What has happened to the long-accepted political axiom in Illinois that in order to run for high statewide office one must have a good ballot name?
Our governor is a Blagojevich, our next junior U.S. senator may be an Obama and a Topinka is state treasurer.
One might ask is Illinois suddenly becoming a case study for a new book called "Reinventing the Melting Pot"? The mythical book could suggest that the "A" word is back as a vital intellectual and practical force in American life--and that word is "assimilation."
Obviously, electoral politics (especially in Illinois) is far more complicated than the name game. A candidate's popular appeal, personal wealth or fundraising prowess, specific issue positions, the caliber of his or her opponent and the flow of party scandals often mix with major national trends to produce a statewide winner.
Yet as the Buffalo Springfield's song of the 1960s suggests, "There's something happening here. What it is ain't exactly clear." Political candidates with strange-sounding names are being elected or at least nominated to the state's highest offices and, even more bizarre, they are using their tough-to-pronounce names as a political tool to expand their voter identification.
To be sure, population-wise the state is tilting more and more to its northeast quadrant, which houses a huge portion of Illinois' demographic diversity. However, I believe political assimilation--Illinois-style--goes far beyond increased race and ethnicity percentages of its residents. Why?
A few decades ago, former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne said the days of political machines are over because television is the new precinct captain. I'll go one step further. Paid political TV commercials are the 21st Century's new precinct captain because this is how a huge chunk of moderately interested voters garner their political wisdom and information. It is not surprising that a 60-second or, better yet, a 30-second commercial can deliver the same lethal political punch that once was produced by watching a TV debate, attending a political meeting or even receiving a visit from the precinct captain.
The above scenario is a prime factor in the "selling" of candidates who differ from the traditional Illinois mode.
A clever consultant, backed by enough campaign dollars, can package a solid candidate in such a way that name, race, gender or ethnicity becomes a campaign plus.
Thus it is conceivable that while academics debate theories about the melting pot, assimilation and Americanization, pragmatic Illinois pols will be moving in a far more practical direction. Look for a new phenomenon--potential candidates will reverse the historic process and 1) begin lengthening their last names and/or 2) file their petitions with their last name's original spelling.
Facing this political assimilation onslaught, candidates burdened with one syllable, easy-to-spell surnames will claim "name discrimination" and demand electoral fairness achieved by write-in votes only.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times