Monday, September 7, 2009

For Topinka these days, Comptroller sounds much better than retirement

I’m trying to figure out in my mind these days whether the upcoming campaign season is going to turn Judy Baar Topinka into the Republican version of Pat Quinn or Roland Burris.

By that, I mean will she manage to get herself a political post that puts her in a position to move up (like Quinn did when he accepted the lieutenant governor slot in 2002) should future circumstances dictate?

OR IS HER so-called kooky nature more akin to Burris’ ego, which would make her someone best off staying in political retirement (why ruin the legacy already built up?).

I wonder because one can argue that all three of these people are government officials from the Illinois political scene who peaked in the 1990s, and who ought to accept that their best days were behind them.

Political parties that are supposed to be looking to a new generation of leadership shouldn’t be falling back on their eccentricities from the 20th Century – not if they truly want to remain relevant in the 21st.

Yet I’m sure Topinka looks at Quinn’s place in politics these days and thinks to herself that there’s no reason she can’t do something similar.

NOW WHEN I say they all peaked in the 1990s, what I mean is they got elected to a statewide office that turned out to be their high point. Quinn as state treasurer and Burris as state attorney general in 1990, with Topinka replacing Quinn as state treasurer in 1994.

Until he got back into the Statehouse scene on the coattails of Rod Blagojevich in 2002, Quinn was irrelevant. Until Blagojevich picked Burris because he was the only one with a bloated enough ego to accept the post under the impeachment-tainted circumstances, Roland, Roland, Roland was equally irrelevant, irrelevant, irrelevant.

And Topinka has been equally insignificant on the statewide scene since her defeat in the 2006 gubernatorial campaign against Blagojevich.

It will be interesting to see how the Republican establishment and hard-liners in Illinois accept the thought of Topinka coming back, since she says she wants to run for the GOP nomination for state comptroller (which technically is as low-level a state constitutional post as the one she held for 12 years).

BUT WHEN ONE considers that she’s not doing much else in public life (aside from making the occasional speaking gig), comptroller sounds better than retirement.

As it turns out, she’s one of three people wishing to run for the state government office that actually cuts checks to pay the state’s bills. It is an office that can give its occupant a seriously detailed notion of where the political bodies are buried, so to speak, since they can see who gets money and who doesn’t.

Common logic would indicate Topinka ought to be a front-runner, since her two Republican opponents for the office being given up by three-term holder Dan Hynes (who dreams of becoming Illinois governor) don’t even come close to the level of political experience held by Judy Baar.

She is, after all, a former treasurer and state senator representing the area around suburban Riverside.

BUT TOPINKA STILL carries what is considered baggage in some Republican circles. She’s not ideological enough (even though she is a woman who once thought that Phil Gramm ought to be president of the United States) for the more hard-line conservatives of this state.

Some political observers like to say that Topinka lost to Blagojevich in the ’06 gubernatorial bid solely because of the big-money campaign he ran, using his financial advantage to bury her under mud. That image of her dancing with former Gov. George Ryan at a State Fair past still lingers in some peoples’ memories.

Yet would that kind of trash really have been effective if it weren’t for the fact that a large segment of the Republican Party was already hesitant about accepting her as their preferred political party’s nominee?

It’s not like the defeat of Topinka created that much dismay in Republican circles. Some were openly glad to see her go, based on the belief that it was the elimination of yet another non-conservative from their ranks.

IN SHORT, TOPINKA could face the same problems that Rep. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., could face in the Republican Party in his bid for the U.S. Senate – a belief that he’s some sort of liberal (which really is ridiculous to anyone who looks seriously at his record and background). Of course, she doesn’t face as many challengers as Kirk does. So perhaps there’s a chance she can overcome the two “no-names” she is likely to run against.

But if 2010 turns into some sort of movement where the conservative hard-liners of the GOP figure that the image of Rod Blagojevich gives them their best chance to nominate uncompromising ideologues for state government office, then perhaps Topinka becomes as irrelevant as Burris will be after next year.

But if by chance Judy Baar could get herself back into elective office, who’s to say what future circumstances could arise that could result in her moving up in the ranks of Illinois government. Seriously, who would have ever dreamed that Quinn would be our state’s governor!

It’s not like a return of the accordion to the state’s political scene would be the most harmful thing that could happen to Illinois.


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