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Carol Marin: She wore an itsy bitsy GOP bikini

Rep. BarbarWheeler | from

Rep. Barbara Wheeler | from

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Updated: August 2, 2013 6:35AM

Sing along with me, please.

“It was an itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polka dot bikini that she wore for the first time today . . . ”

In 1960, when Brian Hyland recorded it, the song was considered a bit risqué. Who imagined that more than half a century later it still had the capacity to offend?

State Rep. Barbara Wheeler certainly didn’t. At least, not until earlier this month when she held a fund-raiser inviting supporters to a “Teeni Weeni Bikini Martini Party.”

The printed invitations for this political pool party were actually pretty funny. Donor categories were listed as: Speedo/$1,000, Bikini/$500, and One Piece/$250.

Have I mentioned that Wheeler is a first-term, conservative Republican from Lake and McHenry counties?

She is.

But if you read some of the blog posts about her in the Illinois Review, you’d think she was a cross between Kim Kardashian and Maureen Dowd sunning poolside on Hugh Hefner’s lap.

“So much for being pro-family,” wrote one disgusted reader.

“I think I heard the #ILGOP is dead. It’s confirmed,” wrote another.

“Some people got a little offended,” laughed Wheeler when I reached her by phone Thursday. “Some curmudgeons in the conservative corner.”

Here’s why I love this story.

First of all, Barbara Wheeler has an actual sense of humor, something that is deader than the dodo bird these days in the GOP.

Second, she has enough maverick in her to resist some stereotypes.

Yes, she is anti-abortion and opposed to same-sex marriage. But she voted for legalizing medical marijuana, convinced it helps critically ill patients with chronic pain. And she voted for a conceal-carry compromise that many pro-gun conservatives despise.

Though she has been doing her “Teeni Weeni Bikini Martini” fund-raisers for four years now, the only reason she got national press attention this time around was that until this year she was just an obscure member of the McHenry County Board. Now she is just a somewhat less obscure state lawmaker.

However, I had to ask.

Did you wear a bikini at the June fundraiser?

“Look, I’m 45 and the mother of 5. It was not the Playboy mansion,” she said.

She wore a sundress over the bikini. After dark, when the kids were home, she and her husband, friends and family jumped into the pool. Including, she said, her cousin, state Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago, who is a liberal, pro-abortion rights, pro-same sex marriage Democrat.

“My polar opposite,” said Wheeler.

Together they recently co-sponsored a law that gives pregnant rape victims greater ability to fight the paternity rights of their rapists.

Wheeler imagines a big tent for her party even though there are disagreements on many things.

“The issue of whether Barb Wheeler is in a bikini or not . . . is a red herring,” she said. “My constituents are less concerned about gay marriage or medical marijuana than they are about jobs and getting their kids to college . . . about property taxes and pensions.”

Not politicians in Speedos?


For most of her concerned constituents, it is an irrelevant — though admittedly horrifying — thought.

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