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State GOP Convention and Restoring Direct Elections

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The Illinois Republican State Convention next month offers regular Republicans an opportunity to succeed where their GOP lawmakers in Springfield have failed for the past seven years.

Most Republicans in Illinois have at least heard of SB 35 (formerly SB 600). That's legislation that would once again allow all Republican Primary voters to directly elect the persons who represent them on the Illinois Republican Party's State Central Committee.

Every Democrat in Illinois has this right to directly elect his or her senior State Party leadership, and every Republican in Illinois used to have that right. But the party bosses took the right away from us in the late 1980's in a selfish power grab. The bosses consolidated power and got what they wanted -- the ability to profit and make deals with the Democrats free of worry that any State Party official would say a peep. Eliminating direct elections for the members of the State Central Committee turned that governing board into a submissive rubberstamp.

Illinois has been a Blue State ever since the Illinois Republican Party was taken away from Republican voters. When your voice was taken away, so was accountability. The disturbing contribution "funneling" scheme we told you about two weeks ago is just the latest example.

SB 35 has passed out of the State Senate three times since 2005 -- that's counting passage under the bill's previous designation, SB 600. Each time the reform bill then went to the House side only to be stonewalled by pointless Republicans.

But it's not just the fault of a few bad State Representatives. Even the Republican State Senators who vote "yes" on the bill in their caucus suddenly go M.I.A. once it reaches the House. Our GOP officials love to complain and make excuses about how they're powerless in Springfield because the Democrats have such big majorities -- but none of them are lifting a finger to make the Illinois Republican Party a vehicle that could be respected and maybe someday win back some power.

The good news is we don't need our public officials to give us back our vote. I've always been about getting this reform done any way we can. So of course I have been and will remain a big proponent of SB 35.

But there's another way we can get this done without the law change at the heart of SB 35.

Under Illinois law as currently written, we can adopt the change by majority vote of the delegates at a state convention. Since a state convention only happens once every four years, SB 35 was about making the change in the interim. But now another state convention is upon us, and that means another opportunity.

The enabling provision is found in the Illinois Election Code at 10 ILCS 5/7-8(a), which states in pertinent part:

"A political party may, by a majority vote of the delegates of any State convention of such party, determine to return to the election of State central committeeman and State central committeewoman by the vote of primary electors."

In other words, SB 35 isn't needed in Tinley Park. Republicans could leave the convention next month having restored real democracy and accountability. Delegates have the power right now under Illinois law to completely accomplish this reform on their own.

In my view, the opportunity to vote on this change would be the only reason to attend this year's convention. I've been to three of our State Conventions beginning with the one in 2000 when I served as the State GOP's general counsel. I would be the first to say that year maybe wasn't a model of openness, but these things have been getting more and more rigged over the years. By Decatur in 2008 (the last State Convention), things had pretty much gotten out of control (more soon on that topic).

Our State Central Committee could very easily stand up and put an end to the destructive games and rigging. It's that committee that's responsible for the State Convention. And its members control who gets the meaningful convention assignments. But again, a bad system for picking the members of the State Central Committee has left us with no leadership at the top. Our State GOP keeps spinning its wheels in a dysfunctional circle and that's not going to change unless more Republicans find a spine.

Here's my advice. Contact your GOP County Chairman (in Cook County, you have to contact your GOP Ward or Township Committeeman) and ask her or him to appoint you as a delegate to the Illinois Republican State Convention to be held Friday and Saturday, June 8 and 9, in Tinley Park. You don't have to be a Precinct Committeeman to be a delegate, and you don't even need any particular experience beyond being a true Republican. In fact at past conventions, a significant portion of the available delegate spots remained unfilled.

Let's allow all delegates at the State Convention to have a fair, up-or-down floor vote on the restoration of direct elections. Instead of the usual rigged and counterproductive affair, Republicans could achieve something truly historic in Tinley Park next month.

It can be done. All that's needed is for enough Republicans to find the courage to reclaim their voice.