What would your reaction be if your favorite ball team forfeited a significant portion of their games, then whined about not having a better than .500 season? Would you be calling for the coaches head? Or just drop the team as hopeless morons and become a fan of some other team? No matter what your reaction would be, I’d guess it wouldn’t be pride in your team.
That’s the situation in the Illinois legislature right now.
Illinois is divided into 118 Representative Districts and 2 Representative Districts are combined to form 1 Senate District. Out of those 118 house members 64 are Democrats and 54 are Republican. That’s a significant improvement over the previous house. We took 6 seats from the Dems in the November elections. (And I’m proud to say that I worked very hard to replace one of those Dems with a very capable man.) But here’s the problem. We forfeited 21* of those house seats! We gave them a full third of their wins! That’s right, in a year that saw Republican gains in even some of the bluest areas of the country, we gave away 21 seats. We just didn’t bother to show up.
If you live in a Democrat controlled state, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find a similar situation there.
I’m sure that most of you will point out that a fair number of those seats are in the Chicago area. And conventional wisdom is that a Republican has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning there. And conventional wisdom may be right if we do things in a conventional fashion.
The fact is that too many state parties have fallen into the same trap. They’ve come to believe that if an area has won by a heavy majority of one party’s votes in the past, it will always vote that way. They’re wrong.
None other than the ultimate Democrat politician Thomas P. (Tip) O’Neil** has given us the strategy for taking over a state that has been ruled by the “other” party for decades. When he was a cub in the Massachusetts state house, he was in a minority not unlike that of Republicans in Illinois. He faced a perpetual minority in his state with no hope of ever digging out of it. Except he didn’t play by the accepted rules.
Instead he and a few of his friends decided to try a different tactic. They actually ran candidates against entrenched incumbents . How? They would go to the local districts and talk to the locals. They’d find out who was popular and well respected in town (be he a local butcher, mayor of a small town, a retired teacher or whatever) and they’d talk him into running for the state house. They would get the guy on the ballot, get his campaign rolling by printing signs and whatnot, and funnel campaign cash to him (I don’t recommend using his methods for the latter, it’s all highly illegal now). By taking the time to find candidates who were already known to the districts and backing them, Tip was able to transform Massachusetts from a solid Republican state to the bluest of the Democrat strongholds in just a few years.
I’m recommending the Illinois GOP and every other state party learn a lesson from this. You can’t win if you don’t play.
** Go get his book from the local library and READ it! If they don’t have a copy in their stacks they’ll probably be able to borrow a copy from another library.
Oâ€™Neill, Thomas P., Jr., and Gary Hymel. All Politics Is Local, and Other Rules of the Game. New York: Times Books, 1993.