SPRINGFIELD-Illinois State Republican Chairman Pat Brady may be sacked Saturday for defying his party's conservative flank in expressing support for legalizing gay marriage.
But did Brady commit a more serious political sin by crossing Democratic powerhouse Michael Madigan by being the architect and lead pitchman for last year's "Fire Madigan" campaign by the state GOP?
Members of the state Republican central committee plan to convene in closed session Saturday in Tinley Park and could vote to oust Brady in a coup attempt led by state Sen. Jim Oberweis (R-Sugar Grove).
Oberweis said Brady's involvement in Republican primaries last fall, including the Kane County board chairman race, was problematic, but his gay-marriage stance taken without consulting the state GOP organization was "the final straw."
"When you start publicly lobbying against a plank in our state and national party platforms, without even discussing with or advising the board of directors, I think he's gone too far," Oberweis told the Chicago Sun-Times.
Oberweis estimated Friday that "70 to 80 percent" of the 18-member central committee favors Brady's ouster, which could come as backers of gay marriage in Springfield are feverishly working the Illinois House for votes to get the measure to Gov. Pat Quinn's desk.
Brady's fate is important because the state chairman represents the face of the GOP, both in relaying the party's message and in fundraising. If Brady goes, Illinois Republicans likely will tilt farther to the right and lose the kind of moderate voice that used to be the winning formula behind the GOP's uninterrupted 26-year hold on the state's governorship that ended in 2003.
Brady has secured backing from virtually every Illinois GOP bigshot, including U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, former Gov. Jim Edgar, former Gov. Jim Thompson, state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, state House Minority Leader Tom Cross and state Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.
Even with that seemingly solid show of support, if a vote happens Saturday, it's expected to be tight with a potential swing vote belonging to Jack Dorgan, a Rosemont Republican clearly from the moderate Brady wing of the party and a one-time staffer for both Thompson and Edgar.
Dorgan, who Friday wouldn't divulge his vote despite publicly expressing qualms about Brady's leadership, is also a lobbyist whose business partner is Jim McPike, a one-time House majority leader under Madigan. Their firm's success in Springfield hinges, partly, on being able to pass or kill legislation in Madigan's chamber.
"I have not made up my mind," Dorgan told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday. "I'm weighing and talking and hoping some kind of compromise comes up, but Pat doesn't want to talk to anybody other than those not on the central committee. Shouldn't he have gotten out in front of this and talked to the body who elected him?
"It's just the fact he cannot effectively lead anymore," Dorgan said.
Brady, who does not intend to be at Saturday's GOP meeting, countered that he has reached out to Dorgan but got no response and said Dorgan's stance "makes no sense."
And while saying he has no direct proof, Brady believes Madigan or his minions are pressuring Dorgan to cast an anti-Brady vote as revenge for the "Fire Madigan" campaign Brady devised last year. That campaign included setting up a website last fall that sold an array of goods emblazoned with the "Fire Madigan" logo, including dog t-shirts.
"The math adds up," Brady said of the possible Madigan link. "This is not an original thought by me. This is what a lot of people suspect is going on.
"No one has ever publicly taken him on," Brady said of Madigan.
But Dorgan denied talking to Madigan or any of his emissaries about voting out Brady and called suggestions to the contrary "ludicrous."
"Mike Madigan says as much to me as he says to anyone else, and that's 'Good morning,'" Dorgan said. "I got a text about this, and whoever's saying this is making the most ridiculous statement I've ever heard in my life.
"The speaker, none of his people have said anything to me," Dorgan continued. "My guess is the speaker...is laughing about this."
A Madigan aide, in fact, did chuckle when asked if the speaker had a dog in the fight in the state GOP upheaval.
Madigan spokesman Steve Brown sided with Dorgan and insisted the speaker and chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois has no interest in tampering with the GOP's leadership structure, particularly when it failed miserably in stopping historic Democratic supermajorities from overtaking the Statehouse last fall.
"Brady should be there for at least two or three cycles. He's done a great job for Republicans," Brown said sarcastically.
Brown called Brady's attempt to tie Madigan into the dispute a "desperate" measure and said the speaker carries no enmity toward Brady for the "Fire Madigan" campaign.
"Everybody from Democratic side of the 'Fire Madigan' thing thought it was a terrific waste of resources," Brown said, "and we're happy to see them waste their money."