Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Good News and Bad in the Illinois Election.

[From an article in The Wanderer, the nation’s oldest national Catholic Weekly].

By Thomas F. Roeser

CHICAGO—The good news is that the Illinois Republican party is on life support. Literally. Life support: in that it has replaced that venerable supporter of unborn life, Henry Hyde, with his personal choice to continue his legacy: State Senator Peter Roskam.

And the bad news is also that the Illinois GOP is so weak it is on life support, even at the point of gurgling its last death gasp. The state (a) reelected a Democratic governor who is under serious probe by the feds for corruption, (b) elected as state treasurer a Democratic banker the scion of a clout-heavy Greek family, who at age 30 has no political experience, just wads of dough (which secured him the endorsement of Barack Obama, the U.S. Senate’s ethics model), the winner an insouciant youngster who has admitted granting loans to Outfit figures, defending his action by averring the mobsters were good loan prospects.

. In addition, (c) voters of Cook county, a jurisdiction with a roughly 60-40 ratio of white to black, voted for patronage first (either to protect their county jobs, family jobs or contracts) and next voted black skin pigmentation, electing as president of the Cook county board a proven incompetent, an African American Catholic pro-abort alderman who will not even hold a seat on the board he will reputedly govern over a white Republican board member, a Catholic pro-lifer, with an encyclopedic knowledge of county programs and a vision of political reform.

But it could have been a lot worse. The bright spot here was the election of state Senator Peter Roskam to the House from the suburban 6th district (the area surrounding O’Hare field) to succeed Hyde, the Catholic pro-lifer who by all odds has been the ranking hero on moral issues—unborn life, anti-euthanasia, embryonic stem cell--in the House for the past 32 years.

The young Anglican (who has criticized his flabby, liberal Episcopal church and affiliated with the traditional, more conservative church of England) is almost as close a clone to Hyde as can be found. The go-to legislator on social issues in Springfield, he won election over the toughest opponent Illinois Democratic strategist Rahm Emanuel thought he could find: a charming, female Army major in Iraq who as a helicopter pilot survived a mortar attack that took her two legs. She is Tammy Duckworth, born in Hawaii who gained national attention in a campaign orchestrated by the perversely brilliant Emanuel who is chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign committee. He made only two mistakes, borne of his over-enthusiasm for ideology. He newly-minted Duckworth as a pro-abort and elbowed out of contention an attractive woman candidate who had given Hyde a fairly tough battle in 2004, spurring anger and repercussions among Democrats. The irony is that by cracking too many heads in the district to get Duckworth elected, the abrasive Emanuel may have sealed the doom of his candidate in the general election.

But the 6th district was the only bright spot for Republicans. The 8th district which had been represented so long by Philip Crane, who had caused it to be neglected by allowing himself to go to seed through wantonly careless personal habits, continued with Democrat Melissa Bean who won over a valiant pro-lifer, Republican investment banker and good Lutheran layman, David McSweeney.

Roskam led Duckworth, a beguilingly charming candidate, who evoked tears and cheers as she campaigned on two metal stilts the surgeons gave her for legs, 51.5% to 48.5%. The eighty-two year-old Hyde, confined to a wheel-chair, made a few appearances for Roskam but will be able to retire now with surety that his seat will continue to be filled by a bright advocate for life.

In a sense the story of election day 2006 here in Illinois was like the words told me in 1954 by the last Union veteran of the Civil War whom I interviewed for the Associated Press in a story that ran nationally. Confined to bed with an IV up his nose supplying him with oxygen, a hose running through his arm and clappers nearby to jump start his failing heart, 107-year-old Albert Woolson of Duluth, was not particularly interested in talking to the press. But, propped up with pillows so he could breathe, he looked at me with near-sightless saucer-blue eyes when I asked him the usual journalistic cliché: what was the most notable thing that has happened to you in those 107 years? He croaked: “That I have survived!” It trumped anything else that happened to him along the way…from Gettysburg where he was a 14-year-old drummer boy…past the Gilded Age of railroad barons in the era of Grant and Garfield…past Grover Cleveland’s depression…the McKinley boom…the Spanish-American war…the First World War…the 20’s boom…the 30’s depression…the Second World War and the Korean War. He repeated: “Did you get what I said?”

