Thursday, December 08, 2005

Birkett to say “I do,” to Topinka’s Marriage Proposal

It was reported at 7:00 pm tonight on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight that Dupage County State’s Attorney Joe Birkett is mulling over an offer from State Treasurer and Republican Gubernatorial Primary front-runner Judy Baar Topinka to join Judy as Topinka’s Lt. Gov. running mate. The CBS – 2 Chicago local news site reported this evening at 6:30 pm, “Sources tell CBS 2 Political Editor Mike Flannery that Birkett met with Topinka last night, and Topinka told Joe she thinks he’d be a great candidate for Lieutenant Governor.”

Rounding it out, reliable sources state that Birkett has essentially accepted Topinka’s offer, but that the announcement is being held up pending working out some of the fine points of the deal and perhaps building up some excitement for a press conference tomorrow or Monday. Petitions are already being circulated for Birkett, but probably not by Rod McCulloch [See here]. Birkett needs a minimum of 5,000 signatures and is allowed to submit up to 10,000. 11 days to go.

Birkett has a debt of about 500K, or so, still remaining from his first state-wide race in 2002, when he came within three points of beating Democrat Lisa Madigan for Attorney General in 2002. Most of that debt could be picked up as a part of the deal relating to Birkett’s decision to join Topinka’s ticket. Another loan forgiveness issue? Perhaps, but I don’t think Cellini is involved in this one. On the other hand, you never know. Cellini gets around.

Recently Birkett announced he would not run for Governor, after thinking about it for almost a year and participating in the Republican Gubernatorial Primary forums for almost that long. Birkett’s announcement included the following:

I have decided not to be a candidate for governor or any other statewide office next year. There are few things in life that are as all-consuming as politics – especially a campaign for Governor. While I fully intend to explore another run for statewide office in the future, I have found that it would be very difficult to simultaneously run and still perform my duties as State’s Attorney; especially at a time when my office is facing a number of significant challenges. [Emphasis added]. [Ed. note, that is the fastest "future," I ever saw].

Maybe Joe decided running for Lt. Gov. is a “lighter burden,” than running for Governor. Maybe that is why they call it Light Gov.

Topinka is 61. Birkett is 50. A perfect marriage, even though Joe is already married to his high school sweetheart. If Topinka-Birkett wins, Birkett thinks he becomes Governor in eight years and maybe four years. Of course, Topinka-Birkett still must get by conservatives Oberweis and Brady, each running for Governor without a Lt. Gov. running mate as well as the Gidwitz-Rauschenberger team, another odd couple [See here].

And, if they get out of the Republican Primary intact, Topinka-Birkett must take on incumbent Governor Blagojevich and his expected 20 million dollar war chest, or former Clinton HUD regional administrator appointee Edwin Eisendrath-- if Eisendrath gets into Primary, spends a bundle of his own or relatives’ money and pulls a major league upset [See here for a Video interview with Eisendrath].

But even if Topinka-Birkett loses in 2006 and Rod rides off into the sunset in 2010, or before, Birkett may come off smelling like a rose. Sure, he would be a two time state wide loser. But, he would have IOUs from what appears still to be the controlling GOP establishment: Thompson [Yeah, still, notwithstanding how “refreshing Big Jim finds Rod”], Edgar, Kjellander, maybe Speaker Hastert, probably minority Leader Cross, probably State GOP Chairman McKenna and all of the not inconsiderable remnants of the Daley Ryan Combine. Who knows, even after he does all of that heavy lifting for the Establishment, a lot of Birkett’s conservative base may still stay with him.

Moreover, Topinka could lose and Birkett could win in the Primary, leaving the Republicans perhaps with an Oberweis-Birkett ticket. Joe Birkett is unlikely to play a big role in that campaign, or administration if it should win. Welcome to the Land of Pat Quinn. On the other hand, politics makes strange bedfellows. Look at all of the above.

Looks like this could be an interesting primary and general election season, after all. The media will be playing Santa Claus to both Birkett and Rauschenberger this Christmas. For a night, that is, thanking them for all of this strangeness. of course, before and after that evening, they will both get slammed good.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at