Politics 2004Week of May 24


Conservatives were poised for a battle royal with establishment Republicans in Illinois last week, when the Republican Party held its state convention in Collinsville. As expected, venerable conservative activist Jack Roeser and his recently-formed “Renew Illinois” group helped launch challenges to the two Republican National Committee members to be elected by the delegates who gathered at the Collinsville Gateway Center: State Sen. Steve Rauschenberger had agreed two weeks earlier to oppose incumbent National Committeeman Bob Kjellander, a close friend and ally of White House political operative Karl Rove for more than three decades, and fellow conservative Bonnie Miller of Oregon, Ill. Was ready to tackle National Committeewoman Mary Jo Arndt.

As it turned out, however, the races for the RNC positions seemed over before they began. When State Party Chairman Judy Baar Topinka came to the part of the convention agenda at which a vote on the re-elections of Kjellander and Arndt to their positions were to be decided, she asked for a voice vote. Determining that the “ayes” had it, Topinka proclaimed the two incumbents re-elected. There was no subsequent rollcall vote.

“Foul!” cried several “Renew” activists, charging that Topinka– whom they also consider an enemy –had used ham-handed tactics to declare victory for her allies. When I asked state GOP headquarters for their response, spokesman Jason Gerwig told me that a “voice vote was the standard procedure in the election of the national committee members and the ‘ayes’ certainly sounded overwhelming.” He did not explain why Topinka did not then have a rollcall vote of the convention delegates or at least have an up-or-down vote on whether to hold a roll call vote.

One party strategist who followed the entire proceedings voiced the view that the conservatives might have been spared even more ignominious defeat had their been a roll call instead of the voice vote. As he told me, “Steve Rauschenberger got in the race only two weeks ago and then was focused on the budget in Springfield. In fact, he made it clear he would not campaign actively for the position, that he would simply permit his name to be put in nomination in Collinsville.” It was only days before the convention that Rauschenberger at last became an active candidate, launching his challenge with a spirited attack on Kjellander and his lobbying activities.

But the conservative legislator’s last-minute entry hurt. At the meeting of the Nominations Committee on the morning of the vote, the panel chaired by State Sen. Kirk Dillard of DuPage County voted 18 to 1 to support Kjellander over Rauschenberger. There wasn’t even a seconding vote for Rauschenberger until one member of the committee decided to cast one so that the challenger would be able to compete for the office. (Rove, in his spirited address to the convention, urged support for the President, but avoided any mention of Kjellander–his friend since 1970 and chairman of the Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign for the Great Lakes).


While there are sure to be some scars left from the internecine griping at the convention in Collinsville, the quabbling was generally downplayed in the face of the news that was truly the hot topic of the event: an independent poll was released that showed President Bush in his strongest position yet this year for Illinois’s 21 electoral votes and also showed Republican U.S. Senate nominee Jack Ryan closing in on Democratic opponent Barack Obama.

The just-completed Rasmussen poll, conducted for the Daily Southtown (the suburban sister publication of the Chicago Sun-Times) found that Democrat John Kerry leads Bush among likely Illinois voters by just 48% to 43% statewide. These results are considered stunning, as it is the first time in any survey this year that Kerry’s lead over Bush has been less than double digits in the Prairie State.

In the race to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald, GOP nominee and Chicago businessman Ryan trails State Sen. Obama by 48% to 40% in the Southtown poll. This is the closest to Obama Ryan has been in any survey since Obama won the Democratic nomination in the March primary and became a hero to the mainstream media in Illinois. As Ryan spokesman Bill Pascoe told me, “Jack’s opponent had a 52% to 33% lead in a poll published right after the primary and was leading him 48% to 36% only four weeks ago.” Ryan himself got a standing ovation when he addressed the state convention and Vice President Dick Cheney is soon expected to make a campaign appearance on his behalf.

But the biggest winner in the Southtown poll is someone who won’t even be on the ballot this fall. Thirty-five years after he quit his suburban Chicago House seat to enter the Nixon Administration, Donald Rumsfeld can still be called Illinois’s favorite son. Asked whether or not he should resign as secretary of defense, a resounding 58% of Illinois voters said no, according to the poll, while only 30% felt Rumsfeld should quit.


Term Limits Dead in Wyoming: Thirteen state legislators from both parties in Wyoming almost surely breathed a sigh of relief last week, as the state supreme court ruled that a 1992 statewide initiative imposing the limits on lawmakers was unconstitutional. In a unanimous ruling, the court concluded that state voters lacked the right to use the initiative process to impose term limits (which were approved with a whopping 77% of the vote). The court went on to say that the only proper legal avenue toward achieving term limits was to amend the state constitution–a move that requires two-thirds of the legislators from both chambers to approve the measure before it goes to the voters.

Delaware Update: Meeting at their state convention last week, Delaware Republicans gave 77% of their delegates to the gubernatorial campaign of moderate William S. Lee. Lee, who favored civil unions and abortion, defeated conservative Michael Protack, an airline pilot who took opposite stands on both issues. Protack is expected to pursue his candidacy by opposing Lee in the fall primary. Four years ago, Lee was counted out at the state convention, but came within fewer than 100 votes of winning the gubernatorial primary. The winner will face Democratic Gov. Ruth Ann Minner.

Who’s That for Michigan House? Perhaps the best-known candidate for any state legislative seat in the nation is John Ramsey of Michigan. Just recently, the father of child murder victim Jon Bonet Ramsey declared for the Republican nomination for the seat of outgoing State Rep. Ken Bradstreet. (Although the bulk of press attention focused on the Ramsey family has seen them at their houses in suburban Denver and later in Atlanta, John Ramsey, supporters point out, was born and educated and spent his early years in business in the bucolic Charlevoix area of Northern Michigan and over the years, he has always maintained a home in the area and acquired the other residences for his business).

Ramsey, who faces five opponents in the August primary, has proclaimed he is a conservative Republican and campaigns on state issues. Republican National Committeeman Chuck Yob (who introduced the candidate at his announcement event and whose son John is Ramsey’s campaign quarterback) told me: “I’ve never seen an announcement for the state legislature that drew several hundred guests. And I’ve never been with a candidate for the legislature who is profiled on Larry King’s program and on “The Today Show.” Yob went on to say that, yes, he did discuss the grisly murder of Jon Bonet Ramsey with her father, that he even did ask him if he killed his daughter, and Yob is convinced “he is innocent and a good man.”