Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Conservative Train Wreck That Didn’t Need to Happen.

Friday morning I was reviewing polls, nationally and statewide. A national poll showed that the American people are energized to the hilt about immigration, almost at the point of demanding something be done about it. And then I calculated: who first raised the issue of immigration reform in Illinois—and I remembered it was Jim Oberweis. He did it not on the spur of the moment to capitalize on an issue, but presciently several years ago when he was running for the U. S. Senate…for which he was assailed by country-clubbers within his own party, the media and Democrats for being a racist. A racist when the entire country and certainly this state has now turned to the direction that he pointed to several years ago.

A second poll was from the 6th district, a supposedly strong Republican area, on the govenorship which shows Judy Baar Topinka running only two points or so ahead of Rod Blagojevich. Someone tried to slough that off to me by saying that this is the effect of Tammy Duckworth on the race. Of course that’s ridiculous: the poll shows the lack of support from the Republican base for a liberal, prematurely orange-haired feminist who has made no bones about despising social conservatives and vowing to oppose the elements of conservative thought that characterize the GOP for what it is. She opposes the marriage amendment that would support marriage between a man and a woman. Imagine. Have we gone so far down the road that a Republican gubernatorial nominee is not only opposed to us on two cardinal points of the Republican platform but on the sanctity of marriage itself?

So after reviewing the two polls, I was driving my car and listening to talk radio. The talk radio station was playing a news excerpt from the forthcoming Channel 5 debate between the governor and Topinka. I mean to watch it when it airs at 9 a.m. Sunday, but as audio it was the most caterwauling, screeching “you-did! I didn’t!” low-life, low-rent debate between adults I have heard in more than fifty years of either reporting politics or participating in it as a partisan. Topinka was saying that Blagojevich is the subject of a federal inquiry and this probe represents the low-point in Illinois governmental history. Blagojevich was responding by saying that 40 people in the George Ryan administration have been indicted and convicted without so much as a peep coming from Topinka as a Republican state constitutional officer.

It was so bad, so tacky, so low-rent that when the audio completed, the news director exclaimed (I paraphrase): “Gee, isn’t there some way we can make a choice that doesn’t involve the baggage that these two are carrying?” That certainly now has to be the view of a majority of Illinoisans. Then the idea hit me harder than ever before that it didn’t have to happen. Social conservatives narrowly topped the vote that she won in the primary—and when you add the very tough economic conservatism of Ron Gidwitz (with zero based budgeting and other issues he expounded)—there was no reason why Topinka became the winner…except one.

She won for the simple reason that State Sen. Bill Brady, a tender 44 years old, a baby robin’s years by political age, a state senator and failed congressional candidate—with an entire lifetime of public service ahead of him, decided to rule or ruin against every remonstration by realists who told him he couldn’t win because he didn’t have sufficient money to advertise on television up here and that he ought to run for a lesser office as a bridge to the future.

Experience in lesser office was the gateway to almost all our governors. Thompson I do not consider a great governor or even much more than a mediocre one: but he earned his stripes as an assistant States attorney and then U. S. attorney. Edgar I do not consider a great governor but he was a state representative, governor’s office liaison and secretary of state before running for governor. Ogilvie, regarded as great only by liberals who were gratified he gave us the income tax, was Cook county sheriff and president of the county board. Stratton, a great governor despite an indictment from which he was acquitted, was state treasurer, congressman-at-large, a losing candidate for secretary of state, then elected state treasurer again and then governor. Dwight Green, an average governor, was a victorious Republican nominee for mayor of Chicago (having defeated Big Bill Thompson), losing to Ed Kelly in the general and then governor. The only person since James Wilson Fifer in 1888 to insist on running for governor directly from a state senatorship, and not even from the vantage-point of Senate leadership, was Brady. Only one person in Illinois history moved to governor from private citizen: Dan Walker.