I did indeed. The Illinois Republican party is in the same fix and much of it has an Illinois connection. First, there was the issue of the Iraq War led by Illinois’ Donald Rumsfeld. We first met when, about the same age, we were working across the hall as junior aides to different Congressmen. Then the girls called him “Pretty Donnie,” an ex-Navy jet pilot, who had scored top honors at Princeton and was a national wrestling champ. We’d eat lunch together in the House cafeteria every day. He’d always pick up the same thing; fruit, cottage cheese and douse it with ketchup. When I asked him what was wrong with a little variety, he said, “It’s easier this way. I’ve made a decision on what I eat for lunch and see no reason to change.” That told me a whole lot about him which later came home to me during his years of adamant refusal to change a whit about the war.

Second, there was the failure of the Republican House to live up to its conservative mandate. A major blame comes to Illinois. The House machinery was run by a group of Illinois staffers hired by the accidental Speaker Denny Hastert about whom I reported before. Denny was a fry cook in his family’s Fox River Valley restaurant and a small town high school wrestling coach who also taught a bit of history and took a summer class I taught for high school instructors’ brush-up at Loyola. Rumsfeld has certainty but has thought about things. Not Denny. He moves his eyebrows up and down, twirls his glasses, leans forward and looks like he’s about to say something meaningful but never does. You think he will say something but he’s just trying to clear his throat.

He went to Wheaton evangelical college but didn’t absorb any ideals beyond the George T. Babbitt Rotary Club platitudes of Kendall county. To him, the important thing isn’t conservatism but Republicanism which means hang in long enough and your turn will come around. Denny’s Republicanism means getting elected by pledging local pork for the towns in his district and reelected by loading on the pork with earmarks that everybody, Democrat and Republican, nods and winks assent about and getting credit for it back home and his staffers saw to it that this was done.

Many people tried to tell Denny that a homosexual Republican was flirting on i-mail with boy pages but Denny, who to his credit comes from a Norman Rockwell era in the Fox Valley, raised his eyebrows and twirled his spectacles meaningfully and did nothing: paralyzed because he didn’t want to embarrass his party. That’s what is meant by being a party loyalist here.

Third there is the charter membership so many Republican players hold in a group my friend John Kass at the Chicago Tribune calls: “the Combine.” “The Combine” is the unique arrangement of Republican and Democratic corporatists which has no formal head but is typified by lobbyist, ex-Republican pro-abort governor Jim Thompson. In the latest biography of Conrad Black, the indicted ex-“Sun-Times” owner, the author says Black took the measure of the former governor, early---sensing that he wanted to become very, very rich—and named him to his Hollinger board where Thompson was put in charge of the audit, agreeing to sign away all reservations to ingenious money maneuvers with which Black milked the newspaper company for the chance to tinkle sherry glasses with fellows Henry Kissinger and Richard Perle. Thompson spent more than $20 million of his law firm’s money trying to defend his old political colleague George Ryan and, having failed at that, retired as chairman with one last gasp: trying to convince the state pension board not to take away Ryan’s pension from his earlier state employment—under the theory that there is no proof Ryan was a thief in those earlier days. Thompson is the crown prince of the “Combine.”

Others are: Protestant Republican pro-abort Sam Skinner, known as “Mr. Warmth,” a host of other former Republican office-holders and all their business and labor patrons whereby everybody pitches in to get projects and goodies for Illinois with lots of interest-bearing rewards for themselves. They join with current Democratic and Republican office-holders. There’s no room for ideological differences or philosophy with everybody working so hard to get theirs. After a few years they all begin to look and sound alike. The two parties have taken on the same grey “Where’s mine?” pallor. But for Republicans indissolubility with liberalism is fatal.

Third, with the two parties almost indistinguishable…with most leaders agreeing on subsidies, grants and big construction projects like the O’Hare expansion as well as abortion, homosexual rights, embryonic stem cells and the like…the Republican party establishment undertook to nominate for governor a charter female member of the “Combine,” Judy Baar Topinka. She was the Republican state treasurer, a Catholic pro-abort and good friend of former governor George Ryan, a Methodist pro-abort who cut a deal with the Dems to win reelection for Democratic Congressman Bill Lipinski some years ago by causing sample ballots emanating from her township committee office to be marked for Lipinski. Ryan will be going away for a six year study sabbatical at Oxford (a minimum security federal prison in Oxford, Wisconsin where Dan Rostenkowski, a Democrat pro-abort matriculated). Needless to say, it’s not the venerable university in England.

