Primary races will tell a lot about Illinois GOP

By: 
RICH MILLER

A group of ultra-conservative Illinois House members known as the Eastern Bloc has been stirring up trouble with the establishment in both parties for years.
The Republican districts they represent stretch from north of Decatur, over to Tuscola, and down to Mattoon, Shelbyville, Effingham and Vandalia.
They are the fellas (they’re all men) who demanded that Chicago be kicked out of Illinois.
The most famous member you’d likely know of is Darren Bailey, who served in both the Illinois House and the Senate and then ran for governor last year and is now running for Congress against Republican US Rep. Mike Bost.
Those folks were so steadfast against pandemic mitigations that they sometimes came off as almost pro-COVID. They love guns, they think abortion is an abomination, they’re up in arms about a Chinese company opening a huge electric vehicle battery factory in Kankakee County, and they rarely if ever pass any substantive legislation.
There are now a handful of primary races in that region which could tell us a lot about the future of the Republican Party in this state. Bailey vs. Bost is one of them. The race to replace retiring Rep. Dan Caulkins (R-Decatur) is another. The father of the kick Chicago out of Illinois “movement” is Rep. Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville), and he’s being challenged by an equally right-wing opponent because Halbrook broke his term limit pledge.
The Eastern Bloc rebranded themselves as the Illinois Freedom Caucus and is gearing up to challenge Rep. Dave Severin (R-Benton) with one of their own. Severin is conservative, but not sufficiently pure for them. He’s accepted a few union contributions, for instance.
The race we’re going to talk about today is related to the Severin battle. It’s in the 110th House District, which is currently held by Rep. Blaine Wilhour (R-Beecher City). He’s every bit of the fire-breather that Darren Bailey is, but without the burning desire (so far) to seek higher office.
Wilhour has been fighting a behind the scenes war with House Republican Leader Tony McCombie all year. He’s also taken on the teachers’ unions, which are trying to reestablish ties to Republican legislators now that their wealthy anti-union benefactors like Bruce Rauner and Ken Griffin have fled to Florida.
Back in September, Reps. Wilhour and Chris Miller (who is married to US Rep. Mary Miller) demanded that the Illinois Republican Party change its rules to declare that Republican candidates who solicit money from teachers’ unions or refuse to return their contributions “shall be condemned and automatically disassociated from the Republican Party.”
Several weeks ago, Illinois Department of Corrections employee Matt Hall started quietly circulating petitions to run against Rep. Wilhour in the Republican primary.
The IEA confirmed that it had been looking for a candidate against Wilhour. A union spokesperson said the IEA did not recruit Hall, but said, “we are excited about his candidacy and believe our members who live in the district will be as well.”
Asked if he would accept union contributions, Hall said, “I will accept everyone’s support and I expect to get everyone's support.” He said he decided to run because Wilhour “quit doing what I think a state Representative needs to do,” including being responsive to constituents.
“He just doesn't do anything,” Hall said. “In my opinion, all he does is kick and scream and doesn’t get anything passed.” Wilhour also hasn’t stopped any Democratic bills, Hall claimed. “We need to learn how to work together and get things done and care about this district.”
“A primary fight with the teachers’ union has been a forgone conclusion,” Rep. Wilhour said in response. “It’s always been about them finding their tool willing to carry their woke agenda.”
People on Wilhour’s side are convinced that House GOP Leader McCombie is somehow behind Hall’s race. “I prefer not to speak of who I've had contact with,” Hall said when asked if he’d spoken with McCombie about his candidacy. A McCombie aide said the Leader was focused on holding and picking up seats.
Hall ended up filing his petitions. They were solid, and he had help from the IEA.
Interestingly enough, a formal objection was filed against Rep. Wilhour's petitions. “It looks like a concerned citizen filed the complaint and we’re interested to see what comes of it,” said an IEA spokesperson.
Sure.
Anyway, if Hall manages to beat Wilhour, a shockwave will reverberate through the far right of the party. But, if nothing else, a barrage of union money aimed at Wilhour could divert Eastern Bloc resources away from their hoped-for battle against Rep. Severin.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.