Early in the game after Brady won the endorsement of the Conservative Summit (not with my vote, initially because I cast the lone vote for Birkett but after which I joined to make the vote unanimous rather than risk a split). Because I thought he might well be a more attractive a candidate than Oberweis, I sought early in the pre-primary period to get Brady funding…took him to meet a very influential finance leader and found that there was not the slightest possibility of interest from major finance sources. Later I told him and his people that. I waited as the pre-primary campaign continued; then satisfying myself that Brady couldn’t win and that his candidacy was endangering conservative prospects, I endorsed Jim Oberweis proudly. Oberweis’ campaign was starting to resonate as the anti-immigration movement swung into gear. Oberweis continued to show the tough guts on immigration and other issues while on many Brady supplied vague generalities.

In desperation as the primary ran on, I urged my conservative friends to support Oberweis because on all conservative issues and economic issues he was a ten-strike. It took no feat of genius to understand that unless Brady withdrew, there was to be a train-wreck. Unaccountably, some of my conservative friends argued Oberweis should withdraw despite his leading Brady in the polls! For one reason or another, people in the engineer’s cab on the Brady train put blinders on and refused to reconsider. It was a matter of pride with them and ego. But the greatest ego tripper of them all was this young man who not daunted by his failure to raise sufficient money, determined like a spoiled little kid that he would accept no substitute, insisting he would run for nothing else but governor no matter the potential train wreck that loomed ahead.

Even so, if he had stayed in the race and had crafted a campaign that pointed out the difference between himself and Topinka, he might have ensured her defeat. Not so. Instead, unaccountably, he resolved to do devastating damage to Oberweis and in debate after debate he made it clear that Oberweis was the enemy. He ridiculed Oberweis’ prior commercials in debates; on most issues, he gave Topinka a pass. Why? Maybe it was because Jim Edgar people had flattered him, telling him he was reminiscent of Edgar as a young man (I have heard that explanation more than once). His key strategist had been a deputy Edgar press secretary: was that a factor? No matter. On election night, before the results were in, Brady telephoned Topinka and counseled her to claim victory very soon, with the result that she claimed victory very early, before many analysts believed she had it in the bag. Brady’s impatience to get Topinka accepted as nominee was something to behold.

Other people played minor roles in the train wreck. There were people committed to the social conservative cause who refused to endorse Oberweis despite that Oberweis was always leading Brady, watching the train wreck that was pre-ordained occur. Whether their own ego got in the way is for them to determine, but they who pride themselves on astuteness and sagacity sat still until the train wreck.

Because of selfishness, ego and high self-regard as eminences gris have precipitated the train wreck, here is the condition we conservatives find ourselves: At a time when immigration reform is burning up the country with the possibilities of voters using that as a yardstick—although Illinois has had a candidate who raised it early and presciently—we have bargained away the issue by defeating by a narrow margin a man who could have capitalized on it for Republicans and would have mobilized movement politics here that could elect many others including some congressional candidates who could benefit from that power today…bargained it away as we watched the 44-year-old who would not withdraw…bargained it away by not taking steps to see that, if Brady wouldn’t withdraw, endorsements could be made for Oberweis…bargained it away by not complaining when Brady kept Oberweis in his gun-sights during the primary.

We could have had a social conservative Republican nominee running right on the issues topping it off with immigration reform when through petty, suicidal madness, social conservatives sat there and watched it happen. I don’t blame anyone who voted for Ron Gidwitz who was an honorable candidate and a social liberal—and they properly decided he more nearly reflected their views. But I do blame lots of my fellow social conservatives who would rather have Topinka than one who agreed with them because of the most petty of reasons. I know more than one person who received a last-minute call from Oberweis asking for an endorsement at a time when Brady’s loss to him was foreshadowed. Oberweis pleaded, saying his endorsement would mean a very great deal. He was turned down. The arrogance of that denial almost but not quite matches the arrogance of Brady who was emboldened by his claque (“atta-boy, Bill. Stick with it!”) and would not back down.

This election will not only be a defeat for the Republicans: it is a bitter one because of conservative Brady suicide troops who could recognize at the end that we must coalesce…and who turned thumbs down. Private counseling to Brady—if it occurred at all—that he should run for State Treasurer is not enough when such counseling was just that—private. Refusal of Brady to withdraw was one thing: his rising up and beating Jim Oberweis over the head and shoulders is quite another. For that and with good reason he was rewarded with the Topinka lip-smack in return for the Judas kiss that sealed the triumph of the election.

