Shaw out, Brin in as Lake County Republican Party chair

Stressing the need for a return to grass-roots, face-to-face politics, former Lake County circuit court Clerk Keith Brin has been named the new leader of the county's Republican organization.

Brin, of Highland Park, succeeds three-term party chair Mark Shaw of Lake Forest. A showdown between the two men had been building before Wednesday's biennial party convention in Round Lake Beach, but Shaw withdrew his candidacy before the gathering.

On Friday, Brin acknowledged much work is needed to reinvigorate local GOP voters and reclaim some of the elected offices that have been lost to Democrats in recent years.

That means connecting with people face to face instead of relying on social media, he said - and ceasing the snarky posts and insulting memes that have created image problems for the GOP in Lake County and elsewhere.

"I don't want to see that garbage," said Brin, who served as circuit court clerk for one term, from 2012 to 2016. "We're not going to be childish."

Once a Republican stronghold, Lake County has become more and more Democratic over the last two decades, both in terms of voters and elected officials.

That trend continued during Shaw's six-year run as GOP leader. Democrats seized most of the countywide elected offices, gained majority control of the county board and won most of the county's state House and Senate seats.

All of the federal lawmakers who represent parts of Lake County are Democrats, too.

The Lake GOP has had some public relations gaffes in recent years, as well.

In 2017, a party fundraiser featuring a gun raffle held less than two weeks after a mass shooting in Las Vegas drew protests, including from some Republican officials.

In 2019, the group got more negative attention after a meme appeared on its Facebook page mocking then-presidential hopeful and Democratic U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren's claims of Native American heritage.

In his Friday interview, Brin referred to those incidents as "unforced errors."

"(We) must be responsible members of our own communities," Brin said. "We have to be empathetic."

In an email sent Tuesday to precinct representatives, Shaw said he was stepping down as chairman to take a leadership role with Libertyville Republican Mark Curran's campaign for the Illinois Supreme Court. Shaw stood by that explanation in a brief email to the Daily Herald Friday.

But criticism of Shaw's efforts from within the party had grown - and had become public.

"I've witnessed a party of strength dematerialize before my eyes into a party of factions, separated at its core, holding far fewer offices," Republican Lake County Board member Dick Barr of Round Lake Beach wrote earlier this week on Facebook. "I cannot point my finger at any one person who is solely responsible for the destruction, but I can, with comfort of accuracy, say that the direction we are headed is not the right one."

Barr subsequently said he hoped Brin's victory will bring former Republicans back to the party.

"You are welcome. You are wanted, and we need you," he wrote.

Brin's victory also drew applause from activist, radio host and Shaw critic Dan Proft.

"Keith Brin and good conservatives in charge means there's an opportunity to put Lake Co back in the GOP column," Proft tweeted,

Brin called reversing the GOP's fortunes in Lake County "a big hill to climb." He said he'll start by talking with precinct committee members about getting them the resources they need to get candidates elected - and by talking with candidates about what they feel they need.

Across the political aisle, Lauren Beth Gash was reelected chair of the Lake County Democrats during a conference in Buffalo Grove. The former state representative from Highland Park has held the job since 2020 and ran unopposed.

"The change we've made in the county is visible to all," Gash said.

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Then-Lake County Republican Chairman Mark Shaw talks to the media before a controversial gun raffle fundraiser in 2017. Shaw is out as the party's leader. Daily Herald File Photo, 2017
Lauren Beth Gash, head of the Lake County Democratic Party.
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