John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


The GOP In Illinois

Posted on December 12, 2008
This originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune:

How to stage a GOP revival

Gov. Rod Blagojevich has been arrested and accused of corruption, casting a cloud over the Democratic Party in Illinois. The Illinois Republican Party has an opportunity to make a comeback. 

The question is whether the GOP is capable of doing it.

The first Republican president was from Illinois (Abraham Lincoln). The longest-serving Republican speaker of the U.S. House and the second-longest Republican speaker of the House were from Illinois (Dennis Hastert and Joe Cannon). The longest-serving House Republican whip was from Illinois (Les Arends). The longest-serving House minority leader was from Illinois (Bob Michel). One of the most distinguished U.S. Senate leaders in history was from Illinois (Everett Dirksen). One of the most eloquent members of the U.S. Congress in the 20th Century came from Illinois (Henry Hyde). 

So, what happened to the Republican Party of Illinois?

Democrats run the country and dominate Illinois politics. As Barack Obama is sworn in as president, Illinois power brokers like Sen. Dick Durbin, Rahm Emanuel and Mayor Richard Daley will be looking on.

For Republicans to regain power nationally, they have to be able tocompete in Illinois. They need an agenda that unifies the disparate parts of the state, an agenda that appeals to all classes, races, creeds and both sexes. It has to appeal to hard-core conservatives, suburban moms and independents. The Illinois GOP seems hopelessly divided between its conservative and moderate wings, yet the issues that divide them are not the issues that are at the top of the agenda of most voters.

If Illinois Republicans can come up with a new strategy that puts a greater emphasis on talent, competence, reform and accountability, they can build a more competitive party for the future. Here are some thoughts on a strategy:

Reform: Lincoln made the boldest reform in the history of the country. He freed the slaves. Reform simply means making the government work better for all of its citizens, not just the politically connected. Corruption remains a pressing concern in Illinois and to stamp it out requires political and ethics reform. From political reform springs education reform, tax reform and a host of other reforms. If more Illinoisans feel that they have an honest stake in the system, they will participate and help Republicans bring more honesty to Illinois government. 

Accountability: Great Illinois leaders of the past insisted on more accountability from government. Establishing benchmarks, demanding results and taking effective action when government fails to deliver should be a primary plank in the GOP platform.

Competence: From Cannonto Arends to Hastert, legislative craftsmanship has been the hallmark of Illinois legislators in Congress. All of the legislators mentioned above were workhorses, not show horses. They all understood how to make a deal, how to win an amendment, how to pass legislation. Electing representatives who exude competence rather than extreme partisanship reflects the tradition and greatness of Illinois Republican leaders.

Where will Illinois be in 30 years? Will the transportation system be state of the art or in disrepair? Will the schools be the envy of the country or an embarrassment? Will taxes be too high? Will corporations be forced to leave? Will Chicago continue to be the murder capital of the U.S.? Will Illinois still be known as the home of the corrupt politician?

The crony capitalism and corruption that is central to the Illinois Democratic Party makes it unfit to lead the state for the next 30 years. But can the Illinois Republican Party renew itself and start the process of resuscitating the state? Or will it be just a pale substitute with just slightly less corruption?

There are several Illinois Republicans who have shown the talent and the drive to be leaders. U.S. Reps. Mark Kirk, John Shimkus and Peter Roskam are all doing good work in Congress. They need to work with bright Illinois GOP newcomers like U.S. Representative-elect Aaron Schock and state legislative leaders like Tom Cross to revitalize the party.

As Illinois goes, so goes the country. Right now, they are both going blue, butRepublicans now have a great opportunity for a comeback. 

Republican strategist John Feehery worked for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and Minority Leader Bob Michel. 

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