Illinois and St. Clair County need a two party system

I’m going to talk politics here, so if you aren’t interested in reading any more about the election, you may want to skip my column this week. But some things need to be said.

Another election is in the books in Illinois and St. Clair County and once again we find ourselves under oneparty rule. While some may argue that its ok because they align themselves with the party in power, in many cases a balanced government ultimately results in a better deal for the taxpayers.

Take a look at the state of our state. We have some of the highest taxes in the nation and have experienced a massive exodus of residents over the past 10 to 15 years resulting in a higher tax burden being laid at the doorstep of the folks unable or unwilling to leave for greener pastures. And what do we as an electorate do when given the opportunity to change course? We enthusiastically vote in the same politicians that raise our taxes time and time again.

The same can be said for St. Clair County. It is completely ruled by one party who finds ways to increase taxes and then turn around and somehow try and convince the people that they really cut them by promoting levy abatements. But I suppose that airport won’t pay for itself…

Now I could be upset at the Democrat Party for winning. But instead I’m choosing to reflect on the current state of the Illinois and St. Clair County Republican Parties and how ineffective both are at giving the voters a viable option on Election Day.

At the state level, it was obvious Governor Bruce Rauner was running head first into a buzzsaw. While he did try to hold the line and fight many of the efforts by Speaker Madigan to push Illinois further downward, he also caved more than a few times, demoralizing his base and giving the opposition fuel in their fight against him.

I believe there was one big straw that broke the camel’s back and that was when Rauner finally got a budget through, but it included a tax increase. Rather than negotiate for something in exchange for the tax increase, such as workers compensation reform, fair mapping legislation, or term limits, he caved and got nothing. Ineffective. Governor Prtizker was a foregone conclusion months ago.

Taking a step outward, the state party is horrible at recruiting and assisting viable candidates for state representative and state senate races. In many cases, it seems that desperate times call for desperate measures and any warm body can be propped up to run. Promises are made to these candidates to fund them with all the money and staff they’ll need, but that assistance only sometimes actually comes through. I can name a number of candidates that were convinced they would have what they need when they started circulating petitions to find themselves with barely a pittance of what they expected three months out from Election Day when the rubber has hit the road.

Locally, the situation is even more dire. 

The St. Clair County Republican Party seems to be as disorganized of a political party that it could be. Fundraising efforts are poor at best, especially when compared to the well-oiled machine in Belleville funded by trial attorneys, unions, and patronage jobs. County candidates receive little, if any, financial support and the party has very few volunteers able and willing to assist candidates with door-to-door campaigning and other efforts. This poor organization is unfair to the men and women who put their names on the ballot and pick up the Republican Party banner as candidates.

Additionally, candidate recruitment is a major problem. I was enthusiastic when Nick Gailius threw his hat in the ring this year for sheriff, if for no other reason than he was highly qualified for the job. While he managed to do the best he could, and raised a decent amount of money to get his message out, none of the other countywide candidates even compared. If you weren’t actively seeking these candidates out, you never knew their names until you were staring at them on your ballot.

Additionally, the local GOP is fractured into many sub-groups and efforts aren’t nearly as coordinated as they need to be. Competing interests interfere with a cohesive message and the effort comes to a halt.

The unfortunate truth of the matter is that until the Illinois and St. Clair County Republican Parties can figure out how to properly operate, both the state and county will remain locked tight under one-party rule. We can blame voter turnout, money disparities, and vote fraud all we want, but other states and counties have found ways to counteract those problems and come out ahead.

A good example is our neighbor to the north, Madison County. Once a democrat controlled stronghold like St. Clair, Madison is now much more balanced, electing members of both parties. My friend Chris Slusser won a hotly contested race to become the Madison County treasurer Tuesday evening. He was appointed in 2016 to the position after the incumbent became the County Board chairman and Chris stepped up and performed great work. I fully expect he will continue to do a good job on behalf of his constituents. 

The Madison County Republican Party once faced most of the same problems as St. Clair County, with the exception of an East St. Louis Election Board that has long outlived its usefulness, and they managed to become relevant. Why can’t the St. Clair County GOP do the same?

Mid-term elections typically aren’t ones where the St. Clair County GOP loses ground. At best they gain a bit, but at worst they hold steady. This year they lost seats and gained nothing. If that isn’t a giant wake up call to party leadership, I don’t know what could be. We can only hope that some solid reflection and assessments are made in the coming few months.

This column is not designed to bash on the Democrats. They ran good races and did what they needed to do to win. I congratulate all of the newly elected and re-elected candidates and wish them well. 

However, this is my very direct way of expressing my disappointment with the two-party system in Illinois and St. Clair County and my way of asking when they will finally get their head into the game and start truly getting organized. There are a lot of people, including myself, that hope it is soon.