Illinoisans at the conventions
1:04 pm
Mon August 27, 2012

Illinois delegates find different purposes in conventions

Though Hurricane Isaac successfully delayed the official start of the Republican National Convention in Tampa on Monday, the spirit and excitement of the delegates attending the convention has not been dampened.

Some Republicans already may be thinking a couple of years beyond the event.

Also thinking ahead are Illinois Democrats, as they prepare for the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.

Scores of Illinois delegates arrived at hotels in the greater Tampa area over the weekend in time to ride out the hurricane as it passed by Tampa early Monday morning.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, “Isaac's potential for damaging the Tampa Bay area was diminishing,” even before the storm approached the Gulf Coast. Late Sunday evening “the sprawling storm” was “expected to be hundreds of miles offshore.”

In Clearwater, Fla., roughly an hour’s drive from Tampa, 365 Illinois delegates prepare to make their way to the opening ceremonies, now slated Tuesday morning. As the home state of President Barack Obama, Illinois falls well into the "blue" category, which shows it's solidly Democratic. 

Importance of Illinois

However Republican State Treasurer Dan Rutherford stressed the importance of the Illinois delegation at the convention. “There are a lot of wonderful attributes about Illinois,” he responded to a question about his state’s voting record, “so when I go down to Tampa and I talk to my other colleagues about Illinois … the problem in Illinois isn't Illinois. The problem is the elected government we have.

“Illinois needs leaders who are willing to exercise ‘tough love’ on issues, especially dealing with the state's budget,” echoing the sentiments of Romney’s Vice Presidential running mate, Paul Ryan.

In Chicago, a cross section of delegates and constituents from both parties – not the career politicians, but average citizens who have a stake in the outcome of the political process – offered their takes on why they became involved.

Gabriella Wyatt, 47, is a mother, wife and dyed-in-the-wool Republican cheerleader --  from the top of her head down to her red, white, and blue shoes. Literally.

“Yes! I designed my own tennis shoes!” Wyatt proudly exclaimed. In the March primary, Wyatt was nominated as a delegate for Mitt Romney. Now she’s taking time off from her job as a manager at Motorola to head to Florida with 68 other Illinois Republicans.

Obama "had his chance"

She concedes many Hispanics she talks to are worried about what they see as Republicans’ hard line against illegal immigration, but she says President Obama had his chance to overhaul the immigration system, burning his political fuel during the health care fight. “He promised the world to Hispanics when he got elected,” she said, “andhe has done nothing. I mean, zero!”

On the other hand, 27-year-old Moises Garcia will be attending the Democratic Convention. He lives in DuPage County – which hasn’t been all that blue.His dad immigrated from Mexico in the early 70s, and Garcia worries about the kids of other immigrants who would qualify for paths to citizenship if Congress ever passes the DREAM Act.

“A lot of the DREAMers out here had no choice on when they came,” he said, “and I’m afraid in the current political climate – especially if you see Romney and Ryan win this election – that they will not be awarded the same opportunities that my father had.”

Like many, Garcia’s political decisions continue to be influenced by his upbringing. His father was a member of the United Steelworkers and, when he sees labor losing ground in Illinois and other states (like Wisconsin), it motivates him to get involved.

"Do something about it"

“My dad always told me, ‘It’s easy to complain about something. But if you’re going to complain, you better get out there and do something about it,’” Garcia recalled. “So that’s what I decided to do.”

Republican delegates like Sharee Langenstein, an adoption lawyer in downstate Murphysboro, says her focus on family is partly what made her run in March’s primary to be a delegate for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. Though Langenstein will cast her vote for Romney, some things -- like the state health care law which was passed while Romney was Massachusetts’ governor -- give her pause.

“There are certain things in his past where he was more in the center that were definitely of concern to me earlier in the campaign,” she explained, however, “Everybody changes and grows. There’s different things in his past that he doesn’t necessarily adhere to now. I believe very firmly that he is going to make good on his promises ... and I’m willing to give him that chance.”

Eyes on higher office?

Though Illinois Republicans in Florida are there ostensibly to make the Mitt Romney/Paul Ryan ticket official, unofficially the gathering is an early campaign stop for politicians looking to make a bid for governor or the U.S. Senate in two years.

Major donors, committed Republican voters, and top party leaders are all in a central location… which makes it the ideal place to schmooze. Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady says he’d rather the focus remain on the approaching fall elections, rather than one two years away.

“We have a mission in 2012,” he said, “and that’s to elect as many Republicans as they can and to support Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan in the President race.” Acknowledging that attendees do use the convention to promote their own political careers, Brady added, “I would prefer they didn’t. I think we need to focus on the task at hand, which is the 2012 election.”

Even so, there’s an undercurrent of posturing, and plenty of time for it. State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale, Treasurer Dan Rutherford, and Congressman Aaron Schock of Peoria are a few of the politicians in Florida whose names have been tossed around as potential candidates for higher office.