Q&A With New Senate GOP Leader Dan McConchie
Q: What led you to make a run at Bill Brady?
A: I’m somebody who never expected to be in public office in the first place. The opportunity opened up several years ago to run and give back in that way. I have always taken the view that I have a limited amount of time on earth and I want my time here to be productive. I viewed being in the legislature as an opportunity to try to give back to the people of this state to try to advance good policies and the like. It is difficult to advance good policies in a meaningful way when you’re in the super minority. My goal has been since I’ve been there is to figure out how is it that we can grow our numbers and be relevant to the discussion so that we can do good things for the people of Illinois. When I came into the legislature, we had 22 members, that fell to 19, next year, that falls to 18. I was not satisfied with the trajectory that we have been on, so I put my name into the mix to see what we could do in turning that around.
Q: How do you change a feeling of irrelevance among a caucus and among a staff that hasn’t played a meaningful role in the legislative process in a while?
A: Well, you have to win at the ballot box, that’s what it is. And we have not been competing effectively for people’s votes. It’s clear in the current cycle with the fact that people rejected the Democrat vision of the future in a resounding manner, which was all around the graduated income tax. The fact that people overwhelmingly said no to that, and we know why people did that. They did it because they did not trust Springfield with broader powers to reach into our pockets and continue to take more money out of them. So, what we have to do at this point is connect with those people. We need to get out and connect the Republican brand here in Illinois to the reason why people do not trust Springfield. I don’t know that was effectively done this cycle. It was done better in the House. The House [Republicans] picked up a net of two seats. In my district, I had a Republican and a Democrat in the two halves of my district, and it appears we will take back the seat that was in the eastern half of my district. That’s what our message was in this area. It was “look, if you are voting against the graduated tax, then you need to vote Republican. We differentiated ourselves from the Republicans at the federal level. It is our responsibility as elected officials and as candidates to make sure we can win regardless of what happens further up the ballot. Our electoral success should not be based on how people vote for president, how they vote for U.S. Senate, how they vote for Congress. It’s a fundamentally different level of government. We need to be able to provide a value proposition that motivates and excites our base but also has people who may be voting Democratic at the national level, but when they get down to their State Senate, State Representative level, vote Republican because the extreme level of mismanagement that has existed now for, essentially, 20 years. We haven’t had real balanced budgets since 2000. We’ve seen our unfunded pension liability grow from $15 billion to over $140 billion and Moody’s is saying it’s over $200 billion. The level of mismanagement over the last 20 years is almost entirely a responsibility off Democrat management of the General Assembly. We’ve seen what happens when people have the opportunity to vote directly on an issue, like the graduated tax. We need now, to connect the Republican brand to the reason why people so soundly rejected the Governor’s number one policy proposal.
Q: Then there’s the money aspect of this. Democrats have seemingly unlimited amounts of money coming in. How do you change the game in fundraising?
A: You have to provide hope. You have to come up with a plan, which I’ve come up with, on how to do that. We need to present those people (donors) with that plan and get them to buy into it. We saw what happens when you provide people with that opportunity on the graduated income tax. There were tens of millions of dollars raised for the effort to stop the graduated income tax. That didn’t come only because didn’t like the proposal that was on the table, it came because the people involved in that effort had a plan, laid out what it was, the donor community bought into it, and they executed. That is something we need to do, as well. as a caucus. I’m not going to telegraph what our plan for success is, only to say that we have a plan that I’m going to begin almost immediately pitching to the donor community looking for them to, not only to invest, but invest early, and invest significantly. 2022 is going to be a big year. With President Biden, it should be a good opportunity for Republicans. We have a base in which we’re able to go through now, and we’re going to be able to know on a precinct-by-precinct basis across the state how people voted on the graduated income tax. These are people that don’t trust Springfield politicians. They don’t trust the Democrats in power. We need to have a manner that we go out and reach them and we’ve got to link up with whoever is going to be our gubernatorial candidate in 2022 and work collaboratively in that regard. I don’t know that happened to that level in the past that it needed to, but certainly, under my tenure, we will seek every opportunity to be much more collaborative in that effort in our messaging and strategy.
Q: Do you consider Governor Pritzker vulnerable in two years?
A: Absolutely. There are a number of people out there who are upset about the unilateral path he has taken in regards to managing the pandemic. The weakness, on behalf of the legislature, as far as asserting control and oversight over his actions, as well as his number one policy proposal [shows the weakness]. I mean, he resorted to threats to try to get that passed. He said ‘if you don’t pass the graduated tax proposal, we’re gonna have to raise income taxes by 20% on everybody. Well, people didn’t buy that. They were'’t scared by the threats. They didn’t buy into the alarmist rhetoric that was there and I believe there’s a great opportunity to show a substantive difference going forward because of the leadership that he has exercised in the result from that so far.
Q: You have a split party right now in ideology. You have mainstream Republicans, people who try to push hard line conservatives in places they can win a primary but not a general election. How do you handle both candidate recruitment, winning primaries, and winning generals, when you have such a division within your own party.
A: I don’t believe that being a political monolith is necessary. I wouldn’t say that a difference of opinion would be problematic for a party that’s committed to winning. Look at the Democrats. They have moderate Democrats, very progressive Democrats, and, practically, socialist Democrats all in the General Assembly.
Not only do they continue hold on to power, but buy a huge margin and have seats. There’s a certain working together that the Democrats do and do well. I would say what matters most is finding out what our members are committed to. Is it ideological purity? Are the committed to winning on the grounds that the voters are willing to embrace you on. When you put it that way, I have yet to run into a serious activist or serious donor who doesn’t say “well, weed to be responsive.”
Q: That said, there have been some concerns about you and your connections to the Dan Proft/Illinois Policy Institute wing of the party. Is there any truth to those concerns?
A: For the people who are saying those things, they just don’t know me. I was in a heavily contested three-way primary (in 2016) in my first race. I was running against [Chicago Bears legend) Brian Urlacher’s brother. They were dumping hundreds of thousands of football dollars into the race. I work with anybody that is interested in free markets, limited government, and is about real solutions we want the state to put forward. I get along with most anybody who is interested in that. I’m not an ideological purist. At the end of the day, I’m interested in how do we grow our numbers and be relevant. We all have opinions, but it’s about having the ability to make policy change. The way you get there is by having enough members that are part of your party and in the harness together. And that’s what I’m committed to growing and advancing.
Q: There are probably a lot of folks who don’t know you have a disability and are in a wheelchair. How has that circumstance influenced where you are today?
A: I was on a motorcycle and was in a hit-and-run accident back in 2007. 13 years ago. It left me with a spinal injury, so I have no feeling or function below my waist. Whenever you go through a traumatic circumstance like that, it shows you a lot about yourself and shows you a lot about who you are as a person. I spent 9 years in the Army and Reserves in the Military Police and one of the mottos that I kind of adopted from those early days was what I have always referred to as “adapt and overcome.” When something happens in life and you have some sort of adversity that comes your way, you can allow the situation to control you or define you, or you can adapt and overcome the adversity that’s been presented. And I have always prided myself that no matter happens, how I get knocked down, I get back up and I go back at it, hopefully stronger than before. That really is the manner in which I have tried to approach life in general and the way I’ve approached my political life. Those of us who have had a severe traumatic experience know if you don’t let adversity control and define you, it will make you better and stronger and more effective. I don’t like the fact that I have a disability, obviously. But, I am glad for the person that I’ve become because of it.