GOP Taps a Conservative

GOP Taps A Conservative ; Gary MacDougal Is Charged With Mending Party

Chicago Tribune
Copyright Chicago Tribune 2002
by: Rick Pearson

Conservative businessman Gary E. MacDougal was elected unanimously Friday as the state's new Republican chairman, charged with unifying disparate elements within the party, raising badly needed funds and helping it overcome a scandal-induced chaos.

But MacDougal's election by the 19-member Republican State Central Committee at an Oak Brook hotel represented both compromise and capitulation among the leaders of a dysfunctional political organization whose standard-bearer, attorney general and governor candidate Jim Ryan, had been repeatedly rebuffed in efforts to tap a new chairman.

MacDougal told committee members he would serve only through the Nov. 5 election if Ryan does not defeat Democrat Rod Blagojevich, sources said. Such a move was an accommodation to moderate Republican leaders who feared electing MacDougal to a full four- year term would turn control of the GOP apparatus over to the party's right wing.

"Facing this job is a daunting thing," said MacDougal, 66, of Chicago, who is the former chairman of Mark Controls Corp. "I've climbed the Matterhorn. I've climbed the Grand Teton. Those seem like molehills compared to some of the challenges we have up ahead, but I look forward to them with gusto."

MacDougal's election ended a furious near three-week search for a successor to House Republican leader Lee Daniels of Elmhurst. Daniels was forced out of the chairmanship this month after the attorney general turned over to federal prosecutors allegations that some of Daniels legislative staff did political work on state time.

Former Gov. Jim Edgar rejected Ryan's offers of the chairmanship twice, and former Quaker Oats chairman William Smithburg and U.S. Rep. Ray LaHood of Peoria also turned down the job.

Last week, Ryan offered the job to MacDougal, who previously headed a state task force on welfare reform, to try to rebuild confidence in a party organization that has been shaken by the licenses-for-bribes scandal that stemmed from Gov. George Ryan's tenure as secretary of state.

Acknowledging that surveys show voters feel the state is headed in the wrong direction and in need of a change in leadership, MacDougal said he shared "the true disgust for what has happened in this state." But he said Republicans were better poised to make the case for restoring integrity in government.

MacDougal noted that federal prosecutors are reviewing allegations that taxpayer-funded political bonuses were paid to the staff of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan of Chicago, who also is state Democratic chairman. He called on Blagojevich to ask Madigan to step down.

Blagojevich has said he would ask Madigan to step down only if "credible evidence" were found.