I have said before that the governorship is an election conservatives cannot win, the choice being either short-term or long-term. Reelection of Blagojevich, bad in the short-range, would at least spur a takeover of the Republican party by forces who want to rebuild. Election of Topinka would be worse because it would hand the official reins of the GOP to enemies as bitter against conservatives as if the incumbent were George Ryan with little likelihood that the combine would be dislodged in 2010.

Our current circumstance was caused by arrogance and refusal to recognize a need to compromise on personalities even when issues are agreed upon. To me, the failure of imagination, the stony-hearted refusal to endorse Oberweis…or at the least to make a public warning about the imminence of disaster in the events leading up to the March primary… were stunning. Now after the debacle, Brady, with no further experience, still holding no higher office than state senator, no statewide experience beyond precipitating the train wreck…will likely be asking for help to further advance his career.

I have to look askance at the people who rode in the engineer’s cab, cheering Brady on, as the train roared down the track. The only way this dreadful experience can be made profitable in the future is for those who either rode in the cab or did nothing to acknowledge their short-sightedness.

But asking them to admit error on this one is akin to forcing them to acknowledge human fallibility: it’s not going to happen.


  1. I think Brady has lost conservative votes and financial backing in the future due to his actions this spring.
    I haven't seen something like this here since the 1983 Chicago mayoral election.

    I don't care what the polls say now - Blago will trounce Judy and I won't lose any sleep over it.

    In November we will be singing "Ding Dong the witch is dead". Rove's man Kjellander needs to go as well so Illinois can rebuild its party from the bottom up.

  2. Tom, again you say that defeat in 2006 will "spur a takeover of the Republican party by forces who want to rebuild." What is going to be different this year than in 2002 when we were also defeated? Nobody is going to hand the Party to social conservatives no matter how many defeats occur. I was a ward committeeman in Chicago from 2000 -2004. Social conservatives were few and far between in that group. Why? Because they don't run for the jobs. I was the Republican candidate against Jesse Jackson, Jr. in the 2nd Congressional in 2002. Social conservatives could not be bothered with that election because they told me it was "suicide." Of course it was suicide! It is a 90% Democrat district! But Jesse had never been seriously challenged before and to build a Party you need candidates running for all positions. So rather than rely on social conservatives, of which I am one, I relied on my labor union friends and contacts and got more votes against Jesse than any of his opponents before or since. I still have more than 200 letters from people who said I was the only Republican they have ever voted for. Social conservatives have to build the Party by doing the hard work. No one is going to hand it to them no matter what grievances they have against Topinka.

  3. Lovie's LeatherMay 27, 2006 at 9:10 AM

    Tom, Obee lost, face it, it's over. If he had withdrawn from the race, Bill Brady would be the nominee. So you can whine about your pettyness against Topinka for beating your hero. But the fact is, it is Oberweis's own fault for losing for the type of campaign he ran down to his shrillness against JBT. I admit, Judy isn't the best candidate. I was a Gidwitz guy myself. But she is a better option than Governor Rod Roddy Blagojevich. When optimistic people lose, they find a way to get better. You and Obee just wallow in self-pity. Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it!!!

  4. Yvonne M. ArentzMay 28, 2006 at 3:45 AM

    Thank you for your remarkable statements. These are words that needed to be said and commend you on the courage you have shown to present it to the public. You are head on with this. Thank you again, Yvonne M. Arentz Kane County Coordinator for Jim Oberweis 110 Railroad Street, East Dundee, Illinois 60118 847-212-3376

  5. Lovie
    Since I have a very personal interest in the whole primary, I will stay out of this argument in every aspect but one.
    Even if Oberweis dropped out of the race Senator Brady had NO chance of winning! zip zilch nada!
    He was the first one in the race he was in the single digits as late as January. It is not enough to say "I am a conservative" and expect to win no matter how great a candidate you have. You have to invest time and money to creat a statewide organization, you have to have boots on the ground and you have to have money to get on TV and in Mailboxes. In each case Senator Brady failed to even compete. Senator Brady told people he had or was promised and would spend 3 to 5 million dollars (Berkowitz Oct 31st 2005.) Senator Brady never had a serious campaign he never had a chance to win the primary and in my opinion never wanted or thought he was going to win. So why the attacks against Oberweis? Only Brady and his advisors know.

