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Convention notebook: Republicans use Madigan to raise money

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Updated: September 29, 2012 6:17AM

CLEARWATER, Fla. — Illinois Republicans are going to the dogs.

Not literally.

In the party’s quest to demonize House Speaker Michael Madigan and make him a key part of its 2012 messaging, the state Republican Party debuted a website where the party’s faithful can buy coffee mugs, golf polos and even doggy T-shirts emblazoned with a “Fire Madigan” credo.

“Everybody needs to buy them,” state GOP chief Pat Brady told Illinois delegates attending the Republican National Convention. “They’ll be the hottest, trendiest thing in the state of Illinois in the next four years.”

There’s no question the idea could make the party a buck (the most expensive item appears to be a $34.99 hoodie) and is memorable, but that could part of its problem.

Madigan, once nicknamed the Velvet Hammer, is the top powerbroker in Springfield and is known to have the most institutional knowledge and longest political memory of anyone when it comes to slights and grudges.

In other words, Madigan can make life miserable for any governor, including the lengthening list of Republicans eying a possible gubernatorial run in 2014.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R-Hinsdale), one of about a half dozen potential Republican gubernatorial wannabes, used the state party’s “Fire Madigan” message as a bit of a rallying cry during a short speech Monday to Illinois delegates attending the Republican National Convention.

Following through on the “Fire Madigan” theme, Dillard told delegates, would “restore decency, stability and civility again in state government.”

But later, Dillard treaded carefully when asked if saying things like that publicly might burn him if he runs for governor and someday wants Madigan’s help in passing or killing a bill in the House.

“I respect the speaker,” Dillard said. “I’ve worked with him well in different capacities throughout the years. It’s not personal. It’s professional.”

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown belittled the evolving GOP “Fire Madigan” tactic and called it a diversionary tactic to take away attention from $140,000 in what Brown called improper contributions funneled to the Illinois Republican Party by Chicago hedge fund manager Ken Griffin and his spouse.

“I don’t know he pays any attention to it,” Brown said of his boss’s reaction to the GOP’s “Fire Madigan” schtick. “They do this every two years. It’s been 25 years of this. It’s how they choose to spend their campaign resources, and we see the results.”

Breakfast humor

Katherine Harris has a special place in Republican history.

She’s the former Florida secretary of state who sealed the 2000 presidential election for former Republican President George W. Bush by certifying his disputed 537-vote win in the Florida primary over Democrat Al Gore.

But when Illinois Republican Party chief Pat Brady referred to Harris Monday during the state delegation’s opening convention breakfast, she wasn’t the object of his adoration.

Brady, known for his witty and self-deprecating one-liners, made her a punch line to a joke that didn’t seem to go over well with Illinois’ GOP faithful.

But first, the context.

The mayor of Clearwater, the Florida city where Illinois’ GOP delegates are housed, made some brief comments to the delegation, welcoming them to his city.

Brady introduced Mayor George Cretekos for a short welcoming speech and after he left the podium, Brady brought up Harris, who comes from nearby Sarasota.

“Katherine Harris learned how to count votes in Cook County. She did a fine job” Brady said, drawing a few groans from the crowd before saying, “Just kidding.”

Edgar to back Dillard?

Former Gov. Jim Edgar once lent his name to the gubernatorial ambitions of state Sen. Kirk Dillard.

Based on Edgar’s comments Monday, it doesn’t seem like a stretch to imagine him helping his one-time chief of staff try again for the Executive Mansion if Dillard runs in 2014.

“If he’s interested in being governor, I wouldn’t sit, you know, this one out,” the former governor told reporters following a breakfast of Illinois Republican delegates in Clearwater.

Dillard (R-Hinsdale) has sent plenty of signals he’s preparing to avenge his 193-vote loss from two years ago to state Sen. Bill Brady (R-Bloomington), a social conservative who narrowly lost the general election in 2010 to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

“You come that close, you’d like to get another shot,” Edgar said of Dillard’s slim primary loss. “I think there’s some people who maybe have some buyer’s remorse off that primary.”

Edgar said if Republicans stand a chance of winning the governorship, they have to get behind a socially moderate candidate, not one that would “veer too far to the right.”

Dillard wouldn’t answer the question Monday whether he’s in or out, saying the presidential election is his first priority. But he predicted Edgar would be with him again should a 2014 gubernatorial bid be in the cards.

“I’m confident that Gov. Edgar — he’s been a friend, a mentor, I was his chief of staff — he’ll be helpful to me if I decide to run for governor,” Dillard told reporters.

The only other potential 2014 GOP gubernatorial candidate to show up at Monday morning’s Republican convention kickoff was state Treasurer Dan Rutherford.

Rutherford, chairman of Mitt Romney’s Illinois campaign and head of the state’s Republican delegation, paid his respects to the last former Illinois governor not to go to prison and certainly one of the state GOP’s most popular and enduring names.

But the treasurer made no bones in saying Edgar’s endorsement is not strong enough to decide a primary for any GOP hopeful in 2014.

“I’ve got a lot of respect for Gov. Edgar, by all means. And having his endorsement is always nice to have. But we’ve seen other campaigns, other times, when party leadership has endorsed, and those people don’t always win,” Rutherford told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Gay rights group buys GOP a drink

Republicans mostly wanted nothing to do with helping pass a state law legalizing civil unions in 2011.

Yet a prominent gay-rights organization in Illinois is footing the drink tab for the state’s GOP delegates Tuesday — and, on Monday, criticized Mitt Romney for allowing the “far right” to “hijack” the national party’s platform.

Nationally, Republicans adopted language calling for a constitutional amendment to bar gay marriages across the country and to begin enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law that defines marriage as being between a man and a woman.

“The proposed Republican platform flies in the face of the growing national consensus behind equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in general and marriage equality specifically,” Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois, said in a prepared statement.

“The language shows that the Romney-Ryan ticket, whose anti-LGBT positions are well known, has allowed the far right in the Republican Party to hijack the convention process,” Cherkasov said.

Equality Illinois has agreed to pay “a couple thousand” dollars to cover the bar tab for what is described as a Beachside Cocktail Hour in the Clearwater, Fla., hotel where Illinois delegates are staying for the Republican National Committee.

State Treasurer Dan Rutherford, Romney’s Illinois campaign manager and the only Senate Republican to vote for the civil unions law, expressed support for the Equality Illinois’ stance on the gay-marriage constitutional amendment question.

Rutherford said he is against gay marriage but doesn’t believe a constitutional question should dictate to states how they should handle the matter.

“My personal opinion is I’m not sure that’s where I would go if I was making those decisions,” Rutherford told the Chicago Sun-Times. “I think it should be left up to the individual states.”

Rutherford said he did not know whether Equality Illinois’ sponsorship of a cocktail hour would breed any dissension among more conservative members of the delegation but said if it does they are under no obligation to drink the group’s liquor.

“They can go someplace else and drink,” Rutherford said.

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