What hope does Illinois have of a two-party system when Republicans can’t even run as Republicans?
Since it’s nearly impossible for a Republican to get elected to anything in Chicago -- the last surviving elephant is Rep. Roger McAuliffe, whose Northwest Side district also includes Norridge and Harwood Heights -- they’ve taken to disguising themselves as Democrats.
Michelle Piszczor, who is running in the Democratic primary against House Speaker Michael Madigan, has been called a Republican plant because her campaign is backed by conservative activist Jack Roeser, and received a $5,000 donation from one of Roeser’s friends. Piszczor insists she is a Democrat.
Not so for Tom Swiss. As former executive director of the Chicago Republican Party and former 27th Ward Republican committeeman, Swiss can’t hide his trunk. Nonetheless, he’s running as a Democrat in a district stretching from the Gold Coast to Cicero. Swiss’s signs are affixed to every abandoned house on the West Side. We’ll find out on March 20 whether he has support in any occupied houses.
Swiss says he’s not hiding his work for the GOP, which focused on efforts to expose corruption and recruit election judges: “I’m very proud of what I did,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board, citing thwarting political corruption as one of his top priorities.
Rather, Swiss says, he’s running as a Democrat because a Republican can’t win in his heavily Democratic district and, he emphasized, because he can fairly be described as a Blue Dog Democrat or a moderate Republican.
“I don’t think my values are out of line with the values of the district,” said Swiss, a River West neighborhood resident.
Not many people remember this, but Republicans were once represented in every Chicago neighborhood. Until 1982, every legislative district sent a senator and three representatives to Springfield. Each voter had three votes to spread among three candidates, divide between two, or heap on one. If you “plunked” or “bulleted” for a single candidate, he got all three votes. Each party ran only two candidates per district, allowing Republicans to win in the city and Democrats to win in the suburbs. (The system dated back to 1870, when Illinois drafted its second constitution. As the legislature was bitterly divided between southern Democrats and northern Republicans, Chicago Tribune publisher Joseph Medill proposed cumulative voting so “the strong men of a party throughout the state may be elected, although living in districts where their party is in a minority.”)
The 177-member Big House, as it was known, was abolished in a referendum led by our current governor, Pat Quinn. Voters were angry that the General Assembly had just voted itself a raise, and relished the chance to fire 59 legislators with one vote.
The Cutback Amendment killed the Chicago Republican Party, ending the careers of such thoughtful legislators as Susan Catania, who used her office to rally constituents against Democratic state’s attorney Edward Hanrahan, hated by blacks for his role in the killing of Black Panthers Fred Hampton and Mark Clark. Catania also defied House Speaker George Ryan by supporting the Equal Rights Amendment. There wasn’t much he could do to control a Chicago Republican. The Cutback Amendment killed the independent legislator, too.
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