Facing calls to resign over his handling of sexual harassment allegations within the party, Mike Madigan faced no opposition this year in being elected the longest-serving chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.
But after Gov. Bruce Rauner eked out a contentious and very narrow victory over state Rep. Jeanne Ives in the March primary, the Illinois Republican Party the GOP governor has bankrolled announced it would split leadership posts as a way to unify a political party that has seen its fair share of dissension.
The shift is also a way to bolster Republican support ahead of a redrawing of legislative boundaries in 2020.
Rauner’s handpicked leader, Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider, will share a leadership post with Lake County Republican Party Chairman Mark Shaw, in a plan to restructure the party and refocus efforts on “grassroots and county-level organizing dedicated to reelecting Governor Rauner and the statewide Republican ticket.”
Schneider, who is also a Cook County commissioner, said in a statement that this year’s gubernatorial election “might be the most consequential one in our state’s history,” while urging the party to be “more organized than ever before” to defeat Democrat J.B. Pritzker.
But Shaw was a bit pointed with the reasons he was chosen: “Many conservatives sent Governor Rauner a message in the primary. On the night of the primary, Governor Rauner said he heard them, and I heard them — loud and clear,” Shaw said in a statement. “But Republicans must focus on the issues that unite us and the election ahead of us. Conservatives in Illinois must come together to reelect Governor Rauner, or we won’t have a voice in state government for the next decade.”
Schneider will serve as chairman while Shaw will serve as co-chairman and lead conservative and grassroots outreach. Shaw will also run for president of the Illinois Republican County Chairmen’s Association. The changes were announced late Tuesday, but both positions are subject to party votes on Saturday in an organizational meeting in Springfield.
“Chairman Schneider and Chairman Shaw look forward to working together over the next six months to unify Republicans in Illinois, reelect Gov. Rauner, and defeat Mike Madigan,” the state GOP party said in a statement.
Rauner’s campaign said the governor “is committed to bringing together all Republicans so we can defeat Pritzker in November.”
Rauner spent about $37 million in the March primary and won by just 2.8 percent. Ives’ launched her campaign last fall, feeding off the conservative backlash against Rauner’s decision to sign legislation expanding public funding of abortion, a move that alienated much of his Republican base as the “ultimate betrayal.”
Ives on Wednesday called the leadership announcement “an encouraging about face by Rauner and his surrogates,” while expressing doubts about the evolution of the agreement.
“If this compromise elevates the party’s conservative base in terms of both policy views and party leadership, that would be good,” Ives said in a statement. “If this compromise turns out to be the typical surrender Republican Rauner play of buying people off with money and titles, that would not be good. While I’m guardedly optimistic, I’ll reserve judgment to see how the deal operates in practice.”