Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Three Dimensional Tic Tac Toe, Republican Style—
Murphy to Peraica to Skoien—As Henry Kissinger used to say: you know why university politics is so vicious? It is because there is so little at stake. Ah, Henry was a Cook County R, at heart. Even if Cardinal George is right and the Rs never had a soul [See below entry of April 8], they got plenty of heart.

Twas two nights before the Cook County GOP Chairman’s election and the knives are out. If you haven’t been following this stuff, Cook County Board of Review member Maureen Murphy took over the GOP chairmanship about two years ago from Manny Hoffman and most would agree the Cook County GOP organization, if you can call it that, was dead when Maureen got it, and it had been so for more than the last two decades (Former State’s Attorney Jack O’Malley being the only recent exception to that status, and Jack won kind of on a fluke).

Maureen didn’t produce GOP victories in Cook County or rising R vote totals in Cook County. Nor was she able to maintain the Governorship and State Senate in R hands, but George Ryan’s legacy of corruption, Jim Ryan’s lackluster campaign and many candidates for which Maureen had no responsibility insured that outcome. Nothing Maureen could do about that. She did recruit some R African-American candidates in various heavily Democratic, heavily minority districts to oppose sure winners like Democratic House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie and received criticism from the establishment types for “wasting resources,” in futile races.

Maureen thought it might be a good thing to support some R candidates, especially articulate minority candidates, in districts where the citizens thought that Rs were extinct. Silly Maureen. Oh yes, Maureen is a social and economic conservative and therefore not loved by the GOP establishment, to put it mildly. The Republican establishment—what a strange bird that is. Pat O’Malley, winning 29% in a tough Gubernatorial R primary, tells me he was not invited to the Establishment’s March 17, 2004 Unity Breakfast. No doubt they would have the Steve Martin [Not John Belushi] famous defense—“I forgot.” The Republican Establishment’s idea of a big tent—Sorry, Pat, no space for you.

Tony Peraica, Cook County Board Member, economic conservative and possibly a social moderate entered the race in the last month or two. Tony is a geographic and perhaps ideological neighbor of GOP State Chairwoman Judy Baar Topinka—at least he seems a bit more flexible to the Establishment, if not moderate, on the issues of abortion and gay rights [See interview with Pat O’Malley, below blog entry].

It looked close between Tony and Maureen with both proclaiming victory was theirs in the last week. Was Judy Baar behind the Peraica uprising? I don’t know, but Paul Caprio, Family-Pac and Family Values honcho, and supporter and ally of Maureen, has no doubts, telling me yesterday that Judy Baar Topinka “has her fingerprints and nail polish all over the election and Tony Peraica.”

For reasons that are not entirely clear, Maureen’s support seems to have drifted away and Palatine Township Republican Organization Committeeman Gary Skoien has entered the race, apparently very recently. O’Malley, taping my show, “Public Affairs,” on Saturday, said Maureen has been “very challenged,” and that there “is a real opportunity here for a third candidate to slip in and somehow make peace.” O’Malley the peacemaker- who would have thunk it? O’Malley, on the show, would not disclose who the third candidate was.

However, reliable sources pointed me in the direction of Skoien, and he confirmed Monday evening that he was and is running. Skoien predicted victory on the second ballot, if not the first [If no one has a majority on the first ballot, the low vote getter is removed, and another vote occurs- with the process repeated until a majority is achieved]. Skoien would not list his supporters, except one, State Senator and former U. S. Senate Candidate Steve Rauschenberger. Coincidentally, perhaps, Pat O’Malley was a big supporter of Steve’s in the recent primary, especially toward the end when he helped place 200,000, or so, recorded phone calls on behalf of Steve.

Caprio said that Skoien was breaking his commitment not to run, and Skoien countered that he had simply said he had not planned to run.

Skoien, who in the past has been pegged as a moderate, seems to be bolstering his conservative credentials. In the last primary, he supported conservative Pat Sutarik’s challenge to very moderate Republican State Rep. Suzie Bassi, who won in a very close election with the help of another so called conservative [who recently seems to have turned D] who drained some votes from Sutarik.

Skoien tells me that Jack Roeser, apparently a fairly strong family values guy, [but an arch enemy of Family Values Caprio] told Skoien that Skoien was with Roeser’s crowd 70% of the time. Although Skoien thinks abortion should generally be legal, he told me on Monday night that he thinks the issue should be decided by the state legislatures, not the U. S. Supreme Court; he opposes partial birth abortion, does not favor public funding of abortion and favors parental notice—and therefore he said many conservatives tell him that he should not describe himself as pro-choice.

Skoien does not think Bob Kjellander should step down now as one of two RNC people from Illinois because Bush apparently thinks Bob is important to his election, but he should step down after the election in November. Skoien also thinks Judy Baar should step down as GOP State Chair after the November election, as Skoien thinks Topinka would have a conflict because he said she would be running for Treasurer [not to mention possibly for Governor in the Republican Primary—assuming Schillerstrom and Wood decide to defer to her].

Finally, Tolbert Chisum, New Trier Republican Organization Committeeman, told me on Monday night he is flipping from Peraica to Skoien, and Tolbert said while he could not speak for Gregg Goslin, Tolbert thought Northfield Republican Committeeman Gregg Goslin would flip his support from Murphy to Skoien. Tolbert predicted the heavily weighted votes from the North and Northwest Suburbs would offset any lead Murphy might have from the southern suburbs and the City. As Tip said, all politics is ultimately local.

Tolbert, who is viewed more as a R technician than an ideologue, claimed he had not been pressured by Chairman Topinka to support any candidate and that his decision to support Peraica and now Skoien was based on his view that Murphy had been focusing more on her own personal agenda, as opposed to electing candidates. Chisum also criticized Maureen Murphy for not reaching out beyond her base of the southern suburbs and the city to the North Shore and the Northwest suburbs. Also, Chisum pointed to the effectiveness of Skoien in bringing out 10,000 R votes in Palatine in the last election and said there simply was too much bad blood under Maureen and the Party needed a change. Chisum complained that Maureen had not done more to boost the R vote total in the areas where they have the potential for strength- the North and Northwest Cook County suburbs.

So, in the end, does Skoien win? If so, is it some of the conservatives making a deal with the Establishment in an attempt to bring about peace on those conservatives’ terms? If so, will those conservatives be snookered once again? Or, is this just another case of the Rs all trying to settle old scores, with conservatives sniping in large part at each other—as the Establishment walks away with the power? We discuss, you decide.

Jeff Berkowitz is the Host and Producer of “Public Affairs,” where he is always tough, but fair. You may contact him at JBCG@aol.com.