Thursday, December 15, 2005

Topinka and Birkett finally get Hitched:It's official

Jeff Berkowitz: Joe, did Chairman McKenna lobby you to join this [Topinka-Birkett] ticket?

Joe Birkett: I’m not going to comment on that. That’s out there. I mean I got phone calls.

Berkowitz: You said he did [lobby you]. [See here] Are you taking that back?

Birkett: No, I’m not taking anything back.

Berkowitz: He [McKenna] says he’s neutral. Is he neutral?

Birkett: Pardon me.

Berkowitz: Is [State GOP Chairman Andy] McKenna neutral?

Birkett: I’ll let him speak for himself. I have been encouraged to run by a lot of people.
Joe Birkett, Republican Primary Lt. Gov. candidate and DuPage County State’s Attorney, as he was leaving a press conference this morning, at which he appeared with Republican Primary Gubernatorial Candidate Judy Baar Topinka and at which conference he formally accepted Judy’s offer to be her running mate. [Of course, this has been a done deal for more than a week, See here]. Team Topinka-Birkett were getting on a plane to do the marriage ceremony two more times, with feeling-- as they say, this afternoon, in Springfield, IL and in the Metro East area.

The joint press conference, held at a Holiday Inn on the Southwest side of Chicago near Midway Airport, lasted less than a half hour, and Judy Baar Topinka led with a two minute statement, followed by a twelve minute acceptance statement by Joe Birkett to join her as his Lt.Gov mate [Of course, this has been a done deal for more than a week, see here]. The question-answer session ran less than fifteen minutes, including a minute, or so, with Birkett's wife, Patti, taking a few bullets [figureatively] from the press for Joe.

During Joe’s acceptance statement, he discussed some of the differences between Judy and him, primarily alluding to social issues—but Joe Birkett emphasized Judy’s agreement with him on parental notice-- and his petition to the Illinois Supreme Court to issue necessary judicial bypass rules to implement parental notice legislation regarding a minor daughter having an abortion. . [Gays, Guns and God did not come up in the press conference, but abortion was a prominent part of the discussion]. Both Judy and Joe made clear that they believed that they agree much more than they disagree, especially with respect to matters other than "social issues."

Birkett discussed some of Judy’s contemplated responsibilities for him as Lt. Gov., including Homeland Security and law enforcement issues, and especially public corruption [watch out AG Lisa Madigan, the new Sheriff might try to compete with the U. S. Attorney to go where the State's Attorney of Cook County, Dick Devine, and you don’t go—is that Constitutional?].

Talking about law enforcement, a question was posed at the press conference about the twenty-two year old famous case involving the tragic rape-murder of ten year old Jeanine Nicarico, and what the Chicago Tribune is wont to refer to as "the botched prosecutions," in that case by the Office of the DuPage County State's Attorney [See here]. Joe deflected the issue relatively easily-- for the press conference. However, I suspect it will play a more prominent role in the primary and the general election, should Birkett become his Party’s Lt. Gov. candidate, even as it was an issue in the race he almost won for Attorney General in 2002.

Birkett said, in a Topinka-Birkett regime, he would also have some responsibilities, “in the areas of health, safety and welfare of our children as well as the traditional roles of Lt. Gov,” [with the latter perhaps including daily inquiries as to the health of Governor Topinka]. Seriously, Topinka made a point of emphasizing just how important it was to her that “Joe knew how to be Governor,” in case he had to step in for the sixty one year old gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar, who is completing her third term as State Treasurer, and appears to be in pretty good health.

Topinka referred to prosecutor Birkett as the “New sheriff in town…who will not rest until Illinois Government is something Illinois citizens can be proud of.” For his part, Birkett responded that he was “honored to be teamed up with another fighter for Illinois families.” Judy and the family values theme? Will it play with Birkett’s social conservative supporters? Or will they turn to alternative social conservative Republican candidates Sen. Bill Brady or dairyman/businessman Jim Oberweis?

Although they attempted to smooth over some of their differences on social issues, that could be a challenge for team Topinka-Birkett. Joe made clear he did not plan to modify or play down his position on abortion—which is to oppose it except in those instances where the life of the pregnant mother is at stake, or the pregnancy results from rape or incest. And, when it comes to a ban on partial birth abortion, Birkett would want one that permits an exception only for the life of the mother and not for the health of the mother.

Judy, of course, made clear she believes in “a woman’s right to choose,” and she would not like to see Roe v. Wade overturned. However, as indicated above, they find common ground in that both Topinka and Birkett favor parental notice [Parental consent was mentioned as well, but it appeared their primary focus was on implementing parental notice legislation in Illinois].

As the conversation turned to abortion in the question-answer session, Topinka made a point of jumping in front of a follow-up abortion question to Birkett to emphasize that what most people think about, as they get up in the morning, is not abortion but it is “jobs, jobs, jobs.” She went on to say, “We are talking about the economy and the fiscal crisis that is this state. That is going to be our primary impetus and therein Joe and I are in total agreement.” Joe then answered the question on abortion.

Joe’s wife and childhood sweetheart, Patti Birkett, commented [with Joe and Patti’s two teenage kids looking on] at the end of the press conference, “I just think Judy—she is the clear front runner-- and Joe and Judy have always been friends …and together as a team with Judy, it just is a win-win situation…he is just good at getting people, you know, together. You know, that’s his job…he has always been good that way and he’ll be passionate…and compassionate about their beliefs, together, and I think it will be really good for the Republican Party.”

Perhaps Patti Birkett is on to something. And, there is that name, Patti, again, as in Illinois’ First Lady, Patti Blagojevich. Maybe Judy and Joe will heal the division in the Illinois Republican Party over abortion. [For a much more skeptical, cynical and as always, well written blog post about the Topinka-Birkett prom date, see Chicago Tribune columnist and ace blogger Eric Zorn.

On the other hand, as former Senator and 2002 Republican Primary candidate Pat O’Malley is fond of arguing, the real schism in the Illinois Republican Party is between reformers and non-reformers, not between Pro-Lifers and Pro-Choicers.

This could be the key question of the Republican Primary: does Team Topinka-Birkett qualify as a reform team.

I think I know Pat’s answer but at “Public Affairs," our slogan is we discuss, you decide.
Jeff Berkowitz, Host and Producer of Public Affairs and an Executive Recruiter doing Legal Search, can be reached at