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Miller: Back to square one for GOP in chairman search

Updated: June 7, 2013 6:18AM



In yet another blow to the Illinois Republican Party, state Sen. Matt Murphy (R-Palatine) has withdrawn his name from contention as state party chairman.

And, no, it didn’t have anything to do with Murphy being injured during the annual House vs. Senate softball game last week.

Murphy was approached a month or so ago about taking the top party job when the current chairman, Pat Brady, eventually resigns.

Brady, chairman since August 2009, has been under fire for the Illinois GOP’s lack of electoral success, criticism that intensified from the party’s right wing when he public supported the gay marriage bill. The party platform specifically opposes gay marriage, so Brady was accused of being in flagrant conflict with the party’s beliefs.

Brady has said that he merely supported gay marriage as a private citizen, but the social conservatives in the GOP didn’t buy that.

Murphy initially was open to the chairmanship and seemed to be leaning toward taking it. He wanted assurances, though, that Brady would be allowed to resign on his timetable.

Republicans appeared to be going along with Murphy’s program. Votes to oust Brady and to initiate a rules change to make it easier to get rid of a party chairman never took place at the state central committee meeting last month in Tinley Park.

So it began looking like the path was being cleared for Murphy. No such luck.

Murphy’s withdrawal is a big setback to the state GOP’s efforts to quell the controversy within its ranks and move forward.

He’s a media-friendly social conservative who talks like a moderate. He has friends in both the conservative and moderate camps.

Murphy wouldn’t comment other than to confirm that he had withdrawn his name from consideration. Others said he decided that the job just wasn’t worth the hassle.

He’s probably right. The GOP chairman’s job is a thankless one, likely doomed to fail in this state. It has only a tiny fraction of the power of the Democratic chairman, mainly because that chairman, Michael Madigan, is the longest serving House speaker in Illinois history.

Even so, the Republican Party’s right wing has had a fixation for years on who fills the post, blaming Brady for the party’s failures while coveting the job for themselves.

The party’s moderates have frantically fought a rear-guard action to prevent the right wing from obtaining the position and have, therefore, kept control of the finances. The state party serves as a cash pass-through for the national party, and the moderates don’t trust the conservatives with that dough.

And because Republicans haven’t had a governor in more than a decade, the position also is a somewhat high-profile job requiring media skills. Access to the media is a big reason behind the fight over this position.

The old guard doesn’t want to give the right wing a public platform, especially when it’s trying to drag the state party to the center.

They see that as necessary in the wake of last year’s devastating electoral defeats and what appears to be Americans’ rapidly changing views on issues such as gay rights and medical marijuana, not to mention a big surge in Hispanic voting.

During last week’s annual House vs. Senate softball game, Murphy walked to the plate with a determined look on his face. His team was trailing by several runs. The Senate has had a lousy record against the House in recent years, blowing their last game badly.

Murphy fouled off a pitch and gritted his teeth hard, shook his bat and growled. He hit the very next pitch, charged down the first base line and then collapsed to the ground in a cloud of dust.

He had dislocated his kneecap, which ended up a few inches above his knee joint. Murphy didn’t appear to be in any pain, but he couldn’t move and had to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

I have a feeling that Murphy would’ve suffered the same ugly ending if he had taken the party chairmanship. It’s best to just stay away from it.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com



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