Republicans in Illinois pick interim chairman for party

Tuesday, July 9, 2002

OAK BROOK, Ill. -- Illinois Republicans, reeling from corruption allegations that have crippled Gov. George Ryan and forced the ouster of their state chairman, can't find a big name to lead the party just months from an election that will decide control of state government.

Dallas Ingemunson, the Illinois Republican Party vice chairman, agreed Monday to be interim chairman until the party's state central committee meets again July 26. His appointment came after three high-profile GOP leaders declined the job.

"Our party's in disarray right now," state Rep. Angelo "Skip" Saviano said going into Monday's meeting. "We're just going to try to regroup and move forward."

The scramble for a leader is the latest in a series of blows to Republicans leading up to the Nov. 5 election.

Federal indictments keep coming in a wide-ranging investigation of the governor's campaign apparatus. Now prosecutors are looking into allegations that the staff of House GOP Leader Lee Daniels did political work on state time during the 2000 elections.

Daniels stepped down as party chairman Monday.

Add those problems to a new Democrat-drawn legislative map, and even party stalwarts admit they are fighting to prevent a sweep in the fall. Every seat in the Legislature is up for grabs, and Democrats are salivating over the prospect of retaking a governor's office they last won in 1972.

"I think the Republicans are being painted with a very broad brush that is unfair," said Attorney General Jim Ryan, the Republican nominee for governor.

"The people that I know in the Republican Party are honorable people, they believe in their values and they're fighting to make it clear that we have a ticket that we're proud of," Ryan said.

Candidate seeks reforms

The attorney general denied that his party is in disarray. He said the three people he approached to take the chairman job -- former Gov. Jim Edgar, U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood and former Quaker Oats chairman William Smithburg -- declined because of personal or professional commitments, not because of the party's problems.

The candidate, who is not related to George Ryan, has worked feverishly to paint himself as a reformer far removed from any hint of scandal.

He called Monday for George Ryan to either resign or explain his role in a scheme to trade driver's licenses for bribes when the governor oversaw drivers bureaus as secretary of state.

"I don't know how he explains that he presided over, frankly, one of the most corrupt administrations in the history of our state," Jim Ryan said.

Federal investigators recently expanded their investigation beyond license trading. They have charged the governor's close friends and former top aides with exchanging bribes for government contracts and directing state workers to do campaign work on government time.

George Ryan's campaign fund -- where prosecutors traced $170,000 of the bribe money from the licenses scheme -- has been indicted, although the governor himself has not been charged with wrongdoing. He announced last summer that he would not seek a second term.

"I have no reason to resign," the governor said in a statement Monday. "Jim Ryan should be more focused on the issues of the upcoming election and the state's Republican ticket while I will continue to focus on matters of state government."

Daniels had promised to help lift the cloud of the licenses scandal when he was elected Illinois Republican Party chairman in November.

But his legislative staff has been accused of making hundreds of visits on state time to districts with competitive races in the 2000 election. Daniels has said he was not aware of any wrongdoing.

Jim Ryan's opponent, Democratic U.S. Rep. Rod Blagojevich, has seized on the Republican woes, claiming the attorney general did nothing to investigate the licenses scandal. Jim Ryan said it would have been improper to interfere in a federal investigation.

Blagojevich recently announced that he has raised more than $7.5 million since the beginning of the year. On Monday he picked up the endorsement of the state's largest teachers union and a top political donor, the Illinois Education Association.

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