Monday, December 13, 2004

Updated December 13, 2004 at 11:00 am
McKenna likely to replace Topinka as State GOP Chair; McGlynn and Skoien take their best shots. The more things change, the more they same the same. The State GOP just ain't ready for reform, yet.
After three hours of meeting on Friday afternoon in Springfield, the Republican State Central Committee decided on a procedure to select its next State GOP Chairman. Chairman Judy Baar Topinka submitted her resignation effective, January 31. Officially, she said that date would allow her to attend the Bush Inaugural events as the Illinois GOP Chairman, which she feels she has earned because, as she put it, at times her tenure has been “pure Hell.” Of course, many of her critics would agree, at least with her self-description of her reign, if not with her suggestion that she should get a free trip and continued State GOP chairman status at the National GOP festivities.

It is likely that over the next 3 to 4 weeks Topinka will size up her chances of getting the Republican gubernatorial nomination, will solidify her already strong hold on the State GOP staff and will try to get strengthened commitments from the likely person(s) to fill the Chairman slot to leave her crew in place.

As to getting the Guv nomination, a State GOP endorsement prior to the primary might help her and Steve McGlynn said last week he thought the Party leaders should try to avoid a nasty primary by giving a pre-primary endorsement, so she has a shot. Judy's [in disguise?] other prayer of getting out of the Republican Primary is to have several conservatives split that vote, with Topinka being lucky enough to be the only moderate in the Guv Primary. Some of the smart money says that O'Malley and Rauschenberger will oblige her.

By December 31, applications must be submitted to the SCC screening committee of Skip Saviano, MaryAlice Erickson and Ron Smith. However, it is likely that committee will screen out only the crazies, e.g., lederhosen people and allow all of six more or less serious, current candidacies to proceed.

The SCC will schedule a meeting to hear from the candidates and vote on them. They want this done before January 20, purportedly so that the New Chairman can join the Illinois Delegation for the Inaugural festivities. That means a likely date of January 8 or January 15 for the SCC meeting, with the location probably set for Bloomington or Springfield. The candidates will each be allowed five minutes to address those in attendance and there will be some additional times for questions and answers. That portion of the meeting will be open to the county chairmen, township committeemen and ward committeeman- so that adds another 160, or so people, as attendees. In addition, various other Republican organizations [or representatives] will be permitted to attend. There is the possibility that the meeting will be opened to guests of the SCC, media and perhaps others.

It is likely that the actual vote and SCC deliberations will be closed to all but the SCC, but there are some on the Committee, e.g., Dr. Dam, who seem to favor a completely open meeting, so there is a small probability that the entirety of the meeting would be open to the media and public. However, most SCC minds will probably be made up before the meeting, and be based on the phone calls, emails and face to face meetings that are being conducted now by the candidates with the SCC members and will continue up to the time of the meeting.

The primary three candidates for the State GOP Chairman are (1) Andy McKenna, Jr., the former U. S. Senate primary candidate who is always described as a "very decent," guy. Andy, Jr. is President of the Schwarz Paper Company started many years ago by his father with two others-- Andy, Jr.'s father and Andy, Jr. have strong ties to the Chicago business community and to the Tribune and its boardroom. Andy apparently has pledged to keep the SCC staff in place. Hey, if you want to get along, you go along. It's Chicago. (2) Steve McGlynn, State Central Committee Co-Chair, plaintiffs’ and defendants’ trial lawyer from Belleville and an articulate, hands-on downstate Republican Party leader and (3) Gary Skoien, Cook County GOP Chairman, former Thompson and Edgar guy and an articulate, tough businessman/Republican leader who knows how to play the game of politics and who has been carefully reaching out to conservatives over the last year.

McKenna, partly because the business community has committed to him, probably has the support of the SCC “legislator members”: State Senators Syverson, Peterson and Dillard; State Rep. Saviano and perhaps Jerry Clarke, who is Cong. Johnson’s Chief of Staff. SCC board member Dr. Dam stated, on Saturday, that he would guess that the five individuals referenced, above, are probably leaning toward McKenna, so those five SCC members, alone, would give McKenna about 34 % of the weighted vote. And Chairman Topinka is probably supporting McKenna as the new guy least likely to rock her boat. McGlynn, a downstater, possibly could pick-up the remaining downstate SCC members, which would give him about 31% of the vote. However, McGlynn probably does not run the table downstate, leaving McKenna with more of a margin than a few points now. That leaves less than a third of the vote which is either leaning nowhere at this moment or will go with the herd.

So, Skoien’s task is to come in and pry votes away that are leaning toward either McKenna or McGlynn. And, Skoien is pretty good at doing that kind of thing, so he has a shot. All other things equal, the State GOP would benefit from someone who could speak well to the press. Skoien and McGlynn are much better at that than McKenna, so that will be part of their pitch to the SCC over the next month. And, Skoien, in Chicago, has much better access to the major Illinois media markets than does McGlynn, so on this important item, advantage Skoien. McKenna will try to counter this either by keeping a low profile or by talking to some "friendly," press.

Jim Oberweis, who came in second in the March, 2004 U. S. Senate Primary, does not have much of a shot because Topinka is likely to be very hostile to his candidacy, as that appears to have been the case in the August, 2004 Senate nomination deliberations. Judy still has some "clout" left with the SCC.

Jim Nalepa, an executive recruiter who almost beat Cong. Lipinski back in 1994, is energetic and charismatic, but seems not to have much support on the SCC, at this point.

Cox, a lawyer, businessman, a 2000 Tenth Congressional District primary candidate, 2002 and 2004 Senate Primary Candidate, and a 2004 Cook County Recorder of Deeds general election candidate seems to have a well-thought-out conservative philosophy, but for some reason- perhaps for having lost too many contests, appears unable and unlikely to generate support among the SCC, or the conservative base, in general.

In short, the January 8 or January 15 meeting, is likely to be a coronation, as opposed to an election. If they wanted to put their new Chairman in the Spotlight with the Chicago media, they would hold the convention in Chicago. Watch for this little gala to be held downstate. As the French say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” It could be that George Ryan and his still powerful cronies and prodigies are saying, “The State GOP, it just ain’t ready for reform, yet.”
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at