  6. A few points:

    1. Tom, your writings on the recently decided primary lack objectivity and seem to reveal personal animosity.

    2. Drudging up the matter, especially when it is so fresh in people's memories, opens wounds and schisms among conservatives that haven't had the chance to heal, and tends to diminish conservatives chances of uniting in the future.

    3. Mr. Oberweis was not entitled to the nomination, regardless of the amount of his personal wealth. Mr. Leahy admits that Brady got in race first. Brady led at that point. Why then did Oberweis get in the race after there was already a good conservative in the race?

    4. As to the substance of your comments, there were many good reasons for conservatives to not vote for Oberweis. I personally was appalled at the unprincipled way in which his campaign was run, and his connections to the wizard of Carpentersville.

    For the sake of future conservative unity, I won't go into the rest.

  7. Candidate Votes Pct
    Topinka 272,414 37.98
    Oberweis 228,073 31.80
    Brady 133,500 18.61
    Gidwitz 77,382 10.79
    Martin 5,913 .82

    If Illinois conservatives want a winner in a GOP gubernatorial primary, get your state legislators to support instant run-off voting for state primaries and general elections. No GOP gubernatorial candidate had over 50% last March. If the bottom vote getters had their supporters' votes redistributed to their second choices, the conservative Oberweis probably would have won, maybe easily.

    For those conservatives who can not support Judy and will not vote for Governor Blagojevich in November, the Green Party of Illinois will extend a welcome.

    Join the petition drive for the Illiois slate. Visit

    Encourage Tom to invite Rich Whitney and the other Green candidates to join him as guests on his show.

  8. Lovie's LeatherMay 28, 2006 at 8:22 AM

    With a run-off, Judy still might have won. Some of Brady's support came from the establishment Republicans who are disgruntled with Judy. So, while it would have been close, I would have to give it to Judy. I really do think Oberweis did have a good chance to win. But he ruined it for himself by his actions at the end of the campaign. His disingenuos actions lead to his downfall... and him looking like a total psycho. The odd people that worked the campaign didn't help either. I recall, with the Rauschenberger campaign, all of the crap Obee said to us... like when it was cold out and we offered him a jacket and he said, "I would rather freeze to death than take your help." Yeah great guy... too bad he's not governor.

  9. Tom! I could not agree more. As the Statewide Youth Director for the campaign and the President of the Society of Conservative Students, I saw first hand the damage that Brady did. Had he gotten out, I know Jim would have been the next Governor and would not only serve conservatives but all Illinoisans... and do it proudly!

  10. Lovie's LeatherMay 28, 2006 at 10:35 PM

    Hey Jeffrey, I remember meeting you up in Elgin. Sorry about Obee, but none of my people won either, and I am still sticking with the Republican party because I know that we are the ones that can govern Illinois better. Conservative GOP, please don't sell us out!!!

  11. Tom,

    Having seen some of Oberweis' immigration commercials, I can tell you that he never had a chance to win the general election. All Blagojevich would've had to do to win would be replay them all over the state.

  12. D Thomas

    I have to clarify something. Yes Senator Brady was the first to start an exploratory committee BUT Oberweis was the first offical candidate. On April 15th Oberweis announced and from then on it was a two person race Judy and Jim O. Read the reports from that day and you will see even though JBT would not announce until 12/20. So Brady saw poll numbers that had him not showing up, zero name recognition after almost 4 months of campaigning. So offically Jim Oberweis was the first candidate

  13. Geeze louise. Get off this if Brady dropped out. If he dropped and let's say for kicks that Ober won. We would have lost HUGE in November. Ober was self-imploding. He came out with silly stuff and when he would have been VERY SOUNDLY defeated in November, would have made Keyes defeat seem like a close race.

    Please just get over the fact that your boy lost and Brady had nothing to do with it.