Updated: November 11, 2011 3:42PM
Jack Roeser, the crusty Illinois conservative who has devoted his time and treasure to right-wing causes and candidates, seems a bit amused at his new popularity.
“I’m getting so many people calling and coming out to visit,” he told me.
I called Roeser on Tuesday to talk about the Tea Party and the big TEACON event this weekend in Schaumburg headlined by Andrew Breitbart and Glenn Beck. Roeser will be their presenter.
“The Republican Party needs the Tea Party,” he said forcefully. “I’m the oldest member, 88 years, their longest member.”
It was the Tea Party in Illinois that stunned the Democratic establishment in 2010 with upset victories in five formerly Democratic congressional districts, handing power over to Republicans as part of the conservative sea change that hit Washington.
Roeser, who operates his aerospace engineering company and nonprofit Family Taxpayers Foundation out of offices in Carpentersville, has never gotten along with the moderate members of the GOP. Or they with him.
“I’ve been called some of the most interesting names,” he said. “Like a cockroach in the caviar . . . or a member of the lunatic fringe.”
Roeser views the ascendance of the Tea Party as vindication.
Then again, Roeser has long fired away at fellow Republicans with invective: U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (“The Tea Party hates him.”); former Gov. James Thompson (“He’s the progenitor of the whole mess.”); or former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (“Elements like Hastert are slugs.”).
But Roeser’s strongest condemnation — when it comes to the Illinois Republican Party — is reserved for two men who made their fortunes through bipartisan political clout.
One of them, William Cellini, will go on trial next week in federal court, charged with extortion, conspiracy and bribery in an alleged shakedown to trade state pension investment business for political contributions to then-Gov.-now-felon Rod Blagojevich.
The other is Robert Kjellander, a pal of Cellini’s and the fortuitous recipient of more than $800,000 in consulting fees for work on a bond deal with the Blagojevich administration. Kjellander, a former classmate of former Bush adviser Karl Rove and a onetime national Republican committeeman, is not charged with any crime. Both men deny any wrongdoing.
Roeser condemns the “crap that went on” not just “by the crooks in the Democratic party but the Republicans who lived off the crumbs.” The Tea Party, he argues, represents citizens fed up with both parties.
Steve Stevlic of the Chicago Tea Party Patriots and Vivienne Porter of the Homer/Lockport Tea Party agree.
Porter, a 46-year-old computer trainer, hails from three generations of Chicago Democrats but is a self-described “conservative first.” She told me by phone Tuesday, “The Republican Party has left us.”
Stevlic, a 38-year-old consultant to health-care companies, contends, “Both parties are failing and their monopoly will run out soon.”
But the challenge for the Tea Party is to unify its own disparate, fiercely independent members in the elections of 2012.
Porter, who will not attend the Schaumburg TEACON, is concerned that the movement has already become too nationally top heavy, rather than grass-roots oriented. Stevlic disagrees.
Jack Roeser says his mission is to get “everybody running in the same direction” when it comes to picking a conservative presidential candidate. No easy job in a still-moderate state.
And he thinks it’s possible — just possible — that some of his detractors, including the press, will someday say “that old conservative bastard was right.”