If President Donald Trump has taught us anything, it’s that the way you communicate your political beliefs matters more than ever.
The McLean County Republican Party will need a communicator-in-chief as it faces a tough 2018 election cycle against energized Democrats and Libertarians. Party chair Chuck Erickson announced Jan. 9 that he’s stepping down in April, returning to his other roles as a County Board member and attorney.
Connie Beard, a former party vice chair, wants to succeed Erickson as party chair. She announced her candidacy last week, praising Erickson’s leadership but signaling a shift in how the party communicates its underlying conservative principles. Appearing on GLT’s Sound Ideas, Beard said she’s not concerned about potentially taking over the party on the eve of a heated general election in November.
“I like a challenge,” said Beard, a real estate agent. “I have a little bit of a competitive nature in me. To have a task that deems to be difficult is what causes me to step up and say, well let’s find out how we can overcome that. There are a lot of steps we can take to push back what we as Republicans view as a Democratic battle forming and be able to explain our principles and views in a way that might push back a little bit of that.”
Erickson has served as party chair since 2014, succeeding John Parrott. Erickson became known as an ardent and unapologetic supporter of Republican causes. His self-described “outspoken and unashamed advocacy for Republican principles and value” has occasionally put him at odds with other local Republicans. In August Erickson issued a statement to clarify his remarks on the Republican Party’s Facebook page about President Trump’s infamous “both sides” comment on Charlottesville.
Beard studied theater and communications in college. She also runs a faith-based nonprofit theater organization, Crossroads Area Student Theater.
“I would love to see us having more conversations,” Beard said. “Although I’m an ardent conservative—I hold fast to principles that are just as conservative as Chuck and John Parrott and those who’ve come before me—I have a little different approach to sharing those principles with people. I like to hear people’s hearts. I like to hear what they’re thinking. I like to connect with people on a level that can really make a lasting impact and a change.”
“If people are not sharing their thoughts and ideas in a respectful and civil manner, then no one is gaining anything,” Beard added. “To be able to have exchanges of ideas is the vital part to a community discovering who they are and what they need to do.”
Beard first got involved in politics by answering phones and handing out yard signs for the Republican Party. She later became county coordinator for Erika Harold’s unsuccessful 2013 congressional bid. She also worked for U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood’s campaign. Her son, Jacob Beard, is a County Board member.
Beard said she wants to do a better job of promoting conservative principles “through public forums and multimedia sources,” specifically focusing on municipal government. Republicans hold a 15-to-5 majority on the McLean County Board; the Bloomington and Normal councils are nonpartisan positions.
“It’s having our spotlight put onto different actions, decisions, elements of our municipalities and saying, Are these decisions being made matching up to conservative Republican principles?” Beard said.
Whoever is the next GOP party chair will face a tough task in 2018. Democrats, including several first-time female candidates energized by Trump’s election, are challenging Republican incumbents on many fronts. Eleven of 13 county-government races are contested. Two longtime GOP state lawmakers, Dan Brady and Keith Sommer, face their first challengers in years. And Democrats sense an opening with Gov. Bruce Rauner, one of the most vulnerable Republicans in the country.
That comes amid changing political demographics in McLean County, where conservative rural voters surround a more moderate—and at times liberal—college and white-collar urban center. Trump won a smaller percentage of overall McLean County voters (45 percent) than both 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney (54 percent) and 2008 nominee John McCain (48 percent).
Beard said she recognizes “that we have a resurgence of a Democratic push in our county.”
“Some may panic. I say it’s a good wake-up call,” she said. “It should be a wake-up call for Republicans who’ve been taking it for granted that we are a ‘solid Republican county.’ Once you start taking something for granted, apathy sets in. So I welcome a good challenge.”
How much distance should McLean County Republicans put between themselves and Trump?
“The media and those who were defeated in the last election have done an excellent job of framing the conversation. And they have framed the conversation, and everybody is joining in on that conversation. I say there’s a whole other conversation that needs to take place,” Beard said, noting the Trump administration’s economic record and prioritizing of national defense.
“What we need to do is focus the conversation on our county again,” Beard said. “Come back to what we’re doing and deciding and what we need to have happen to have our county be economically successfully, to have safe streets, to have basic services that are solid and provided-for. Those are the things that make a difference in our daily lives.”
The new McLean County GOP chair will be selected in April at the party convention.
You can also listen to GLT's full interview:
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