What Illinois Republicans are seeking in a new chairman
With the governor's mansion, state Senate and House controlled by Democrats, schisms within the national GOP, and a fundraising gap, it appears Illinois Republicans will face a challenging 2021.
Or maybe not.
"I'd love to know when the non-challenging times in politics are," State Central Committee member Bob Grogan of Downers Grove said.
On Saturday, Illinois Republican State Central Committee members approved a process and timeline for replacing Chairman Tim Schneider of Bartlett, who is stepping down. The hope is to name a new chairman by the Jan. 30 meeting, Grogan said.
Committee members are "looking forward to getting the best qualified man or woman who comes forward at the helm," Grogan said. "You have to come in already knowing Illinois politics and the stakeholders."
The committee needs "to go find a Solomon" who can bridge regional and ideological divides, former Republican state senator and gubernatorial candidate Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale said.
Typically, the top Republican in the state steers the selection of the party chairman, as former Gov. Bruce Rauner did with Schneider, but right now there's no apparent kingmaker.
Possible contenders include: Illinois National Committeeman Richard Porter, a Northfield attorney; longtime Bolingbrook Mayor Roger Claar; Cook County Republican Party Chairman and Illinois Republican State Central Committee member Sean Morrison of Palos Park; and Chicago Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts, who has been a fundraiser for Trump and the Republican National Committee.
As of November 2020, the Democratic Party of Illinois had $2.63 million cash on hand and the Republican Party of Illinois had $286,067, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Making up the shortfall will require a savvy fundraiser, one comfortable attending chicken dinners and golf outings and building rapport with wealthy Republican influencers like Uline founder Richard Uihlein and Citadel CEO Kenneth Griffin.
Some political insiders think there will be a reckoning after four years of President Donald Trump stoking divisions within the party culminating with rioters trashing the U.S. Capitol Wednesday.
"I wouldn't be surprised if a big storm is brewing," said Aaron Del Mar, Palatine Township Republican Committeeman. "We're kind of having an identity crisis right now."
However, in blue state Illinois -- where moderate Republicans have had a winning streak, including Govs. Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and Rauner -- many GOP lawmakers have been distancing themselves from Trump. Republican Congressman Adam Kinzinger became the first GOP House member to call for invoking the 25th Amendment Thursday although two of his colleagues voted against certifying Electoral College results electing Joe Biden as president -- Mary Miller of Oakland and Mike Bost of Murphysboro.
State Senate Republican Leader-designate Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods said he's not aware of significant factionalism or ideology battles when it comes to a new chairman.
"What we're looking for is someone who can be effective and strategic at helping build the party and find candidates at all levels of government," McConchie said. "If we maintain that focus, we'll have a bright future."
Rather than far-right versus moderate or pro-Trump versus anti-Trump, Grogan thinks the conflict within the party comes down to "the optimists and pessimists. Honestly, if the optimists and the pessimists coalesce, then I think we can truly move forward."
The party also needs to recruit more minorities and women into its ranks, officials agreed.
"It takes away a lot of the weapons the Democrats throw at us," said Del Mar, who is Filipino American. "And it's the right thing to do."
Finding the right person is crucial as Republicans look past the 2020 elections to local contests this spring and a rematch in two years.
2022 is ripe for a resurgence of the Illinois GOP, Dillard thinks. "With an embattled Speaker (Mike) Madigan, J.B. Pritzker who'll have a record that will probably include a tax increase, and no more Donald Trump in the White House, 2022 could be a good year," he said.
Schneider said, "as far as the party goes, I believe we have a real opportunity to build on our successes in November," when the GOP defeated the Democrats' graduated tax plan.
He added that process for selecting a new chairman will be posted on the party's illinois.gop website Monday. It will include an application to be completed by Jan. 21 or 22, followed by "a selection and vetting process, with the conclusion and selection at the end of the month," he said.