* My Sun-Times column this week takes a look back and a look forward…
Hegewisch is a long way from Schaumburg, geographically and otherwise, but the two areas merged together in my mind this week.
The column goes on to explain Schaumburg state Rep. Paul Froehlich’s party switch, which we don’t need to repeat here.
The last state representative to switch parties was Sam Panayotovich in 1988, when the Cook County Republican Party thought it could become a major player. Republicans wanted to lock in “Reagan Democrat” voters by recruiting candidates who could appeal to them and by attempting to woo Democratic officeholders to their side.
There was a time when it looked as if the Republicans might actually succeed, and might even win a huge prize: the Illinois House. The chamber was closely divided between the two parties and Madigan was facing a revolt by his more conservative city and suburban Democrats, white ethnics who felt shut out by Madigan’s often imperious rule. Panayotovich, a Serbian-American Democrat from Chicago’s Hegewisch neighborhood, decided to take the plunge. Panayotovich announced that he was switching to the GOP, and the word was that other white ethnics would soon follow.
Madigan understood that if Panayotovich won re-election as a Republican, others would surely jump ship and he would lose the speaker’s gavel. So Madigan immediately made it clear that Panayotovich would pay a steep price, and he followed through with an expensive, brutal campaign.
Before Panayotovich’s press conference was even over, Madigan’s chief of staff ordered everything removed from Panayotovich’s office and unceremoniously dumped in the hallway. It was all downhill from there.
The fall campaign against Democrat Clem Balanoff, personally recruited by Mayor Harold Washington, was “hurtful, bitter and unfair,” Panayotovich recalls. His wife was singled out for attack, he was accused of spending more time at the popular Springfield tavern he owned instead of in the Illinois House, and on and on. To be sure, Panayotovich gave as good as he got, and eventually both sides ended up spending more money than had ever been expended on an Illinois House race. Panayotovich lost, and the way he was stomped into the ground may partly explain the lack of party jumpers since then.
And now the look forward…
Panayotovich said this week that Froehlich should prepare for the same treatment. Even though Froehlich’s party switch has little impact on the makeup of the House and no other Republicans are suspected of plotting similar jumps, Panayotovich is probably right.
“That’s our seat,” a top House Republican said this week. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get it back,” said another. The only question is whether the Republicans, hobbled by years in the minority, will have the resources to put up a fight. If they do, and if history is any guide, expect a nasty contest next year.
* Eric Krol looks at both Froehlich and Sen. Kirk Dillard, who cut a TV ad for Barack Obama. This is his conclusion about Froehlich’s future…
Froehlich is a bit of a man without a place to call home right now. And he’s got less than $20,000 in his campaign fund to fall back on. A well-funded Republican could cause him big problems. […]
This time, however, Froehlich’s desire to control his fate and stay in power could end up costing him exactly that.
If Speaker Madigan steps up, as he is expected to, it won’t matter how much money is in Froehlich’s bank account. But, yes, Froehlich is certainly in for a rough road.
Dillard also is up for re-election next year in the 24th Senate District. The district remains reliably Republican, so it’s not the general election Dillard need worry about. It’s catching a primary challenge from a Republican irked that Kirk is offering so much public love for Obama. Dillard possibly just bought himself a headache along with that spotlight he sought.
Sometimes politicians can outthink themselves.
Dillard’s campaign account had almost $200,000 on hand earlier this year and he ought to be able to raise more. Also, Obama did well in DuPage County and likely remains popular, even with Republicans.
That being said, I’m all for bipartisan comity in the General Assembly. But it ought to stay there. If Dillard does draw a primary opponent because of this move, he’ll certainly deserve it. But he’ll almost surely survive it.