SPRINGFIELD -- One of the top Republican leaders in the U.S. House told the Illinois GOP Thursday that the state party can rebound, despite its devastating losses in the 2018 elections.
"It was a tough cycle for us in a lot of states, but Illinois was one of the ones where it was the toughest," House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, told the party faithful gathered at the Illinois State Fair. "And then you look at that and go, 'Is it ever going to get better again, can we ever take our state back?' You absolutely can take your state back, and you will take your state back by fighting the machine."
Scalise was the keynote speaker at the Republican Day picnic at the fair, where the theme of the day was "Fight the Machine," a reference to the Illinois Democratic Party. He noted that Louisiana politics was also once dominated by a Democratic machine, but Republicans have since wrested control of it.
"The ghost of Huey Long still walks the state capitol in Baton Rouge in many places, but we finally took it back," he said. "Today we have majorities in the House, in the Senate, and by the end of this year we will have every single statewide elected office as Republican. That's how far we've come. And in just a short period of time, you can do that too."
Scalise, 53, has served in Congress since 2008. Before that he served 12 years in the Louisiana House, followed by four months in the state Senate. But he was thrust into the national consciousness in June 2017 when he and three other people were shot and wounded by a gunman while practicing for an upcoming congressional softball game.
Also on the field at the time was Illinois Republican Rep. Rodney Davis, who introduced Scalise at Thursday's event.
The tone and the rhetoric of the GOP rally Thursday stood in stark contrast with that of Illinois Democrats on Wednesday, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker and U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, touted their accomplishments in the first legislative session since Democrats won back the governor's mansion and took super majorities in both the state House and Senate.
Those included passing bills to phase in a $15 per-hour minimum wage, legalizing adult use recreational marijuana and an expansive reproductive rights measure that declares access to abortion to be a fundamental right, along with a proposed constitutional amendment that will go on the November 2020 ballot to allow for a graduated income tax structure.
"I also know that they are so out of touch, and they are going to hurt this state with what they're trying to propose with our constitution," said Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs. "And also, with their ultraliberal, depressive, progressive, excessive, regressive, oppressive agenda, … oh, I forgot, the socialist agenda."
That line elicited cheers from the crowd, including many people waving signs that read "Resist Socialism" and that bore the hammer and sickle symbol of the former Soviet Union.
State GOP Chairman Tim Schneider opened the rally by admitting that state Republicans suffered big losses in last year's elections.
"Friends, there's no sugarcoating what happened in 2018. We got shellacked," he said. "We lost the governor's mansion, we hold no statewide offices and we're a superminority in the House and the Senate."
But he went on to paint Illinois Democrats as a machine-style that is currently the focus of federal investigations.
"When I talk about the machine, I don't mean to seem hyperbolic or glib," Schneider said. "The machine is real, it's well-documented and it's been suffocating Illinois for decades."