SPRINGFIELD - This Saturday, members of the Illinois GOP County Chairman's Association will gather at their bi-annual convention to elect the organization's president and other officers.
The 102-member group has been led by President Randy Pollard since 2006. Running unopposed this year, Pollard will be serving another term, which will take him through the 2016 election cycle.
Indeed, Pollard says the plans for Saturday's meeting at the Chicago Hilton in Springfield are to elect officers and then spend much of the day getting to know the 40 new chairmen and encouraging them to network with more experienced party leaders.
"I'd like to have some time to get to know the new county chairmen," Pollard told Illinois Review. "We want to be able to sit down with them, give them contact information at the state party and go over things they need to know for their organizations.
"A lot of these county chairmen are not only new county chairmen, they're new precinct committeemen - so they're coming into this really green, and I just want to make sure they've got the opportunity to spend some time in a small group setting."
Illinois is a challenging state to round up leadership statewide with city dwellers, suburbanites and rural voters, but it's really not that difficult to bring them together when they're talking politics, Pollard said.
"When we all get together in a room, we all speak English, we are all Republicans and we have a lot more in common than what people may think," he said.
One thing that draws together Republicans from various regions and cultural perspectives is the Illinois Republican Party's platform, upon which the overwhelming number of delegates at the 2012 state convention agreed in a voice vote.
"I support the party platform, and I think that we use that as a guideline for our electeds and for our candidates," Pollard said. "For anybody to say that everybody has to live, breathe and die by the platform - it's very difficult to do that because the platform may not be exactly what works well in different areas of the state. Our candidates use it as a guideline and do the best we possibly can with that.
Times have changed over the years, and that is making a difference in the IL GOP platform, Pollard said.
"Everything is in this state, everything in this country is changing so fast, and we have to be made aware of that and try to figure out how we go forward. Everyone has to make their own decision on if they adhere to it, or respectfully move on."
Pollard's had challenges over the past few years getting county chairmen to come together in consensus on issues and candidates.
In 2008, at the IL GOP state convention in Decatur, he lunged over a speaker's table when former State Chris Lauzen and now-State Senator Jim Oberweis pushed for the association to pass a resolution backing the election of state central committeemen. Pollard made it clear by his actions that he was very angry with Oberweis' failed challenge of the status quo.
Six years later, Pollard's in the place of promoting U.S. Senate candidate Jim Oberweis and IL GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who won their party's nominations in the GOP primary. Pollard is confident Republicans will gain back seats in Congress and the Illinois House in the fall election with Oberweis and Rauner at the top of the ballot.
"I am actually more than hopeful that we'll win in November, I'm betting on it. The polling data shows that Bruce Rauner is doing very well, and with Bruce Rauner and Jim Oberweis at the head of the ticket, we have excellent chance of picking up seats in Illinois, and we will," Pollard said.
Pollard may be facing a conflicted situation in 2016, though, especially if his day job boss runs for re-election. Pollard works as a legislative aide for U.S. Senator Mark Kirk's Springfield office.
"We handle constituent cases, just like any other government office and handle the calls that come in from constituents as to problems they're having with the federal government," Pollard said.
That's a problem for John Parrott, who recently retired as McLean County GOP Chairman. Parrott, who's had a variety of opinion differences with Pollard over the years, said county chairmen should not be pressured to support an incumbent such as Kirk because the association president works for him.
"It's just too much of a conflict of interest," Parrot told Illinois Review. "He can't be fair when his job depends upon the person who wins."
The ILGOP county chairmen have one vote per county, and the vote is not weighed per population or primary votes. Without an opponent on Saturday, Pollard is a shoe-in, but the vote won't be the chairmen's last word.
Another county chairman - who wished to remain anonymous - voiced a concern about falling out of favor with Pollard should anyone oppose him.
"What the county chairman's association decides Saturday doesn't really matter," he said. "In the last phone call before the primary only 17 of the 102 county chairmen participated. Chairmen are voting with their feet and not participating or paying their dues."
Pollard will have work to bring together the county chairmen's association with quietly disconcerted members among so many new ones.