My fellow Illinois Republicans,
Last night, we - as a party - lost 3 seats in the Illinois House, 2 Congressional seats (Hastert, Weller), did not really compete for a US Senate Seat, lost and failed to hold plenty of county-level offices, and now we have a Chicago Democrat in the White House (We wish him well!). This is what's known as rock-bottom.
That's a lot of damage to our party- and a lot of votes for "change".
Seems to be clear that the Illinois Republican Party need some change of our own. And fast.
Right around the corner, we have an election in 2010 that will feature Blagojevich and Crew in the Statewide offices, Todd Stroger up for re-election as the Cook County Board President, 3 Congressional seats we should be competing in, and a slew of Illinois House and Senate seats at play. In order to be in a position to even compete for those races, Illinois Republicans have a lot of preparation ahead of us. We need to make a hard reset of the party.
The Democrats deserved to win yesterday. To be clear, Republicans here in Illinois lost for a few reasons:
1. We didn't connect with voters on issues they care about (smaller gov't, taxes, environment, cronyism, retirements, hospitals, roads, security and schools).
2. President Elect Obama's coattails were awfully long in the Chicago suburbs (And Bush's were awfully short, too).
3. Republican's didn't put up the candidates voters wanted.
There are plenty of things we can take away from this drubbing. Most importantly, Republicans need to view this as a cleansing. A clean break from the past. We need to focus on new ideas, new energy, and new priorties. Among them are our new media campaign(s), idealogical rigidness, and crafting an Agenda for Illinois that resonates with voters.
The immediate reaction from the right wing of the ILGOP - the Family Taxpayer Network folks - will be a "blame the Combine" scream. Other folks like Dan Proft and Fran Eaton will say that we need to return to the core tenents of the party platform where we can appeal to the base. To be perfectly honest, we can't discount their opinions any longer. We arrived where we are with some help from George Ryan, but also because what we're doing as a party simply isn't working. Now, I'm not willing to throw in with those guys completely, because their knee-jerk reaction is to point the blame at Party Chair Andy McKenna and insiders like Ron Gidwitz and Governor Jim Thompson. "Those guys caused this." That's a natural "outsider" reaction. However, it is NOT the answer. Sure, the leadership is at fault, but there are deeper problems than who's name is on the letterhead for the ILGOP. I'm not as concerned about the "head" of the party as I am with the "tail".
In order to be successful in 2010, we need reform in how we run the party, reform how the party organizes, and reform in the issues we bring to voters.
Although they'll try to make it an "us vs. them" stance, trust me, the base Conservatives needn't go that route. As a Republican, I know that we need to bring the Jack Roeser Crowd into the fold - we probably need to do that more than ever. At the same time, we also need to widen our reach and bring even more people into the Party. We do this by talking to voters. Figuring out what's important to them. When we do that, we'll soon see that it isn't abortion or gay marriage, it is their retirement package and their property tax bill and access to hospitals and their awful commute in the mornings and the environment. The Conservatives won't agree with this, but after last night, it is plain to see that we need to build bridges, not fences.
On the important issues of the day, Republicans have an opportunity to speak directly to the voters of Illinois. Congressman Mark Kirk was close with his "Suburban Agenda" - but we need to do more. This is where folks like Fran Eaton, Henry Treftz, Dan Proft, Brian Timpone (all conservatives) and Dan Curry, David Dring and Kevin Artl need to play a role a key role. We have some of the smartest young minds in the State who are members of the party. Let's sit down and craft an Agenda for Illinois - together. This can't be a top-down move. It won't work or be effective if it is. This agenda needs to be driven from and come from the bottom up. This new Agenda for Illinois is the basic building block upon which the new Illinois Republican Party is built upon.
We start today by investing heavily in new media. Does that mean we should just put up a website or a blog? No. That means we need to engage voters online everyday. We need to leverage the web for fundraising, organizing, and mobilizing. Where is our text message address database? How many friends do we have on Facebook? How many views did our videos get on YouTube? Are the local reporters following our candidates on Twitter? This isn't inside-baseball stuff. This is blocking and tackling in the new media world.
Here's what needs to be done. And done now.
1. Build the movement online - Let's organize online around issues all Illinois voters care about.
2. Recruit the best candidates - We need candidates who can connect with suburban, city, and downstate voters.
3. Advocate on the issues people care about - Getting out of a primary should not be our top concern.
4. Refrain from being a rigid party - Making room for voters of all shapes and sizes is the path to victory in Illinois.
This is a tough, hard climb. But we can do it. We need to grab the Illinois Republican Party by the scruff of its neck and pull it out of the gutter. We do this one day at a time, one voter at a time, one hyperlink at a time.
GOP New Media Maven Patrick Ruffini points out that while it is possible to build a 'movement', at the foundation of a successful campaign is the candidate. Greg Hinz talks about the Republicans needing a "White Knight" to 'save' the party. Do we have such a person? I'm not sure. But one thing I am confident in: if we are to compete in 2010 on a Statewide-level (and we **should**), we need to look to our best candidates - the ones who can connect with voters across Illinois. Notice a new Republican Congressman from Peoria? Or Peter Roskam and Mark Kirk - the Congressmen from the Chicago Suburbs? Or how about the House Republican Leader Tom Cross? Too often, we've looked to "self-funder's" as candidates-of-last-hope. That's the wrong approach. If we field the right candidates, the money will find them. We can help by putting together a "draft" movement to get these folks out in front of the race. You, too, can help.
As for the issues, lets look to our best and brightest to help craft our Agenda for Illinois. The party has a platform. That's an essential part of the party structure. This Agenda is different. It demonstrates that we're not a rigid, idealogically driven party. Sure, we have core beliefs about issues. But at the same time, we're also pragmatic folks who think that we can bring some of the necessary solutions to cure Illinois woes (and right now? there's lots of 'em!). Getting out of the Republican Primary shouldn't be our biggest goal. Where a candidate stands on gay marriage needn't disqualify her from being on our ticket. We need to focus on issues that bind voters in Illinois - not point out ones that divide us.
When it comes to the online campaign, Illinois Republicans are trying, but we're simply not executing well. The party needs to create the infastructure to connect the efforts online. What's Senator Dan Rutherford doing that can help in the suburbs? What's Fran Eaton and crew doing with Illinois Review that can drive donations online? The network needs to be expanded and nurtured. Let's look to folks like Gordy Hulten, Curt Mercadante, Henry Treftz and Brian Timpone to lead online.
Finally, as I've done myself in the past, we can't afford to cast aside Republicans who make a lot of noise, but who we disagree with. I'm thinking of people like Dave Diersen, Senator Chris Lauzen and Doug Ibenthal. Although, we most often do not agree, we can and should, as a party, use their energy for great things. The party needs to put them to work on helping change Illinois and spreading the message of our new Republican Agenda.
If you're interested in helping shape this Agenda for Illinois, drop your information into the form below. Together, we can Reset the Party.