* My Sun-Times column…
The challenges facing the Republican Party in this state are simply enormous.
For the first time in 20 years, more Illinoisans identified themselves to exit pollsters as independents than Republicans. Latinos made up 12 percent of the Election Day voting population this year, a 50 percent increase from 2010, and 81 percent of Latinos voted for President Barack Obama. Just 35 percent of Illinois women voted for Mitt Romney.
The new district maps played a significant role in the defeat of Republicans, but the party’s perceived hostility to women and minorities and the less fortunate is just killing them. They are so inept that they couldn’t elect a governor or gain majorities in either legislative chamber two years ago during the greatest Republican landslide since maybe 1946.
There’s a real temptation to just write off the GOP and be done with it. But politics can change. Illinois had a Republican governor for 26 years. The party didn’t used to scare suburban women by screaming about abortion and rape, nor did it completely alienate minorities and the poor by deeming them subhuman parasites.
Aside from class, gender and race, the GOP also faces a real dilemma of what to do about governing.
Do they boycott the Illinois legislative process, as the Tea Party-friendly Illinois Policy Institute is demanding? Or do they join in and try to make the best of a very bad situation?
The recent warning issued to Republican legislative leaders by John Tillman, who runs the IL Policy Institute, was clear: “If leaders continue the pattern of seeking a seat at the table rather than providing a clear party-in-exile alternative, the rank-and-file members, investors and grass-roots activists must demand changes.”
But the Senate Republicans did just that when they unveiled what they called a “Reality Check” budget plan. The proposal included unrealistically steep cuts in state spending on education and many other areas. The Senate Democrats took that plan and bashed the Republicans repeatedly during the recent campaign. It turns out, voters were far more upset about proposed budget cuts than actual tax hikes and the Democrats now have a historic 40-seat super-majority in that chamber. It’ll take just 10 votes to elect the next Senate minority leader.
Tillman has proposed a budget every year for the past several years, and I’ve commended him for it. He does have some good ideas. But not once has a state legislator ever introduced Tillman’s plan as an actual piece of legislation. Even the most hardcore conservative knows it’s political death.
So, I was heartened to see House Republican Leader Tom Cross hold a joint press conference with Gov. Pat Quinn the week after the election. The two talked about the importance of cooperation as the government moves forward.
Bending Democratic policy even a little by participating in the process is far more responsible and politically sensible than just sitting on the sidelines and screaming about suicidal position papers.
Republicans need to show that they can help govern Illinois before voters will hand them the keys to the governor’s mansion.
* Sen. Kyle McCarter and Tillman disagree…
Some say the party’s problem is messaging. Sen. Kyle McCarter, who is considering challenging Radogno for her leadership seat, said his caucus should have taken a stronger stand on controversial issues such as budget cuts and pension reform. “As Republicans, we can’t just say, ‘No.’ We’ve got to put some detailed plans on the table that really show how we as a state can get out of this fiscal mess.” Senate Republicans have come together to back a budget plan that they put down on paper, but McCarter said they should have introduced the plan as legislation. “I think it’s something that we should have done in this last session. We should have put that in bill form on the table,” he said. “Since I’ve been here, the leadership of the Republican Party has been much too risk-averse.” […]
“The Republican caucuses have been too focused on trying to make bad Democrat policies marginally better rather than having a clear brand-distinguishing alternative vision that they promote vigorously.” He was critical of Republican legislative leaders for their compromises with Democrats. “In terms of the Republican caucuses, with the Democrats having a supermajority, if leaders continue the pattern of seeking a seat at the table rather than providing a clear party-in-exile alternative, the rank and file members, investors and grassroots activists must demand changes. Regardless, the status quo is untenable,” Tillman wrote in his opinion piece.
As I wrote above, the Senate GOP did propose an alternative, and it proved toxic to voters.