Saturday, October 22, 2005

Illinois GOP Gubernatorial Candidates Embarrass Party

While much local attention in Indiana has been given recently to the embarrassing extent to which state and local Republicans have injected fundamentalist Christian concepts into legislation and government policy, the Republican Party in Illinois is experiencing a little dose of the same embarrassment in its crowded field of candidates vying to face off against the corruption-plagued, first term Democrat Governor Rod Blagoyevich.

Illinois Republicans held the governor’s office for 26 consecutive years with moderates Jim Thompson, Jim Edgar and George Ryan. Republicans lost the office in 2002 after wide-spread corruption during Ryan’s term in office as Governor and prior to that as Secretary of State drove him from office. A conservative, pro-life Attorney General Jim Ryan (no relation to George Ryan) was no match at the time for then Congressman Blagoyevich, who promised to clean up state government. After failing miserably on his promise to clean up state government, Republicans hoped to lure former Governor Jim Edgar back into politics for another run for the state’s highest office. But Edgar begged off another run a couple of weeks ago, leaving the field wide open to several lesser known and mostly conservative candidates.

Last Thursday, Springfield Journal-Register columnist Bernie Schoenburg reported on comments one of the GOP candidates, State Senator Bill Brady, had made during a live radio interview on the issue of intelligent design. At the outset of his column, Schoenburg noted that there was a hint that Brady was not going to be shy about invoking religion in his campaign because he began his campaign announcement with a prayer by a local clergyman. During the radio interview, Brady was asked what he though about intelligent design being taught alongside other scientific theories in our public schools. He responded: “I think we should teach the Bible in our schools . . . One of the basic, fundamental voids we have in our school system is bringing God into the system.” When asked if he would teach intelligent design as an alternative to evolution, Brady said, “I think we should teach everything that educates our children, and I think bringing God and the Bible into that is critically important.”

Schoenburg later followed up the radio show with his own interview of Brady to learn more on an issue Brady appeared to feel strongly about. While Brady thought the ultimate decision should be left to local school boards, he told Schoenburg: "I don’t think there should be a prohibition against them teaching the historical significance of the Bible or any religion. …I believe in school prayer. I believe in the Pledge of Allegiance. I believe there ought to be the freedom for local school boards to make those decisions.” Asked if the biblical story should be taught as an alternative to evolution in science, Brady said, “The Bible is the single largest-selling book in the history of the world. … It’s historical value or interpretation I think should be left up to local school boards. I mean, I certainly believe that local school boards should have the opportunity to teach kids about the Bible, just as they ought to be able to teach them about the Koran.”

Schoenburg, who is Jewish, asked Brady if the implementation of his views in public schools might not isolate kids of a different religious belief than the [Christian] majority. “Whatever the local school board wants to do,” Brady said. “I think the school board should … understand the delicacy of that.” He said it’s just like saying the Pledge of Allegiance, with God’s name included. “The founding fathers of this country believed that God was the foundation of all freedom,” Brady said. “That’s the difference between this country and many. We get our power and freedom from God and give it to the government. Some places believe it’s the government that gives it to us.”

Schoenburg surveyed the other announced GOP candidates, including Steve Rauchenburger, Jim Oberweis and Ron Gidwitz, about their views on intelligent design. While they did not speak out as strongly as Brady did, they were very deferential to the notion of leaving it up to local school boards to decide whether intelligent design should be taught alongside scientific theories, such as evolution.

After reading Schoenburg’s column, State House political reporter Rich Miller, who operates Illinois’ most popular political blog site, The Capitol Fax Blog, provided the quotes from Schoenburg’s column with the lead-in “Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady thinks that God needs to be brought into our school systems.” He then asked his readers to respond about how this will play with the Illinois electorate. As of this posting 90 visitors had posted their views on Brady’s statements, the vast majority of which were highly negative. A sampling of some of those views include:

  • Thank God that we were blessed enough to have had the Warren Court to prevent kooks like this from actually implementing what they say.
  • Wow, I can't believe it, but Rod Blagojevich is going to win a second term as governor.
  • I almost think the Republicans are trying to lose in Illinois. It makes me proud to be living in Senator Bill "I am almost as crazy as the Milk Man" Brady's district.
  • So much for Brady being a "non-scary" conservative.
  • What Rep. Brady and the GOP field are suggesting is that a school board should be able to decide what their version of God is and put it into our children's lives.
  • When we start teaching French in Spanish class, then we can start teaching "intelligent design" in biology class.

The views expressed by Miller’s visitors should come as no surprise, given the history of moderate politics practiced by both parties in Illinois. Illinois Republicans currently control just one statewide office, State Treasurer, and have become a small minority in both houses of the General Assembly in recent years. Just a few years ago, they controlled every statewide office and both houses of the General Assembly. With guys like Brady leading the way, the Illinois GOP is destined to be the minority party in the moderate state of Illinois for many more years.

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