Illinois is well-known for corrupt Democratic governors and government. Sadly, establishment Republicans are joining in the sleazy moral morass.
To qualify to be on state-wide ballots, Democratic and Republican Party candidates in Illinois need only several hundred petition signatures while third party candidates need 20,000. The Libertarian Party collected 42,986, more than enough. But the GOP in the state decided not only to challenge nearly 24,000 signatures. Its operatives also sent out armed private agents to go to the homes of LP folks who had signed petitions or collected signatures, telling them they had done so illegally and intimidating them into signing forms recanting their support.
The reason for this shocking stupidity is as clear as it is unnecessary. This year the Republicans have a good chance of defeating Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat. In recent decades Illinois has led the nation in political corruption. The last two governors, George Ryan and Rob Blagojevich, both Democrats, have gone to jail. Two other Democratic governors, Otto Kerner in the 1960s and Daniel Walker in the 1970s, also did stints in prison after their stints in the state house. Current Governor Quinn is also under investigation for corruption.
So the Republican nominee Bruce Rauner could certainly run to restore honestly and integrity to the state. But Republicans are always concerned that Libertarians will siphon off some of their votes. So the GOP decided to counter Democratic corruption with their own form of criminality. It is a felony to engage in the kind of intimidation the Republicans have used. Naturally, Governor Quinn, posing as a crime fighter full of moxie, has promised to bring the perps to justice.
This incident, of course, signals voters “Here’s how we plan to govern,” e.g., with little regard for the law. But more fundamentally, this incident is another battle in the civil war for the soul of the GOP. It highlights a fundamental failing of establishment Republicans. They should seek the votes of LP members and libertarian-leaning Republicans by supporting liberty. Instead, they simply promise to be more honest and efficient managers of the collapsing welfare state, and Illinois Republicans now will have trouble making the “honesty” argument with straight faces.
Yes, Republicans must learn to make compelling, positive cases for personal autonomy that will appeal to voters other than hardcore libertarians. That takes political skill. But the GOP’s Illinois antics simply prove to uber-lovers of liberty as well as all other voters that the Republicans are just another collection of crooked statists.
Maybe in Illinois the stink of corruption on the Democrats will still overwhelm the rotten smell of the Republicans who have soiled themselves as well. But in the long-run, the Republicans must earn votes by fighting to restore liberty and by restraining abusive government or they and, sadly, this once-free country, will end up in the dustbin of history.
Edward Hudgins is research director at the Heartland Institute and former director of advocacy and senior scholar at The Atlas Society.