The Illinois Republican Party is now officially the Party of Jim Oberweis.
Oberweis is the right-wing dairyman who got elected to the state senate last year, after failed runs for governor, senator or Congress. Once he was on the inside, his first act was to attempt to dump Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady after Brady spoke out in favor of gay marriage. Brady survived a vote of the state Central Committee, thanks to the intercession of Sen. Mark Kirk. But on Monday, Brady resigned. Now the Republicans can find a chairman who will help them build a bridge to the 1920s.
However, Brady may also be a victim of his own failures as party chairman. Under his leadership, the Democrats won a third straight term in the governorship, for the first time since the Republican Party was founded, and also won veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate. This means the Republicans have completely lost the middle ground in Illinois politics. Suburbs such as Park Ridge, Wilmette, and Lake Forest, which used to be the heartland of moderate Republicanism, are now represented by Democrats. So Republicans are left with places such as Wheaton and Effingham, whose hard-core conservative voters pull the party further and further to the right.
The Republican Party’s marginalization is also a consequence of the Cutback Amendment. Promoted in 1980 by then-gadfly Pat Quinn, it reduced the size of the House from 177 to 118 by eliminating the system in which each district sent a senator and three representatives to Springfield. Every sent at least one member of each party, so there were Chicago Republicans and Charleston Democrats, moderating the caucuses of both parties. The Cutback Amendment increased the power of House Speaker Michael Madigan, by giving him more control over Democratic legislators. It also benefited Quinn, 30 years on, when Republicans nominated Bill Brady, who would have been unacceptably conservative to the party of 1980.
As the appeal of the Republican Party narrows, the remaining Republicans demand leaders with narrower minds and narrower appeal. We need a two-party system in Illinois, but Republicans seem incapable of providing it.