Two groups, one pro-choice and the other pro-life, are doing their best to bend the Illinois Statehouse to their respective wills. Let's peek in, shall we?
State Rep. Ruth Munson (R-Elgin) was defeated last week by Democratic challenger Keith Farnham. The House Democrats dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Farnham's campaign, and Farnham himself walked precincts like it was a full-time job.
A pro-choice group called Personal PAC also played a role in the race. Munson, who was considered pro-choice, voted against a compromise parental notification of abortion bill supported by pro-choice groups. Personal PAC vowed to make an example of her.
The political action committee pulls no punches in its aggressive campaigns. One operative running a legislative race in a district where Personal PAC was neutral privately expressed his relief a few weeks ago about not having to deal with the constant brush fires the group creates.
The group spent almost $374,000 between July 1st and election day, ranking it ahead of some heavy Statehouse hitters like the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association. It's definitely not a minor player.
Unlike most political action committees, the group does not usually contribute cash. Instead, it runs its own campaigns, and that often drives people a bit crazy. For instance, the group is infamous for putting legislators of different parties into the same mailers. This year, it paired Evanston Democratic Sen. Jeff Schoenberg with Republican Rep. Beth Coulson of Glenview in a mailer supporting Coulson, which didn't go over too well in some circles. Schoenberg was backing Coulson's Democratic opponent, Daniel Biss.
As Rep. Munson discovered, keeping Personal PAC off one's back is not easy. Unlike many organizations, Personal PAC requires purity. Most groups might endorse incumbents with 70 percent voting records (or even lower), but that won't happen with Personal PAC.
That's why the group always campaigns hard for what it considers pro-choice incumbents, even when challengers answer surveys indicating that they are also 100 percent pro-choice. This can cause problems, as it did this year when Personal PAC went all-out for Rep. Coulson. A whole lot of Democrats thought the group should've taken it easier on Coulson's pro-choice Democratic opponent, Daniel Biss. Personal PAC was not moved. It's one thing to say you're pro-choice, but it's entirely another to prove you'll stick with the organization every single time push comes to shove, as Coulson has done over and over again without exception.
Terry Cosgrove, who runs Personal PAC, said months ago that he wanted to defeat Rep. Munson so other legislators could see what happens when they stray too far from their proclaimed pro-choice beliefs.
Actually, he said he wanted to hang Munson's head on the wall (figuratively, of course). Cosgrove got his trophy.
Meanwhile, some pro-life groups threw down the gauntlet last week. The groups told the Senate Republicans to choose whomever they want to replace retiring Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson, just as long as it isn't Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont).
Family PAC led the charge. The group, run by longtime conservative activist Paul Caprio, sent a letter to Senate Republicans this week expressing dismay that the pro-choice, pro gay rights Radogno was being seriously considered as Watson's replacement. Radogno, Caprio wrote, was "not in the mainstream of Senate Republican thinking on key family issues."
Caprio said that while he has degrees of differences with various members of the Senate Republican caucus, he believed that almost any other Senator in the 22-member caucus would be better as the Republican Leader than Radogno.
Caprio wouldn't discuss the list of possible alternative candidates, but he did say that he could work with another declared candidate, Sen. Kirk Dillard, even though Dillard (R-Hinsdale) had appeared in a television advertisement for Barack Obama. Caprio said it was "stupid" of Dillard to do that, but he believed Dillard would be an honest broker, unlike Radogno.
Sen. Radogno said last week that she has yet to speak with Caprio about his campaign, but she'd like to sit down with him soon. She said as leader she would try to focus on the issues that "bring Republicans together," and vowed not to impose any of her beliefs on other members.
It's not certain how much impact this move by Caprio and social conservative groups will have. The Senate Republican caucus as a whole is very conservative and pro-life groups are very influential with them. But they are also some of the most independent-minded people under the Statehouse dome.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.