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Thursday, Nov. 11, 2010 12:14 pm

Life could get tough for House Republicans

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Illinois House Republican Leader Tom Cross

Without a doubt, the worst place to be right now in Illinois politics is the state’s House Republican caucus.

Their leader, Tom Cross, went “all in” this year against House Speaker Michael Madigan and came up way short.

There were the innumerable planted newspaper stories about Madigan, including, for instance, how he apparently picked his own Republican challenger. The Republicans then staged a downtown Chicago “fundraiser” for Madigan’s invisible opponent. Then there were the billboards along the Tollway ridiculing Madigan, which ginned up even more unflattering media coverage. Of course, there were also the countless mailers and TV ads claiming that Madigan was the real problem in Illinois. Not to mention the hundreds of times Cross boldly predicted he would win the majority and finally put Madigan in his place. Madigan detested Cross before the election. It’s gone way beyond that now.

Maybe Leader Cross truly believed he could take Madigan out. More likely, the boasting was a ruse to raise money from gullible rich Republican businessmen.

Maybe Cross figured that even if he didn’t win, Bill Brady would surely beat Gov. Pat Quinn and then Cross would have someone to protect him and his members from Madigan’s retribution. A Brady win would also mean that Cross would have a chance at drawing the new legislative district map next year.

And maybe Cross concluded that even if he didn’t win and Brady lost, then at least Democratic Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Kilbride would lose his retention battle because out-of-state business groups were spending cash hand over fist against him. With Kilbride out, the court would at least temporarily lose its Democratic majority and might be frightened into going along with any Republican lawsuit against a Democratic district map.

Well, not only is Cross still in the minority, but he won’t have a Republican governor to backstop him. And Chief Justice Kilbride won. Big.

Most of Cross’ members are loyal, but they have to be worried about their future. Legislators, like most humans, are mainly concerned with self-preservation. But the Quinn/Kilbride wins mean that Speaker Madigan will draw the new district map. And the power of the map means that some of those Republicans won’t be coming back in two years. One time-tested map trick is to draw two or more enemies into the same district. In other words, the Republicans need to hope that the housing market improves soon because some of them will have to find new digs.

The remap always hovers above everything in Springfield. During the last redistricting process in 2001, several state senators were in the secure computer room on Sept. 11. Planes were crashing, buildings were falling, but they were checking on their boundaries. That’s how important this is to them.

It’s no secret that Madigan is not the forgive and forget type. And he’s not above using something as important as the map to “urge” compliance with his wishes. There are a whole lot of crucial votes coming up during the next several months as the General Assembly attempts to dig the state out of this massive hole. The Republicans have spent the past three years in open, hostile opposition to Madigan, with the situation degrading sharply over the past year or so. Many of those members are trying to figure out how they can best navigate the next couple of years and preserve themselves in the process.

It’s not that simple, though. Even if some of Cross’ members bow down to His Royal Highness in exchange for map crumbs, they have another, perhaps even more serious problem to ponder.

Several House Republicans have state facilities in their districts, so they are naturally more amenable to “revenue enhancements.” Others, particularly in the suburbs, have long been allies of the teachers unions. But many of those same members are surely worried what could happen to them if they vote with the Democrats. Forget Cross. I’m talking about the tea partiers.

Just look at what the tea partiers did to established Republicans in primaries all over the country this year. In Delaware, they beat the most respected Republican in the state with a bizarre candidate who eventually had to run TV ads assuring voters she wasn’t a witch. No way would Harry Reid go back to the U.S. Senate if Nevada Republicans had nominated their sane primary candidate.

Illinois’ next primary will be held in a little over 17 months. Whatever the Republicans do next year will still be fresh in angry voters’ minds.

I just wouldn’t want to be in their shoes right now.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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