Republicans set to choose new state party chairman soon, snow delays Saturday meeting
The Illinois Republican Party is poised for a remake soon when leaders will choose one of a trio of suburban and downstate attorneys to be the next state GOP chairman.
Lake County Republican Chairman Mark Shaw, former lieutenant governor candidate Don Tracy of Springfield, and Kendall County Chairman Scott Gryder were set to be interviewed by the Illinois Republican State Central Committee in Bolingbrook Saturday but that meeting has been postponed because of expected snowfall.
Tracy and Shaw are political veterans and perceived by some as the front-runners; others said Gryder may receive more votes than expected.
"I don't think there is a clear winner right now (between Shaw and Tracy)," Palatine Township Republican Committeeman Aaron Del Mar said. "I think there is going to be a lot of debate regarding how this is going to go."
The state GOP faces the perennial challenge of Democratic control of the General Assembly and governor's mansion.
But there are also questions about what's next after the exit of President Donald Trump and whether the party is conservative or moderate. A chairman who can unite is key, officials said.
"The new state central committee chairman is going to have to build that unity between the Trump voter, the conservative and the rank-and-file Republicans who lean more toward the middle," explained outgoing Chairman Tim Schneider of Bartlett. "Divisiveness only gives an open door to the Democrats, and we don't want to see that."
Del Mar said the party "is certainly fractured right now."
The three contenders are "known quantities," noted State Central Committee member Bob Grogan of Downers Grove. That means "the introduction process will be quicker and we can get down to brass tacks and talk about people's vision and approach and (leadership) style."
Gryder is president and senior counsel of commercial services at Near North Title Group.
"There are more things that bring us together than don't," the Oswego resident said. "That's the kind of thing you look at, you have to listen to different points of view and make sure we understand that we're all marching in the same direction."
Tracy, who was Illinois Gaming Board chairman after an appointment by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, is a major donor to Republican candidates and causes, such as opposing a graduated income tax. His family founded Dot Foods, an $8.2 billion-a-year company based in Mount Sterling.
"Having been born in Illinois, and spent most of my life in Illinois, I am determined to help reverse the decline of Illinois," Tracy said in a statement. "As chair of the Illinois Republican Party, I plan to unite Republicans from across the state behind a vision for a better Illinois."
Shaw, a licensed pharmacist, runs his own law firm in Waukegan and is co-chairman of the Illinois Republican Party and president of the Republican County Chairman's Association of Illinois. He also is a member of the party's State Central Committee. Shaw did not return calls for comment.
It's crucial for the next chairman to be personable, plus a savvy fundraiser and organizer, officials said.
"We want the unicorn," Grogan said. "We're looking for someone who is well-rounded."
As of November, the Democratic Party of Illinois had $2.63 million on hand and the Republican Party of Illinois had $286,067, according to OpenSecrets.org.
Del Mar noted the "party will rise or sink with a candidate's ability to (fundraise)."
With Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker coming off a turbulent term amid the COVID-19 crisis, an ongoing FBI probe linked to former Speaker Michael Madigan, and expectations the country will swing Republican during the 2022 midterm elections, GOP organizers are optimistic about the future.
"We feel 2022 will be a good cycle," Grogan said.
Both Tracy and Shaw have weathered some controversies.
Tracy was found to have violated state rules while chairman of the Illinois Gaming Board by making contributions to Republican political committees, the Office of the Illinois Executive Inspector General concluded in 2019. In a response, Tracy called the findings an "inflammatory political report" that attacked his "long established reputation for honesty."
Shaw in July 2019 apologized after a post appeared on the Republican County Chairman's Association Facebook page with a doctored depiction of four minority congresswoman that described them as "The Jihad Squad." The post was not authorized, Shaw said.
The closed-door session with interviews and a vote by the State Central Committee, which includes Schneider and 18 members representing each congressional district, could take up to six hours.