Lincoln Club Hopes To Save McLean County From Hollowed-Out Political Center
A social club that’s been dormant since the 1970s has come back to life under new leadership, in hopes of creating a safe, less polarized space to talk about issues facing McLean County.
The Lincoln Club of McLean County recently hosted its first event, featuring former Gov. Jim Edgar and other moderate Republicans. Lincoln Club leaders say they plan to host three to four events each year, focused on issues ranging from politics, education, economic development and more.
The Lincoln Club’s second life is led by several women who met through Republican circles, said steering committee members Kathleen Lorenz and Vicki Varney.
Lorenz, who is also a Normal Town Council member, said she’s worried about how politics has drifted toward polarization.
"We don’t want to see a hollowed-out center."
“We don’t want to see a hollowed-out center,” Lorenz said. “Regardless of whether either party is right now, it’s important to have a safe space for constructive conversations.”
Lorenz described a Venn diagram—with the Democratic circle on one side and the Republicans on the other. “Maybe we can be the circle that links us all together,” she said. “Maybe that’s a high aspiration, but let’s go for it.”
The featured-speaker list at the Lincoln Club’s first event may signal where it’s headed.
In addition to Edgar, the panel included former Illinois GOP chair Pat Brady, state Rep. Dan Brady, and state Sen. Jason Barickman. They occupy a more moderate space in the Republican Party than others, such as gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey or those closely aligned with former President Donald Trump.
So how much space is there between the Lincoln Club and the McLean County Republican Party?
“We’re still new enough that we’re finding our way,” said Varney. “But they’ve been very supportive of the group and know that our hearts are in the right place and we’re trying to engage people in civic conversation. And I don’t think you can fault that.”
Lincoln Club’s first event was held at the Bloomington Country Club. Varney said they hope to offer free events at larger venues as COVID restrictions allow that.
“It’s more important than ever to have discussions, and to give people a forum to ask questions, to find out what’s happening economically, politically, educationally. We’ve all chosen to live here, so we want it to be a good and safe community,” Varney said.