Some members of the “Combine” were in agreement that the current Democratic governor had to go because he is flaky. The media felt that way, too. Afflicted with the Serbian name Rod Blagojevich (bla-goy-a-vitch), this mop-haired, pro-abort former pizza delivery man got a law degree and married the daughter of a prime Chicago Catholic pro-abort Democratic ward boss. Okay so far but he violated a sacred trust: the belief that a Democratic ward boss can deliver for his family. Blagojevich’s father-in-law touted to his cousin that he could exempt the cousin’s land-fill from environmental regs. In one of the rare times, Blagojevich said no to his old mentor-father-in-law, he did now: which started a feud whereby the old man squealed that this ungrateful governor kid was cutting other deals with prime financial backers. It got the interest of the feds

Thereupon came the suggestion in both Democratic and Republican circles that Blagojevich will have to go because he is “not reliable” and “endangering the state’s reputation.” So fragments of both wings of the “Combine” settled on a Republican who they felt was safe, hospitable to them, could defeat the governor, serve only one term, raise income taxes and not run for a second term to allow the Irish Princess AG step-daughter of state House Speaker Mike Madigan (himself a charter “Combine” member) to be elected and run a trouble-free government.

The Republican they had in mind: Topinka, 62, who narrowly won the Republican primary against a pro-life social conservative when the pro-life vote was split because of a intransigence of a young lawmaker to withdraw in favor of a united field. Huzza, the “Combine” shouted: We now have a Republican candidate who reaches out to a broad constituency, not like that horrible Alan Keyes in 2004! Sounded good except for one thing—Topinka went down like a ton of bricks and got fewer votes in 2006 than Keyes did in 2004: Keyes—1,390,690 and Topinka 1,332,735. More than 50% of the Republican base, principally conservatives, was turned off by her.

Fourth, there’s the Rahm Emanuel factor, named after one I have told you before, the lean, spare Congressman from Illinois, grand vizier of Democratic House elections, who looks like Shakespeare’s Cassius with the same hungry look. No doubt about it, Emanuel was pushy enough to find attractive candidates across the country and deserves some credit.

Here it is appropriate to ask: Is there truth to the old adage that you’re responsible for the face you have after forty? When I first met him, he was a slim, lithe, non-gay former ballet dancer-turned-fund-raiser who was so imbued with idealism that he went to Israel as a volunteer stretcher-bearer when it was being socked by Iraq’s scud missiles in 1991 with a seamless face like Jackie Coogan’s in the film “The Kid” which he stole from established star Charlie Chaplin. But twenty years have left their mark as he moved from fund-raiser for a Lefty cause, for Illinois Dem pols including Robert Cramer, husband of Rep. Jan Schakowsky who went to jail for check fraud in operating a Lefty “reform group” of which Ms. Schakowsky was the un-indicted treasurer; for Mayor Richard Daley where Emanuel hung out with top aides Jeremiah Joyce and Tim Degnan; to Little Rock as operative for Bill Clinton, conspiring with James Carville and Stan Greenberg; to political director at the Clinton White House; to lead apologist for Clinton after his boss, having had fellatio performed on him, lied under oath about his involvement with an intern…

…who threatened retaliation against those who brought impeachment to Clinton—won his threat against a cowering Trent Lott for something he purportedly did as a cheer-leader at Old Miss, who threatened an adamant Henry Hyde and carried out the retaliation, ruining his name concerning an affair 40 years earlier, news of which conveyed to his children and grandchildren; investment banker on the make, multi-millionaire, last-minute usurper in a congressional district that belonged to a woman grass-roots activist and legislator; beneficiary of an ingest of city patronage workers on his behalf in his first race so ordered by a deputy water commissioner, Donald Tomczak, who is going to jail; Congressman and head of the Dems’ campaign committee and now chairman of the House Democratic Caucus .

His cheeks are sucked in like he’s an advance man for a famine, showing the hollows of his cheekbones and his eyes are underscored with deep blue lines that say he needs sleep; his hair has turned salt-and-pepper. The idealism has long faded. That kind of life will do it to a man.

