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Capitol Fax - Rich Miller

Murphy’s refusal of chairmanship a blow to party

Old guard tries to fend off GOP conservatives

Old guard tries to fend off GOP conservatives

In yet another blow to the Illinois Republican Party, state Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, has withdrawn his name from contention for the state GOP chairmanship job.

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 party job when the current chairman, Pat Brady, eventually resigns. 

Brady has been under fire all year for publicly supporting a gay marriage bill, among other things. The Illinois Republican Party’s 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 hard right in the GOP didn’t buy that argument. 

Murphy was initially open to the chairmanship idea and seemed to be leaning toward taking it. He wanted assurances, though, that Chairman Brady would be allowed to resign on his own 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 chairmen never took place at the last state central committee meeting. 

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. Murphy is a media friendly social conservative who talks like a moderate. He has friends in both conservative and moderate camps and would have been ideal for the job.

Murphy wouldn’t comment other than to confirm that he had withdrawn his name from consideration.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 set up to fail in this state. It has only a tiny fraction of the power of the Democratic chairman’s job, mainly because that chairman, Michael J. Madigan, is also the longest-serving House speaker in Illinois history. 

Even so, the Republican Party’s right wing has had a fixation on the “top” job for years, blaming it for the party’s many failures while coveting it for themselves. 

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

And since the GOP hasn’t had a governor in more than a decade, the position is also a somewhat high profile job requiring some basic 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 hard right a public platform, especially at a time when it’s trying to drag the party to the center in the wake of last year’s devastating electoral defeats and what appears to be Americans’ rapidly changing views on issues like gay rights and medical marijuana, not to mention a big surge in Latino voting. 

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

Murphy promptly fouled off a pitch and gritted his teeth hard, shook his bat, and growled. He looked like a man who was going to will himself a hit, no matter what.

He hit the very next pitch, charged down the first base line and then collapsed to the ground in a cloud of dust. He’d dislocated his knee cap, 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 have suffered the same sort of ending if he’d taken the chairmanship job. It’s best to just stay away from it.

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