic state; Mitch Daniels in Indiana has ideas on welfare (although I’d steer clear of his tax idea). I’d also sift through other successful governors including Democrats: Janet Napolitano of Arizona, the governor of Michigan. It seems elemental to me that someone like Judy who was thinking of running for governor would have staff assistance to do that.

Having done that for a couple of years, I’d have a skull session with the best fiscal brains I could find and devise a program—fiscal, government administration, education, corrections, child welfare—and have it set forth in a comprehensive fashion. Then before I would announce, I’d make speeches as State Treasurer to various key organizations: Chamber, a labor union, the Economics club. Believe it or not I’d have a section of the speech devoted to personal outlook on God—culled from Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life.” Devise a philosophy that could take into account Judy’s pro-choice position and address various sympathetic constituencies. What about the big suburban church that Clinton spoke at and got such a rousing ovation? You have some family-friendly issues that can pick up the slack. What about programs to help working mothers?

You do that long before you announce. A major speech here, a major speech there, across the state while the momentum builds up that Judy is thinking of running. You have a solid book of ideas: chapters on how to curtail spending, how to make the tax load equitable, how to make education equitable. With that in hand, you sit down with your political planners and devise a time-table; you sit down with the best commercial TV packagers you can find and get an estimated budget. You sit down with the business community, let them in on the ground floor about your ideas; have them agree on a budget.

Is that so unusual? Of course not. I was part of an effort that did the same thing as far back as 1960 when a guy wanted to run for governor in another state—a state heavily blue, dominated by Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and a bevy of Democratic heavyweights with a powerful Democratic governor, Orville Freeman. . By today’s sophistication, what we did was incredibly Middle Ages. I remember the state’s major problem was in its northeast—the Iron Range. Iron ore was running out and there was a huge downturn. Ore was taxed heavily because it was a resource taken from the ground. But the slag that was produced as a byproduct was once viewed as waste material—but could be processed so as to extract ore. It was called “taconite.” My candidate, a businessman, figured out that if the state passed an amendment that allowed taconite to be taxed as a normal manufacturing process rather than as ore, taconite plants could be built and people would be put to work. We checked with the steel plants and they calculated how a renaissance could take place.

Armed with that research, my candidate unfurled what he called a “taconite amendment.” It was immediately assailed by Humphrey and the Democrats but our response was: well, then, what is your plan to put men back to work on the Iron Range? We beat the best the Democrats had. And it wasn’t done with fancy commercials or blunderbuss tactics, but simple logic. Why, I wonder, hasn’t Topinka spent the last few years planning a substantive campaign?

You see, what’s going to beat her isn’t so-called scandal. What’s going to beat her is that she was expected, as one of the state’s top fiscal officers, to come forth with a program based on her long experience that would win editorial support and qualify as a five-star program of reform, administrative excellence—the works. Watching her in the debate leads me to think she’s reacting to issues by pulling gimmicks out of her back pocket. Remember the debate some weeks back when, asked how she would cut the budget, she said she’d stop the renovation of the driveway leading to the governor’s mansion, which isn’t be used anyhow? She was serious.

To me, her lack of planning is stunning. She may get the nomination, but all along I thought she’d be there with a comprehensive program. It’s worse for her not having one than for the others. Jim Oberweis is a private sector guy; Ron Gidwitz is a private sector guy; Bill Brady is a private sector guy and state senator. Not many people would expect them to have a thorough blueprint on state government—but they would of Topinka. Why with all the time she had she didn’t do this is amazing. Simply amazing.


  1. the Combine Conspiracy Theory as articulated by Rauschenberger & Diersen who state that Judy has carefully planned this 2004 when she talked Peter Fitzgerald into moving to Virginia, dumped Jack Ryan, rejected Jim Oberweis, brought in Alan Keyes, had Jim Edgar hold a tearful press conference last fall, and then anounced her grand entrance late last October. According to these guys, she's done all this and more. And frankly, if she did do all that, and has had some minor slips during the campaign, her batting average would still way up there.

    But Tom, I'm with you. I don't buy the all the conspiracy stuff. But I would differ on this point- Oberweis and Gidwitz are still pouring millions into negative ads against her, which means that A) she is still in the lead, or B) she is not in the lead but Oberweis and Gidwitz persist in stupidly wasting their millions shooting at a dead duck. Well, maybe I shouldn't say stupidly, because they may be doing it intentionally.

    Some have said there is a personal motive at work. If this is true, then they are stupidly wasting precious millions that they need in the fall to take on Rod- unless their objective is not to win in the fall, in which case we're in for a Keyes outcome all over again.

  2. Tom makes good points about how a candidate should ideally prepare to run for governor, or U.S. senator for that matter. Those two statewide races receive a level of publicity and scrutiny that is unlike other statewide offices and that is proper. Tom points out that policy advisers can pick up best practices and good ideas at meetings of the Republican Governors Association, and, he adds, the "National State Legislative Association." While there is no such group with that particular name, he might be referring to either the Natioal Conference of State Legislatures ( or the more conservative American Legislative Exchange Council ( I was a founder of the latter group in 1973 and I agree with Tom's main point that the best preparation for any candidate for governor is many years of study of issues that migrate across state lines.
    Illinois has not been a trend-setting state in the state public policy arena for at least thirty-five years since the stroke of Sen. W. Russell Arrington, the Republican leader of the State Senate from Evanston. Illinois is almost never the first state to experiment with new ideas. That is not necessarily bad, it just means that Illinois candidates looking for innovation and new ideas need to be aware of what is going on in other states.
    I am often surprised at how few officials or even staff members from Illinois attend these national conferences. If there is such a thing as isolationism at the state level, that seems to be part of the Illinois political culture and it is a flaw that short-changes Illinois citizens.

  3. I was negligent in my previous comment to point out that State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger has been a hopeful exception to the general rule of state isolationism in Illinois. Not only is he the current president of the National Conference of State Legislatures, but he has also attended many meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council over the last ten years and events of the United States Internet Council. The time he has spent at these national conferences in my view has served his colleagues and constituents well by enabling him to offer new ideas in Springfield that would not otherwise get exposure.

  4. of the Conspiracy Theorizing. But if he has indeed been doing what the article suggests, what does that say about Tom's thesis?

    Perhaps Tom should rewrite this article and retitled it 'How Rauschenberger Could Have Had the Election Iced by Now'.

  5. MR: "Illinois is almost never the first state to experiment with new ideas."

    What? Shoe boxes as lock boxes; exchanging cash gifts at holiday parties; building airports without operations...

    I'd recommend that the current and/or future governor consider withholding Illinois National Guardsmen then commercialize marijuana. Might as well make indictments noteworthy.