Tuesday, December 9, 2008

My fight for good government.

The news from my home state of Illinois reminds me that we need the words and wisdom of Theodore Roosevelt as much today as we ever have. The Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich, was arrested this morning by federal authorities on public corruption charges, including selling his power to appoint the person who will replace President Elect Barack Obama in the United State Senate.

I haven’t written much about it here before, but the news from Chicago makes me feel pretty good about how I spent the last twenty years of my life, attempting to be a part of bringing better government to the state and the people of Illinois.

Twenty years ago, Jenny and I settled back in DeKalb, Illinois after having spent a post graduate year travelling to Costa Rica, South Africa, Italy, the Philippines and South Korea to interview national legislators in those countries. I enrolled in the political science graduate school program at Northern Illinois University, taking a next step after years of campaign work, community activity and a great undergraduate education at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Back in Illinois, it didn’t take me long to begin volunteering and eventually working professionally in campaigns and public policies, seeking and serving in elected public office myself when I could. As a Republican in the mold of Ronald Reagan, I thought his revolution should finally come to the state of his birth. In 1991 and 1992, I managed a successful Illinois state senate campaign for Chris Lauzen, a Republican, CPA businessman, an outsider and reformer with a Harvard M.B.A. In doing so, we beat the GOP machine. In 1993 and 1994, I ran for the state house, against a Republican former house incumbent. While I received the endorsement of the Chicago Tribune and others, I just couldn’t raise and spend the big money necessary. Democrats later told me that undecided voters were moving to us 3 to 1 over the former incumbent in the last week of the campaign, but we fell short.

In 1996, I was elected to one of twenty four seats on the DeKalb County Board, where I served on the finance committee and sponsored the successful property tax cap referendum. That same year, I began working professionally for Citizens for a Sound Economy, running the Illinois State Chapter, representing 20,000 members in Illinois as we advocated lower taxes and smaller government. In 1999, after newly inaugurated Republican Governor George Ryan raised taxes and fees in a massive spending increase, I was responsible for leading anti-tax protestors in crashing the governor’s first Republican Day at the Illinois State Fair. Above his picnic, an airplane towed a banner: “Repeal the Ryan Tax Increase.” I wasn’t involved in politics to make friends and the GOP machine marked me as an enemy.

In my home county, friends called me “Taxcutter,” a moniker given to me by the promoters of the 1995 Rockford Toughman Kickboxing Competition where I won one by first round knock out and lost one in a three round decision. When the governor began a dog and pony show tour of the state, in an auditorium filled with state employees and grant recipients, I stood toe to toe with the governor and challenged his abandonment of his limited government, no new taxes campaign pledge.

In 2000, I joined Family Taxpayers Network, an Illinois group, as executive director, testifying before the Illinois Gaming Board against expanded gambling proposed by Governor Ryan and fighting for lower taxes, school choice and traditional values. I’m proud of the work I did there.

In 2002, I was re-elected to the county board. I also supported Pat O’Malley, another reforming state senator running for the GOP nomination for governor. While other Illinois GOP leaders were willing to defer to Governor Ryan and his whim of running for re-election, Senator O’Malley began his campaign while it was still unclear whether Ryan would run for re-election. When Governor Ryan announced his decision to not seek re-election, a precursor to his eventual indictment and conviction on public corruption charges, AG Ryan and Lt. Gov. Wood joined the race, Ryan edging out O’Malley and Wood before losing to then Congressman Rod Blagojevich. It was my contention then and I still believe today, that the senior leadership and most of the candidates brought forward by the GOP machine were entirely disinterested in pursuing any sort of clean up of public corruption in the state of Illinois.

In 2004, I ran for the state house against a different Republican state house incumbent, a friend of mine who had voted for massive tax increases under Ryan and Blagojevich. Six weeks after the campaign began, the incumbent died of a heart attack. My county board chairman, over whose objections I had sponsored and passed tax caps, was appointed to the vacancy and won a 55% to 45% primary. I could have done worse. I turned down an offer to manage the U.S. Senate campaign which ended in chaos with Alan Keyes imported to run against a little known Chicago state senator named Barack Obama.

In 2005 and 2006, I managed the gubernatorial campaign of Jim Oberweis, a businessman with tremendous success in asset management and the dairy and ice cream businesses. In a four way Republican primary, ours was identified as the real reform and good government campaign, though we fell short, coming in second while winning one third of Illinois’ 102 counties.

It was after this campaign that I took a look in the mirror and didn’t much like what I saw. I was way over weight and tired, having spent eleven months working twenty hour days, seeing my family infrequently and doing things like barking at them when the news coverage of my candidate turned false and bitter. After the campaign, Jenny shared with me that for a fellow who campaigned “pro-family”, I sure didn’t spend much time with mine.

Practicing what we preach. Actions and deeds rather than words. This amazing Teddy Roosevelt Tour came about, in great part, because it was time for me to take some action for myself and my family. To lay claim for better health and to take a break from the unhealthy, corruption filled environment of Illinois politics and government.

It’s been an amazing adventure. I’ve had a chance to perform for President and Mrs. Bush at the White House and for some of the most amazing, politically important national organizations in the country. As Theodore Roosevelt, with as much loyalty to the historic record as I can muster, I am able to bring the words and ideals of Theodore Roosevelt to life for audiences hungry for his straight talk and his Square Dealing ways.

I’m out the door to help the people of North Central Florida celebrate the Centennial of the Ocala National Forest, one of the over 150 national forests declared by TR. http://ocalanfc.org/

In the spirit of the work of District Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and the FBI (founded by TR in 1908), I am looking forward to “the clean, fresh air.” If this keeps up, I may just have to take another look at being a man in the arena, practicing what I preach about the need for good citizens to be involved for the right reasons.

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