Illinois GOP Powerbrokers Taking Even More Power from GOP Voters

-By Warner Todd Huston

Recently, an anonymous piece at BigJournalism.com was posted attacking Ill. State Treasurer Dan Rutherford for objecting to proposed changes in the state's process of choosing delegates to the GOP nomination convention. This article is misguided and misses some important facts.

Rutherford released an open letter urging the GOP State Central Committee, the party's governing body, not to change the way Illinois arrives at delegates to the national party convention. BigGovernment.com claims that Rutherford is only taking this action because he is a Romney man. I'll not speculate on Rutherford's motives re the candidates as it really is irrelevant to the point in this particular case. In other words, BigGovernment.com is wrong in its attack not to mention in its support for the rules change.

Before I get into who said what and who is doing what, we need to describe the rules change, of course. Call this the "fine print" part of the story.

Currently, Illinois delegates to the GOP convention for presidential candidates are chosen by the GOP voters of the state. Delegates actually run a sort of political campaign of their own to get elected to represent the party at the convention. They must circulate petitions, get several hundred signatures of real Illinois voters to qualify to run for the position, then get chosen by the people during the primary election. Each candidate has his slate and voters decide how many of them get to fill the role of delegate.

Those that oppose this current system say that it is onerous on the delegates. They say that fielding candidates and circulating signatures is too expensive, too difficult. Those that support it say that it is the truest form of voter participation and should not be changed.

For its part, BigGovernment.com is calling this an "antiquated system" and thinks that the proposed change is a good one, that instead of the voters electing slates of delegates, which ever presidential candidate that gets 50% plus one of the vote should automatically get all the state's GOP delegates -- a winner-take-all system.

If this was all there was to the debate, BG.com might not be so wrong. But this isn't all there is to this debate.

The problem is the GOP State Central Committee in the Land of Lincoln. Firstly, the voters have absolutely no direct influence over the members of the governing body of their own party. Central Committee members are not voted into office but are selected by the local committeemen at the state party convention. Similarly, the state GOP chairman is also selected by the State Central Committee. It is an odd fact that Democrat voters in Illinois can choose their own state central committee members via the ages old process of democratic elections, but Republican voters cannot.

Worse, the GOP State Central Committee conducts almost all its business in secret meetings. Once again, Ill. GOP voters are on the outside looking in.

Now, back to the question of the primaries and delegate selection. Along with the proposed change as outlined in BG.com, the GOP State Central Committee is trying to piggyback it's own little self-serving rules change to the one being proposed. The committee wants to practically eliminate all influence of the voters in the delegates to the national party convention, too.

What the committee is proposing is that it pick the delegates after the primary in a secret, closed-door meeting. Voters need not apply.

So, let's review: The State Central Committee is not elected by the voters, the State Chairman is not elected by the voters, and now those unelected officials propose that they also control who is allowed to become a delegate to the national nominating convention who will also not be elected by the voters if their rules change gets through!

… and all this after the state party lost almost every state office, and after the late 2010 election elected 5 new Republicans to Congress almost all of whom the party did not support, and after the state GOP was so weak that it could do nothing as the Illinois Democrat Party redistricted many Republicans nearly out of office. Yet, now these same GOP Party bosses want even more control? And they want to further cut the voters of the state out of any say in the matter?

So, while BG.com is urging the rules change to make the state a winner-takes-all system, it is unwittingly agreeing to take away even more power from the voters of Illinois. Not very democratic of them is it?

In the end, I’d rather see the way Illinois chooses delegates remain the same than allow the State Central Committee be allowed to take even more power away from Illinois voters.

No matter which candidate Treasurer Dan Rutherford is supporting and even if he has an ulterior motive for opposing the rules change, I stand with Rutherford on this one.

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