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No Sign of Leadership in Race for New Illinois GOP Chair

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The Illinois Republican Party's governing board, the state central committee, is scheduled to meet this Saturday, June 1, at the Hilton in Springfield to pick a new state chairman.

Members of that committee are still saying they aren't sure whether that meeting will be open to the public. Right now we're headed for a replay of the closed, back-room deal that gave us Pat Brady in August of 2009. The State Party's website has no mention of the meeting.

The new chairman will be chosen by the 18 members of the state central committee, casting votes weighted by the Republican turnout in their respective congressional districts. There should be 19 members. State law specifies that despite the recent redistricting, the incumbent members continue to represent their original congressional districts until the four-year terms of the state central committee all expire in 2014. We're one member short because back in April 2011 the member from the 4th congressional district was forced to resign after his disturbing ties to the Outlaws motorcycle gang were exposed. Even Pat Brady was eventually forced to abandon his supporter from Cicero.

How did a gang-affiliated person get a top position in the GOP in the first place? Simple. Blame the current system where 99.99% of Republicans have no say in picking their state central committeeman.

The old 4th congressional has the most Hispanic voters of any congressional district in Illinois, by far. For over two years now the Republicans in that district have had no representation whatsoever at the State Party. This is just one example where Pat Brady talked about the need for "outreach" but in practice wouldn't lift a finger even where his own committee was concerned.

There are reportedly eight "finalists" for the chairman's job. It's a complete mystery how they became finalists. Supposedly there were nominations, but it was never disclosed who did the nominating. Rumors circulated of internal deadlines for applying, but the State Party never publicized deadlines or procedures. We do know the state central member co-chairing the replacement search is a former George Ryan insider who is now on the federal payroll working for Congressman John Shimkus.

Most disappointing is the fact that not a single "finalist" has been publicly pushing for an open process. And other than a few fluffy platitudes relayed via Bernie Schoenburg at The State Journal-Register, we've not heard a peep from any of the candidates regarding what they would do as chairman or what their vision is for our party. Similarly, it's unclear what most of the candidates have done to deserve a promotion. Many have been silent for years. And if any of them spoke up while Pat Brady was dividing and decimating our party, it would be news to me. The possible exception might be "finalist" Lori Yokoyama. But it's unclear whether she truly even wants the job, or if someone just threw her name on this list so it wouldn't be just a collection of white males.

The only downstate candidate for the job ran as a Democrat for state senator in 2002 (unsuccessfully), and one of the Chicago candidates has provided more help to Democrats than most Democrats - while serving as an incumbent member of our state central committee.

Adding to the mess of course is the way Republicans allowed Pat Brady's ouster to be portrayed as all about gay marriage. The Chicago media especially has had a field day recycling the same old stories about feuding moderates and conservatives. This Saturday the same old wash is certain to go through the spin cycle again.

Most of the media has missed the boat but the blame really must fall on Republicans. Too few spoke up while the grassroots and fundraising were dying under Pat Brady. Last year's disastrous election should have been the last straw. Brady should have been given his walking papers on November 7th, the day after our party's implosion.

Unfortunately, most Republicans were like Puff the Magic Senator and didn't do their jobs. By not saying a peep until January of this year and only after Brady's lobbying for gay marriage came to light, Brady was able to distract and the press eagerly assisted in elevating him to martyr status. All of the bigger and more legitimate reasons for ousting Brady have been lost in the dysfunction and lies. In the case of the state central committee, the anger directed at Brady isn't even so much about his betrayal of the platform as it is about committee members feeling they were kept out of the loop. About the only sure fire way to move this party from its lethargy is to step on someone's ego.

It's anyone's guess what will happen on Saturday. My prediction is that despite the recent unhappiness expressed by many members of the state central committee, at the end of the day they'll all fall into line and rubberstamp whoever Mark Kirk's people tell them to rubberstamp. That's how we got Pat Brady, and Andy McKenna before that, and Judy Baar Topinka before that.

We're not going to see a serious process or true leadership emerge until we restore real elections for the members of the state central committee. It is unclear how many times the sellouts on this reform have to be embarrassed and shamed by their betrayal of Republican voters.

The Illinois GOP wants to convince voters that it's ready again to run an entire state - the nation's fifth most populous. But it will all remain a sad fantasy as long as we're stuck with officials who can't even run a decent meeting of an organization that's now scarcely more than a little club.

Doug Ibendahl is a Chicago Attorney and a former General Counsel of the Illinois Republican Party.