Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Conservative Summit and Jim Edgar, Decision 2005

Eric Robinson, who was Governor Edgar’s press secretary in 1997-1998, following Tom Hardy and Mike Lawrence in that role, has been coordinating some press matters for Governor Edgar during what we might call—Jim Edgar, Decision 2005.

Robinson said on Friday that former Governor Edgar still has not made a decision about running for Governor in 2006. He continues to talk with those who are encouraging him to run—and he will announce his decision sooner rather than later, Robinson added.

While Edgar continues to ponder his return to politics after a 7 year hiatus, the U. S. Attorney set the Illinois gubernatorial race on fire by filing plea agreements on Thursday, in which it was reported that Gov. Blagojevich and two top fund-raisers schemed to steer lucrative state pension deals to investment firms and consultants who agreed to donate to Blagojevich's campaign [See here].

Republican Guv candidate and State Sen. Rauschenberger jumped all over the report/allegation of Blagojevich wrongdoing, calling yesterday for Governor Blagojevich to come forward immediately and provide a full airing of what he knew about the activities of Joe Cari and Steve Loren, both of whom had at least some involvement in activities related to a state pension deal scheme and both of whom have now pled guilty to certain of the allegations brought by the U. S. Attorneys office. [See here].

Rauschenberger also wants "Blagojevich to come clean,” with any knowledge he has about Stuart Levine scheming relating to the Pension Board. Levine is alleged to have been sort of the ringleader in the above referenced scheme. Levine was first appointed to the Pension Board by nominally Republican Governor George Ryan, who starts the defense of his criminal RICO trial this week. Blagojevich re-appointed Levine to the Pension Board, stating that the law required a certain number of Republicans on the Board. However, no law would require that Stuart Levine be appointed to the Board. Moreover, Blagojevich, who received his law degree from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California and who practiced law previously, got his laws mixed up. Although some state boards are required by law to have a mix of Republicans and Democrats, that is not the case for the Pension Board. [See here]

As an aside, it is “nominally Republican,” George Ryan because although Ryan was thought to be a conservative Republican when elected Governor in 1998, he soon "flipped his positions," on virtually every important campaign issue from conservative to liberal, e.g., abortion, capital punishment, spending, taxes, airports, gay rights and guns after he became governor. Those ideological half somersaults have caused many Republicans to suggest that George Ryan's tarnished reputation belongs to the Democrats, who applauded his “evolution,” and welcomed him with open arms as Governor, rather than the Republicans, who generally derided Ryan and his flips. Indeed, the conservative Republican base, who have a significant impact on the outcome of primary elections, would have rejected George Ryan for re-nomination, even if his scandal ridden history in the Secretary of State’s office had not been discovered.

Pete Giangreco, partner in the Strategy Group and flak catcher par excellence for Governor Blagojevich, in what some would call an unusual display of weakness on the Governor’s part, went behind enemy lines Friday morning and attended Rauschenberger’s press conference. That presser related specifically to Joe Cari’s [a former Finance Chairman for the Democratic National Committee] assertions that Stuart Levine had told him that Blagojevich was involved in using the bond scheme to stimulate contributions to his re-election campaign. Giangreco, never shy, argued, “the Governor knew nothing about this until yesterday. It is irresponsible for Rauschenberger to vomit up these over-the-top allegations from a known extortionist". Unfortunately for Pete, the press wasn’t buying and they turned on him with a vengeance, as Rauschenberger watched with glee.

Meanwhile, as I write this, conservative leaders from through-out the State of Illinois are meeting at the Ivanhoe Country Club in Mundelein, IL in an all day Conservative Summit to hear from and ask questions to announced and potential conservative candidates for Governor and Lt. Governor.

On the gubernatorial side, State Senators Steve Rauschenberger and Bill Brady, Dairyman and Money Manager Jim Oberweis, DuPage State’s attorney Joe Birkett and former State Senator and 2002 Gubernatorial Primary Candidate Pat O’Malley were each invited to today’s Conservative Summit. And, each of those individuals, except for O’Malley, had indicated they would attend.

Helene Curtis heir and mega-millionaire Ron Gidwitz [See here], who has announced for Governor, and State Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who continues to mull a run for Guv if Edgar does not jump in, are both generally viewed as “moderates,” and neither was invited to the Summit.

Also invited on the Guv candidate side was former Governor Jim Edgar, but Eric Robinson indicated Jim Edgar had declined the invitation because Edgar had not yet decided he would be running for Governor in 2006. I asked Robinson if he thought of Jim Edgar as a conservative, and he said, “…while the Governor may have different views on social issues than some conservatives, they appreciate he is a fiscal conservative and the work he did on turning around the state’s finances, to the point that each year he was Governor, Jim Edgar ended the fiscal year more in the black than the year before and the state was 1.5 billion dollars in the black when Edgar left the office in 1998.

Co-hosting the Summit are Joe Morris, Chairman, United Republican Fund of Illinois; Paul Caprio, Director, Family-PAC; Bob Redfern, Chairman, Illinois Forum; and Sandy Rios, President, the Culture Campaign. Former State Rep. and two time loser for State wide office [Senate and SOS] Al Salvi, an Honorary Co-Host of the Summit, picked up the tab for the Summit’s luncheon. Salvi’s wife, Kathy Salvi, officially announced this past week that she is a candidate in the 8th Cong. Dist. Republican Primary, joining previously announced candidates David McSweeney, Teresa Bartels and Aron Lincoln.

Similar conservative summits were held in 1995 and 1997 to clear the field for one conservative to run in the Republican U. S. Senate Primary, with conservatives Al Salvi and Peter Fitzgerald getting the support of the Summits in 1995 and 1997, respectively. Both Salvi and Fitzgerald went on to beat back Establishment Republican Party candidates, and, of course, Peter Fitzgerald went on to win the general election, as well.

Paul Caprio indicated yesterday that about 100 conservative leaders had been invited, with the focus being on bringing together a cross section of both social and economic conservatives. Caprio and his co-hosts wanted to have conservatives present whose opinions have significant influence on others. They have excluded (1) anyone who was professionally associated with any campaign and (2) media.

Caprio indicated that only 100 were invited because the co-hosts wanted to have the appropriate level of “give and take,” both with each other and with the candidates. Perhaps, like colleges, the co-hosts contemplated a certain acceptance rate by the invitees, as Caprio indicated only about 50 of those invited were scheduled to attend.

Caprio indicated that, as in 1995 and 1997, the purpose of the 2005 Conservative Summit is to see if conservatives can develop a consensus to support a single conservative candidate, around whom they can rally and be united. Of course, this is to maximize the chances of a conservative candidate emerging victorious from the Primary.

It is interesting to see that the conservatives apparently consider Jim Edgar sufficiently “conservative,” to invite him to the Conservative Summit.
Or, was that just a ploy to draw Edgar into a conversation with conservatives? Either way, it didn’t work. Jim Edgar, Decision 2005 continues to be more an enigma than a decision.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at