Saturday, April 10, 2010

Edgar shows us why he’s no longer the “voice” of the Grand Old Party in Illinois

Illinois’ one-time “Gov. No,” the man who once had a running feud with Mayor Richard M. Daley for refusing to support the city’s desires on so many things, is now in a position where he’s going around touting views that sound like they’re coming from life-long Democrats.

We’re talking, of course, about Jim Edgar, who this week said he supported a business group that wants to push for reforms to the nation’s immigration laws. Edgar also told a gathering at Elmhurst College that he thinks his political party’s gubernatorial nominee is being short-sighted for insisting that tax increases of any type cannot be a part of the solution for resolving Illinois government’s financial problems.

HECK, EDGAR WENT so far as to say that Gov. Pat Quinn is showing “courage” for being willing to talk about income tax increases to help insure that state government has enough money to meet its financial obligations.

The latter comes across with a certain level of incredulity to those of us who remember his 1994 bid for re-election, where his campaign used its fundraising advantages to tar and feather Democratic opponent Dawn Clark Netsch as a “tax and spend liberal” for suggesting that state income tax increases, paired up with local property tax relief, was an idea worth considering.

Of course, Edgar himself proposed something similar three years later as part of a solution to help stabilize state funding for public education – an idea that abhorred his GOP legislative colleagues so much that they went out of their way to let it die politically.

Personally, that is one reason why I now believe that all campaign rhetoric used by candidates should be disregarded. It definitely should not be taken literally

INSOFAR AS EDGAR was concerned, no one was worried about any embarrassment that might be caused to the governor. A part of me has always wondered how much that whole fiasco played a role in Edgar’s decision not to run for any office in 1998, or any election since then.

The fact is that there always was a certain disconnect between Edgar and the ideologically conservative faction of the Republican Party. We’re talking about the same people who are pleased that FINALLY they got a gubernatorial candidate of their own to vote for (in the form of state Sen. William Brady, R-Bloomington), and are the ones who create just enough uncertainty that moderate-to-conservative Senate nominee Mark Kirk shouldn’t take victory on Nov. 2 for granted.

Edgar was always a cause for suspicion among those people because he was the rare Republican who would publicly say he thought abortion was a legitimate medical procedure that should be available to women, if they so chose.

In fact, my recollection of Edgar was of a life-long state government bureaucrat whose reason for wanting to be governor was that it was the top post of his most significant employer. He literally worked his way up from Legislature intern to a legislator to a gubernatorial staffer to a state constitutional officer to governor for eight years.

HE ALSO WAS the guy who took pride in being from Charleston (the college town that hosts Eastern Illinois University). Which meant that his biggest strike in the eyes of Chicagoans is that he was one of those people not fortunate enough to be one of us.

Which also meant he didn’t see the need to cater to the Chicago political organization and was wiling to say “no” to Daley (third airport, Meigs Field, so many issues). Of course, the ideological disconnect between Edgar and the faction that now runs the Illinois Republican Party was also such that they didn’t think much of telling him “no” when he asked for their support – which fed into the idea among Chicagoans that Edgar was useless because he couldn’t get his own allies to go along with him.

My point in recalling all of this trivia (my time covering the daily activity of Illinois state government coincides timewise with the Edgar era, although I also got tastes of Jim Thompson and George Ryan) is to say that it isn’t surprising that Edgar (who remains a “distinguished fellow” of the University of Illinois’ Institute of Gvoernment & Public Affairs) would be in disagreement with the people of his own political party come this election cycle.

I think the news reports emphasizing the idea that “Republican Jim Edgar said his party’s candidate is wrong” (that is pretty close to the lede used by the Arlington Heights-based Daily Herald newspaper) are missing the point.

EDGAR WAS NEVER the hard-core ideologue that is now preferred by Republican Party organizations across the United States. “Milquetoast” and “boring” are the terms I remember being used to describe the one-time goverrnor.

So to read reports indicating that Edgar is now more concerned about the state’s financial situation than he is in scoring political points for people who probably don’t think of him as much of an ally to begin with should be expected.

Hence, he is willing to consider the dreaded “income tax” increase, although in all fairness, Edgar has said he voted in the primary earlier this year for Kirk Dillard, the state senator from Hinsdale who once worked as his chief of staff.

And as for his support for immigration reform, it goes along with the general tone of the Edgar years that were concerned about Illinois business interests. I’m sure some of those businesses could care less about the “foreigners” and just want cheap labor.

BUT MANY OF the “undocumented” are here because they want to work, and would be glad to get the proper visa and go through the paperwork procedure if not for the fact that the current rules governing that process are a mess. Which is why we need immigration “reform!”

There also is a practical political overtone to Edgar on this issue, since he has said in the past that his GOP colleagues’ ideological games are scaring away the growing Latino population from thinking of the Republican Party as a place that might be for them.

I know that many conservatives want to believe that things such as the “Tea Party movement” is a revolution meant to turn back aspects of our society they consider to be threats – including, for some, the presence of all these “foreigners” from “Mexico, or Mexico-like countries.”

The reality, however, is that this conservative “backlash” is a mere blip. There are trends in our society that are occurring and cannot be turned back by some ideological rants. I’m starting to wonder if the presence of Jim Edgar (whom I must admit I didn’t vote for in either 1990 or 1994) is merely evidence that a few people in the one-time Party of Lincoln are trying to accept reality.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Has Jim Edgar really become some sort of liberal who supports higher taxes and letting more foreigners ( into this country? Or is Edgar the equivalent of John Paul Stevens (, the retiring Supreme Court justice nominated by Republicans who now with the passage of time and changes in the GOP is now lauded/demonized as the ultimate liberal?

Has it really been a dozen years since Edgar gave up government ( for academia?

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