Divisions between the right and the far right were on full display at the state’s annual Republican Day breakfast on Thursday as the party vowed to come back — and fight Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s graduated income tax — after decisive losses that put them in the superminority in the state’s Legislature.
There was no sugarcoating it at the dour breakfast before the party’s pep rally at the Illinois State Fair. Things are not great for the state’s Republicans a year after Gov. Bruce Rauner lost re-election, and Pritzker quickly racked up major legislative accomplishments.
“We had a rough year,” Illinois Republican Party co-chair Tim Schneider said. “We lost the governor’s mansion. We have no statewide office holders, and we lost several legislative seats. But that’s our current reality, but it doesn’t and it won’t be our future.”
Schneider didn’t mention that “rough year” included his own loss of the northwest suburban Cook County Board seat he had held since 2006.
He said Republicans are in a “bunker” with the opportunity to come back “and be better than ever in 2020 and beyond.”
The state Republican Party last year — while still heavily funded by Rauner – reached a compromise with more conservative party members to appoint Lake County GOP Chairman Mark Shaw the co-chair of the state party. He also took over the leadership of the Republican county chairmen’s association. The move avoided the appearances of a feud that would have shed even more light on some of the major divides among the state Republican Party.
And those divisions were on full display at Thursday’s breakfast. Schneider focused on the reality of losses — and a message of unity. Shaw got right to President Donald Trump: “Aren’t we happy to be standing here in the state’s capital on Republican Day to tell the Democrats that we’re not going away? We’re back and we’re fighting with our president.”
There was much talk of the future, and a big battle ahead: fighting Pritzker’s graduated income tax amendment, which cleared the hurdle earlier this year to make it onto the 2020 ballot.
Greg Baise, the head of the newly formed Vote No on Blank Check Amendment Committee, said Pritzker’s self-described “fair tax” will give politicians “a blank check for them to be sending what they need for any whim.”
“We have to take the opportunity to remind the people of Illinois that the Democratic leadership are overseeing a cauldron of corruption in this state, almost on a daily basis, a new indictment, a new allegation, something else is brought forth by this [party],” Baise said.
Baise said the state “will be seeing a lot” from his committee in the coming weeks: “We will be spending money to highlight the problems if you change the state income tax.”
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said Republicans must “continue to fight them [Democrats] at every turn,” calling the graduated income tax “the killer of killers.”
“This past session there was one of the most aggressive, progressive returns that I’ve seen in all of my life and anywhere in the United States,” Durkin, R-Western Springs, said. “This progressive agenda that the Democrats passed is not yours. It’s not mine. Nor does it reflect the majority of Illinois’ morals and values.”
There was some laughter when former Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran — who is seeking to run against Sen. Dick Durbin — argued Lake County is no longer purple. It’s blue.
But he went a little further than that.
“You know, the wrong people moved in, what have you,” Curran said at the Illinois Republican County Chairman’s Association breakfast in Springfield. “We need to change that and we will.”
It’s unclear whether Curran was talking about the demographics or the politics of the county. According to election results, all major statewide Democratic candidates won Lake County. But there were some splits in federal and state races. Former Republican U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam carried the county by about 3%, but ultimately lost to Democrat Sean Casten.
Curran later told the Sun-Times he was referring to “Chicago transplants that vote Democrat and do not mind paying high taxes,” noting Lake County has the highest property taxes in the state.
He said any assumption that he was talking about demographics is just from “partisan liars.”
”It’s nonsense that I would ever refer to minorities,” Curran said. “It’s horrible to even think that.”
Curran, who served as Lake County Sheriff from 2006 until 2016, began running as a Republican in 2008.
Later on the Illinois State Fairgrounds, the state party showed off a rebranding: a banner that read “Fight the Machine,” featuring U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Pritzker.
Schneider said the machine “has been suffocating Illinois for decades.” He made note of the federal investigations swirling around Illinois politics: “Maybe, just maybe, the Department of Justice is finally interested in rescuing Illinois from this corrupt machine.”
The short rally also featured U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, who is facing a rematch against Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, Congressman U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood and keynote speaker, U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the House minority whip.
Davis had a message for Pelosi, who was the keynote speaker for Governor’s Day events in Springfield on Wednesday: “Let’s just say I don’t think Speaker Pelosi likes me representing the 13th District of Illinois, and I’m OK with that,” Davis said.
“I don’t want to be on Speaker Pelosi’s team. I don’t want to work to institute policies that are going to infringe on the rights of law abiding Americans. I don’t want Speaker Pelosi to be speaker anymore. And the only way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to do what? Is to elect more Republicans.”