Bernard Schoenburg: House GOP Leader Cross backs McKenna-Murphy

Bernard Schoenburg

Illinois House Republican Leader TOM CROSS of Oswego is endorsing the slate of former state GOP Chairman ANDY McKENNA for governor and state Sen. MATT MURPHY for lieutenant governor.

McKenna was a late entrant into a seven-person GOP field for governor, and he’s the only one with a running mate during the primary.

“I think Tom’s endorsement is a sign that we’re breaking out of the pack,” McKenna told me.

“This election is about jobs,” Cross said in a separate telephone call on Wednesday. “It’s about the economy. Andy has demonstrated the ability to run a company and really has taken a regional company to a global company. … We need somebody that can balance a checkbook and find a way for us to prosper as a state, and he brings that.”

“It’s a great boost to our campaign,” McKenna said. “I’m just flattered that Tom thinks I’m the best candidate to win in November. … It’s certainly true that if Tom hadn’t been willing to stand strong against a tax increase this last cycle, it would have gone through.”

“I think what you’re seeing here is three people who have had a front-row seat to watch the state get run into the ground and want to work together to offer up a credible alternative and take it in a different direction,” Murphy said.

McKenna and Murphy obviously are hoping for a way to distinguish themselves in the primary. One of the other candidates for governor, state Sen. KIRK DILLARD of Hinsdale, got the endorsement of former Gov. JIM EDGAR in early October. But the gubernatorial contest remains crowded: McKenna, who stepped down as chairman of the state GOP this summer, entered the governor’s race in late October, and former state Attorney General JIM RYAN of Elmhurst formally announced for the race early this month.

Others running for governor are state Sen. BILL BRADY of Bloomington, transparency advocate ADAM ANDRZEJEWSKI of Hinsdale, DuPage County Board Chairman BOB SCHILLERSTROM of Naperville, and Chicago GOP activist and public relations consultant DAN PROFT.

McKenna, 52, placed fourth among GOP candidates in the 2004 primary for U.S. Senate, and even his own campaign has touted him as “the quiet cure” to what ails the state.

Cross isn’t disturbed by those factors. He noted that President BARACK OBAMA lost a race for Congress before being elected to the U.S. Senate and the nation’s top office.

“People learn from previous elections,” Cross said.

“We’re not looking in this election for somebody that’s flashy or the great orator,” Cross added. “We’ve had enough of that in our former governor (ROD BLAGOJEVICH). We need somebody that’s just down to earth, that can make things happen from a jobs and economic standpoint in this state.”

McKenna, a Chicago resident, stepped aside as president of his family’s business, Schwartz Supply Source in Morton Grove, to make the run. He became its president in 1996. The former Schwartz Paper Co. had 30 employees in 1980; the firm now has about 350.

Cross also thinks the fact that McKenna has never held elective office and that Murphy, of Palatine, is in his first state Senate term, actually improves their chances.

“It’s hard to attack a guy like Andy or Matt,” Cross said. “What we see in a lot of elections is pulling out old votes and saying … ‘How do you explain yourself?’ They’re in a position of not really having to worry about that.”

Cross also called having Murphy running with McKenna as a running mate “a big positive.” In Illinois primaries, candidates for governor and lieutenant governor are nominated separately, and McKenna and Murphy, so far, are the only two trying to get nominated as a team. Each party’s candidates for governor and lieutenant governor do run together on the November ballot.

Murphy said he thinks the McKenna-Murphy television ads, featuring Blagojevich-like hair on pictures of past governors and the state Capitol, have created a “buzz.”

“It’s something different,” Murphy said. “If you’re a team on a losing streak, you can’t keep doing the same thing. … You’ve got to try and do something different, be a little bit more creative.”

Democrats now hold all six statewide constitutional offices.

Referring to the ads, Murphy said state government’s dysfunctional status is “a serious subject that we wanted to tackle in a little bit lighter way, because obviously, people in this state are sick and tired of being sick and tired. That was a way to say, ‘Hey, we get it,’ without being an overly heavy message.’”

New job for Harris

DARRYL HARRIS, a 23-year state worker and former member of the Sangamon County Board, has been named to a new position in the governor’s office: director of diversity enhancement.

Gov. PAT QUINN said the job is designed to improve statewide opportunities for minority- and women-owned businesses, especially in construction programs.

“Ensuring that we create plenty of opportunities and work for these important businesses is a priority for our state and our economy,” Quinn said in a news release. “Darryl Harris brings a stellar record of accomplishment, and I look forward to his help in this vital effort.”

Harris, 46, had made $92,300 annually as deputy director for operations at the Capital Development Board. His new job pays $110,000.

Harris said that one of 10 units he oversaw at CDB promoted use of minority- and female-business enterprises. He said his new job will be to try to coordinate the best of such programs from all the agencies under the governor.

Asked about the need for a new state position, given the tight state budget, Harris said he views the new job as a way to “make the best of the resources we have” and help private-sector companies create job growth.

“I think that’s what Illinois is looking for,” he said.

A native of Chicago, Harris has lived in Springfield for 25 years and is the married father of two sons. He began at the CDB, the construction management arm of state government, as an intern with the Illinois Minority Internship Program in 1987, starting him on a rise through the ranks.

He was on the Sangamon County Board for eight years and has also been a trustee of the Springfield Metro Sanitary District.

GOP debate now online

The Nov. 5 debate featuring all seven GOP candidates for governor can now be watched online at http://tinyurl.com/WatchILGOPdebate.

There are probably only a few folks out there who will want to witness the entire thing — it lasted more than 1 1/2 hours. But at least they’ll get the chance.

The state GOP hosted the debate in Chicago, and Republicans in a number of counties held events to watch the discussion. The one at Sangamon County Republican headquarters in Springfield was free, and people seemed to enjoy the food. The live Internet connection, however, messed up a lot, which was disappointing to attendees. At least the video is available now.

“This is the first time the party has ever tried something like that,” said CURT CONRAD, the party’s executive director, about the simulcast. “Yes, there were some technical difficulties.”

He said the party will continue to try to do things differently, though without the glitches, in the future. He said there may be a similar event in early January for lieutenant governor candidates, possibly in Springfield.

“The candidates seem to be very interested in it,” Conrad said.

Burris updates Web site

U.S. Sen. ROLAND BURRIS, D-Ill., has an updated Web site.

He calls it his “online office,” and it includes a video of Burris welcoming people to the site, and asking them to submit thoughts.

It’s at www.burris.senate.gov.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.