It shouldn't have been much of a surprise that Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Oberweis hogged the spotlight at last week's annual Illinois State Fair Republican Day event.
Oberweis' three statewide campaigns have provided ample evidence that he has a propensity for making outrageous claims designed to focus media attention on himself.
Oberweis compared pro-life activists to the Taliban the first time he ran statewide, provoking howls of protest. He vastly overstated the illegal immigration problem the second time he ran, provoking more howls of protest.
Last week, on a day meant to highlight the Republican Party (hence the name: "Republican Day"), Oberweis decided he would use his moment at the microphone to highlight himself and slam his state party's national committeeman, Bob Kjellander. As you've probably heard by now, Oberweis demanded that Kjellander resign while Kjellander sat a few feet behind him on the podium.
In that brief moment, the state GOP's efforts to portray a modicum of unity and focus their ire and the public's attention on the failings of Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich were completely undermined. Oberweis and Kjellander became the story, along with Republican disunity and alleged Republican corruption.
Oberweis and other Republicans, and lately, some Democrats, have said they believe that Kjellander is too heavily steeped in the "Old Way" of doing business. The longtime lobbyist and insider has reaped millions from advising major corporations on the ways and means of Springfieldia, including a recent $4 million fee for putting a company together with the Teachers Retirement System's pension fund.
The stream of negative news stories about Kjellander has become a needless distraction, or a downright abomination, depending on who is speaking. His unfortunate profane outburst at a high-profile Chicago columnist has provoked several retaliations in print, and all but guaranteed that his name will be elevated in the public consciousness as the weeks and months progress.
Oberweis and those of his ilk believe that the Republican Party must be purged of the old at almost any cost. They believe that as long as Kjellander and those like him are around, then Governor Blagojevich will be able to proclaim next year that the GOP has refused to learn any lessons from the George Ryan debacle.
It's a good point, and most likely prescient. Now that some Republicans have made Kjellander an issue, Blagojevich will undoubtedly try to use him against the GOP - even though Kjellander has made a big pile of money during the Blagojevich administration, which tends to disprove the notion that the governor has eradicated the "Old Way," despite all of his public posturing.
On the other hand, Kjellander hasn't been accused of doing anything except convincing businesses to give him lots of money. If he did something illegal, then he should twist in the wind. But Republicans always say they want government to run like a business, and, obviously, many businesses feel that large finders' fees are appropriate.
Oberweis, however is not the most credible critic on the planet. He is now just as pro-life as the so-called "Talibani" he slammed three years ago. He has backed away from the beastly immigration ads he ran just last year. With this record, we might half expect him to ask Kjellander to chair his next futile statewide crusade. He hasn't shown that he is sincere about anything.
Not to mention that there are those who believe that a particular branch of the party's right wing is attempting to depose Kjellander so that they can install one of their own in his place.
One of Kjellander's oldest enemies is Jack Roeser, an ultra-conservative millionaire who has backed dozens of candidates for public office. Roeser supported state Sen. Steve Rauschenberger's US Senate bid last year, and Rauschenberger led the charge against Kjellander. This year, it's Oberweis trying to lead the charge and, lo and behold, Roeser is supporting the milk magnate.
Kjellander was recently elected treasurer of the national Republican Party. He is close to President Bush and Karl Rove, Bush's top political advisor. As long as those two guys stick with him, it will be impossible to blast Kjellander out of office, no matter what the merits may be. And there's no way that Kjellander wants to allow Oberweis and Roeser to push him out.
This Republican family feud is a complete standoff, and it has "disaster" written all over it.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at capitolfax.blogspot.com.