Not only will the Champaign County Republicans not hold a Lincoln Day Dinner this year — the annual event where members socialized and often got a rousing pep talk — but there’s not much of a party to meet.
Republicans here have lost five countywide offices in the last 10 years, have fallen farther behind on county board members, are down to 29 precinct committeemen and are again looking at rebuilding after their presidential candidate — in a county where the GOP rarely lost between 1860 and 1988 — got just 37 percent of the vote last November.
Meanwhile, many Republicans outside of Champaign County are busy censuring a successful GOP congressman who had the gall to say the party should stand for truth, oppose violence and save itself from aligning with Donald Trump.
The LaSalle Party Republican Party censured U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger for voting to impeach Trump and “for acting contrary to the values of the LaSalle County Republican Central Committee,” which apparently do not include appealing to voters.
Kinzinger got 61.7 percent of the vote in LaSalle County in November to Trump’s 56 percent. In the 16th Congressional District, Kinzinger got 64.7 percent to Trump’s 56.7 percent.
And a group of 36 Republican county chairmen in southern Illinois — none in Kinzinger’s district — piled on with a statement that “condemned” him.
“Adam Kinzinger refuses to consider claims of illegality and fraud in the 2020 Presidential Election evidenced by his statement released on January 6, 2021,” the group said in a press release. “Representative Kinzinger was dismissive of claims of voter fraud, stating ‘The will of the people was made clear — Joseph R. Biden will be the 46th President of the United States ... our Constitution was upheld.’”
Republicans in Ford County, which is part of Kinzinger’s district, haven’t met recently, said party Chairman Jeff Orr. He said Kinzinger’s statements likely would be discussed when the group gets together again.
Champaign County Republicans won’t be taking a position on Kinzinger, said party Treasurer John Farney.
“Adam Kinzinger does not represent any of Champaign County, so our philosophy has always been to stay out of other people’s business,” Farney said. “And honestly, I have not heard from fellow Republicans, other than social-media chatter, one way or another.”
But Farney said he thinks Kinzinger is right.
“I think he’s 100 percent correct and I support him fully,” said Farney, a former county treasurer and auditor who did not support Trump for president and ran his own cheery write-in campaign (getting 84 votes). “Unfortunately, right now, the folks who are the loudest seem to have the most extreme views. And the folks who are pretty level-headed and mainstream, we tend to keep our thoughts to ourselves. We don’t have to justify it by putting it out on Facebook or Twitter.
“I think that’s the case with both Republicans and Democrats. There are a whole lot more of middle-of-the-road people than extremists.”
That’s still the case in Champaign County, despite the setbacks in recent years. Farney, for example, lost his race for county treasurer in 2018 by 54 to 46 percent when the Republican at the top of the ticket, Bruce Rauner, got just 38 percent.
“In my opinion, there are some pretty simple things you can do and be correct about,” he said. “Not instigating a riot is a good thing. Not supporting Nazis is a good thing. I’m fine with a fellow congressman saying Hitler was bad, no matter what.”
Kinzinger criticized freshman Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, after she said in a speech, “This is the battle. Hitler was right on one thing. He said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’”
Kinzinger tweeted in response, “I outright condemn this garbage.”
“I can agree with that,” Farney said. “I had family only two generations removed who were killed by the Nazis.”
Champaign County and much of the rest of Illinois isn’t as conservative as Miller’s 15th District, Farney said.
“And I think for Republicans to have appeal in Illinois, you need to appeal to suburban voters. That’s where the largest gains can be made in 2022 against Governor (J.B.) Pritzker,” Farney said. “Even in Champaign County, I don’t see him winning in 2022, no matter what.
“He’s not going to have Bruce Rauner to run against this time. And if he’s running against a mainstream Republican, someone like Adam Kinzinger, he has a whole lot tougher time ahead.”
There likely will be another opening for GOP county chairman in 2022 — current Chairman Dee Shonkwiler is not expected to run again — and Farney said he is “somewhat” interested, although he has other duties to consider.
Farney is correct that if the GOP in Champaign County and in Illinois is to be successful, it has to move from the extreme to the middle. And it has to stop going to war with moderates like Kinzinger who are willing to tell the truth and move on from Trump.
Tom Kacich’s column appears
on Sundays in The News-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.