That said, on election day we reelected a prospective crook as Democratic governor; elected a mob loan broker as Democratic state treasurer. And elected as president of the vitally important Cook county board of commissioners which runs a $8 billion government, a likely incompetent—the shaky future of whom will do African Americans no good. Understand, Illinois has a long record of politicians bequeathing jobs to their children and there’s no reason why a Chicago black can’t play that game. But the others are relatively competent, some even able. Former Cook county assessor Tom Hynes, a Catholic pro-lifer, used his contacts to promote his son, Danny, a Catholic pro-abort, as Comptroller (distinction on life and death means very little to Illinois pols: acquiescence to pro-abort when needed to get elected is taken as realism to them)…state House Speaker Mike Madigan, a Catholic Democrat pro-lifer, used his office to elect his step-daughter, Lisa, a Catholic Democrat pro-abort, as state attorney general. Congressman Bill Lipinski, a Catholic Democrat pro-lifer resigned his post in his solidly conservative blue-collar southwest side district so the Democratic committee could rubberstamp his son, Dan, a Catholic Democrat pro-lifer who despite decades in Tennessee is learning the Illinois ropes with his father’s tutelage very well, thank you.

Along comes Democrat Catholic pro-abort Cook county board president John Stroger, 74, who suffered a serious stroke. The Stroger family put the severely disabled Stroger on ice so to speak so as to forestall a primary election for the job; then when a deadline passed held a pen in his shaky hands with the family and key Democratic favorites guiding the signature so that he could resign, allowing the Democratic county committee to follow Rich Daley’s order and pick Stroger’s son Todd, 44, a man so unable to muster a guess about how he would run the county that the media soon labeled Todd “toddler” and some media types believe resembles the character “Urkel,” the nerdy neighbor kid with huge spectacles in the TV situation comedy, “Family Matters,” about a middle-class black Chicago family. The look-alike nature of Stroger and Urkel is remarkable.

No one—including the Democrats—make the claim that Todd Stroger is anything more than a bewildered Dauphin prince, not unlike the son of France’s Charles VI in Joan of Arc’s time…the one played in the 1948 film by Jose Ferrar. He appeared on my ABC radio show three weeks after his rubberstamping by the Democratic committee and, smiling shyly, acknowledged that he had not taken the trouble to crack in big county budget book, saying he would allow his staff to do that for him. The Cook county Republicans nominated an able man, a lawyer and articulate expert on the budget…yet not immune to a certain vindictiveness and anger…Tony Peraica but to no effect. The suspicion has grown that if they had nominated Patrick Fitzgerald, the nationally-known U. S. prosecutor who is probing county government, it would be to no effect and Urkel, er, Todd Stroger, would win.

So much for 2006. Next year is the Chicago mayoralty and two anti-Daley candidates have already withdrawn: Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Rep. Luis Gutierrez. That leaves the way clear for the reelection of Mayor Daley. But only U. S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald knows if Mayor Richard M. Daley will be around for 2007—or whether he will be preparing to defend himself from the prospect of matriculation at Oxford (Wisconsin) where he would join his best friend, ex-Governor George Ryan and other “Combine” inmates.


  1. Just about everything you said this time is perfect, with only a few exceptions:

    1) There is no such thing as an "i-mail". There is email (i.e., electronic mail) and there are IMs (i.e., instant messages). The latter are not mail, because people transmit and respond to them in real time.

    2)While Topinka was trounced, comparing number of votes between Keyes and Topinka creates an exaggerated appearance, as turnout would naturally be lower in a year with no presidential race. Topinka got 39.7%, Keyes got 27%.

    3)While Blago and Topinka were both Combine candidates, it seems to me that if the Combine wanted Topinka to win, she would have gotten better funding in the general election. It seems more likely to me that the Combine was only interested in making sure a conservative outsider would not get the GOP nomination.

    Finally, shouldn't we be grateful to the federal government for providing the Land of Lincoln with what has become increasingly well-established as its traditional gubernatorial retirement home in Oxford, WI? I regard it as one of the most beneficial forms of aid the federal government provides to our state.

  2. Another great piece Tom. Thanks for sharing your insight. You've really got these old players pegged.

    Keep it coming.

  3. Thank you for your comprehensive summary of the wretched state of Illinois government.

  4. Was the Combine "only interested in making sure a conservative outsider would not get the GOP nomination." or were they... only interested in making sure a reform outsider would not get the GOP nomination?