Illinois Republicans used the state's most powerful Democrat, House Speaker Michael Madigan, as a rally point during Saturday's party convention, blaming him for the state's ills while hailing a Downstate lawmaker's tirade against him that became a YouTube sensation.
State Rep. Mike Bost's videotaped, paper-throwing rant at Madigan near the end of the recently adjourned spring session got a standing ovation from delegates meeting in Tinley Park as GOP leaders tried to energize supporters heading into uphill fall elections for the General Assembly and Congress.
All of the state's 177 legislative seats and its 18 congressional seats are on the November ballot, with politicians running in new districts drawn by the state's controlling Democrats to favor their candidates.
With Republicans serving their 15th consecutive year as a minority in the Illinois House, and ninth year out of power in both the state Senate and governor's mansion, the GOP hurled names like "dictator" and "tyrant" at Madigan, speaker of the House for all but two of the past 29 years and the state's Democratic chairman.
"We are under the thumb of a controlling, vindictive, ethically challenged, self-serving leprechaun, and I mean no disrespect to leprechauns, Speaker Mike Madigan. He has spent the last 40 years in Springfield, making himself rich, trading on his position of trust," said Illinois GOP Chairman Pat Brady, likening the state to a "third-world republic like Venezuela."
Brady went so far as to instruct delegates that Madigan is the chief political pressure point for Republicans.
The state Republican chairman said that when supporters greet prospective voters, "You have to tell them that any vote for any Democrat in this state ... is a vote for Mike Madigan, and that's the message we have to drive home in the next 150 days."
Still, Brady noted that Republicans have "gotten our brains knocked in at the polls" in recent years because the GOP lacks the army of Democratic ground troops built in Chicago and doesn't have the support of organized labor.
Illinois House GOP leader Tom Cross said Madigan, a Southwest Side Democrat, "has his fingerprints on every problem we have with respect to our pension problems."
Illinois lawmakers left Springfield last month without addressing the state's $83 billion unfunded public employee pension liability.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn plans a meeting later this month with the legislature's top leaders on pensions.
But prospects for a deal seemed further away as Cross once again staked out a position against transferring suburban and Downstate teacher pension costs from the state onto local property taxpayers. The concept is backed by Madigan, Democratic Senate President John Cullerton, Quinn and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
"Unlike the speaker of the House and the president of the Senate and the governor and mayor of the city of Chicago, we don't have any intentions of transferring $20 billion of property-tax increases to downstate Illinois or to Chicago's suburban areas," said Cross, of Oswego. "I can assure you of that. That's Mike Madigan's solution to the pension problem."
Peoria-area Republican U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock touched on some of the fringe criticisms of Democratic home-state President Barack Obama in urging support for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
"Some will say that Barack Obama is all kinds of things. You know, they'll call him an American, they'll call him that he's of a different religion than he says he is, they'll say that perhaps he wasn't born in America. I happened to be one of the first to call him a socialist," Schock said. "But at the end of the day, ladies and gentlemen, isn't it enough just for him to be wrong?"
Schock also said the nation faces "a path of deficits, doubt and decline," a time "that is only second to 1979 in which Americans questioned the greatness of America." Schock was born in 1981.