An idealistic third party braves the snake pit of Illinois politics in this second volume of a sprawling trilogy on statehouse skullduggery.
In this continuing saga, the upstart E Party—for Ethics, Economy, and Education—has won a smashing election victory, picking up the Illinois governorship for its dark horse candidate, Baseball Hall-of-Famer Tom Robinson; four of six statewide offices; and the balance of power in the state legislature. Alas, sinister cabals of Democrats and Republicans gather to thwart the party’s program of government ethics, sound budgets, and education reform. The Republicans file for a governor’s race recount, hobbling Tom’s ability to push his agenda; the Robinson administration’s effort to streamline state operations runs afoul of obscure legal strictures; the budget bogs down; a battle royal over redrawing legislative districts opens up an abyss of partisan jockeying; and the education reform bill faces a constitutional challenge by the ACLU (for good reason, as the bill would force high school dropouts to go to school, enter the Army, or do some volunteer gig like AmeriCorps, which sounds like involuntary servitude). Arrayed against the plucky EPers is an array of foes: colluding Republican and Democratic election lawyers; Eddie Cobb, the dark lord of the Democratic National Committee, intent on strangling the EP in its cradle; and Javier Sanchez, a Democratic assemblyman doing Cobb’s dirty work in exchange for help in becoming speaker. Caught in the middle is current Speaker David Kennedy, a master strategist looking to fend off Cobb’s and Sanchez’s attacks and cement his legacy with education reform. There is much heavy-duty wonkery in Nemerovski’s (Third Party, 2016, etc.) novel, but the procedural of election challenges and ballot counting, redistricting maps (they now rely on computer models that would baffle NASA), lobbying, and arcane parliamentary maneuvering is engrossing; the mainly epistolary format of the narrative includes a few overlong memos but mostly unfolds in snappy emails and press reports. Unfortunately, while the EPers hold their own in Springfield, the Republocrats dominate the narrative with their colorful scheming, cackling, vote-stealing, back-stabbing, and womanizing. The EP characters are chiefly boring do-gooders who are forever telling one another how amazing they are. The donkey-elephant show is entertaining enough that readers should hope that the EP never pushes it off the stage.
A lively yarn about the gross but tasty sausage-making of politics.