Where the power is, and what is needed

A lot of political activists are confused about where the ultimate power lies in Illinois politics and government. Many who run political or issue organizations think they have power – but to paraphrase Shakespeare’s Hamlet, such thinking is like a person who is—

—”bounded in a nutshell and counting himself king of infinite space.”

Delusions aside, if you don’t control the governorship, any of the General Assembly caucuses, either of the state parties, or hold a U.S. House or Senate seat, you don’t have in your hands what it takes to bring about real change. Efforts to bring about reform must focus on getting right action from the people within those offices and institutions.

To clarify, there are four caucuses in the G.A.: both parties have one in each chamber. You don’t even need to have a governing majority to make a huge difference. By the very nature of the offices they hold, the individuals who make up the minority caucuses in either chamber have the ability to get a lot of attention and change a lot of minds.

There are a few other possible power bases of course. I would venture to guess that in the coming years Lisa Madigan and Dan Hynes might very well show us the potential of the Attorney General’s and Comptroller’s offices. If they do, it’ll be because of their ability and the ability of their staff.

When it comes to actual legislation, GOP activists aren’t as confused. They realize that except in rare circumstances they can’t pass a good bill without more Republicans holding General Assembly seats.

Most of the fuzzy thinking takes place when it comes to the idea that they can create a shadow party apparatus that can compete with the institution of the Illinois Republican Party itself. Coalitions are formed and summits held in the hopes that such a creature might be created. It has been tried for years, and if it could’ve happened it would’ve happened by now.

In years past, one group in particular sought to reform the party from the outside and raise money in support of candidates who were true to the party’s principles. That group dates back many decades and at one time had real influence and commanded serious resources. Unfortunately today it goes through the motions and is quite content to support Republican candidates even if they’re endorsed by public sector unions.

Real change, however, will only happen when those who have their hands on one of the actual levers of power mentioned above join in the effort to bring about that change.

Up next: Political realism, change, and reform.

The above article was updated from an earlier post.
©2008 John Francis Biver
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