George H. Ryan, Illinois’ Republican governor and bona fide “compassionate conservative,” has borrowed one from the Clinton playbook: He seems to think that a vast right-wing conspiracy has been out to get him since he took office, forcing him to decline to run for a second term. The real reason, of course, is that—due to mounting charges of corruption and Ryan’s consistently left-wing policies—he wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in Texas of winning again, having alienated most of his base.

Setting aside the “license-for-bribes” scandal (in which illegal, non-English-speaking Mexicans were given semi-truck licenses in exchange for payola during George Ryan’s stint as secretary of state), the most interesting aspect of his besmirched tenure as governor is that Illinois Republicans championed him in the first place, only to throw up their hands in despair each time he connected with one of his telegraphed passes.

“George Ryan,” according to his campaign website, “does not believe a state income tax increase is needed. Illinois’ revenue growth is up substantially. The state ended the fiscal year with $800 million in the bank. State spending has been brought under control. Government needs to live within its means.” Of course, what he meant was that he would raise revenue to finance his massive Illinois FIRST program by doubling or tripling “user fees”—vehicle-registration fees, title-transfer fees, and liquor taxes. It was quite a thrill for many Illinois taxpayers to discover they were really users (though here in Winnebago County, our Republican county-board chairperson refers to us as “customers”). Conversely, since taking office, Ryan started talking about the possibility of limiting and, in some cases, eliminating tollbooths on Illinois highways. Highway tolls, though annoying, are the closest thing we have to genuine “user fees,” since out-of-state commuters get socked alongside Illinois taxpayers.

Candidate Ryan outlined what would become his Illinois FIRST program during his campaign, promising the moon when it came to repairing Illinois highways. Where did he plan to find the money for “building a transportation infrastructure that relieves highway congestion, promotes economic development and supports mass transit”? Where else? Yet Republican voters just kept chanting the mantra, “Republicans are for tax cuts” and punched Ryan’s chad.

What should have been even more obvious to voters was George Ryan’s planned assault on gun owners. In campaign literature, Ryan reminded the soccer moms of suburban Chicago that he supported the Brady Bill, even when it was unfashionable among Republicans; that he was in favor of mandatory trigger locks for guns inside homes where children are present, and that parents who resist should be charged with felonies. Surprise, surprise: When elected governor, George Ryan pushed for gun-control laws even beyond what he had promised, insisting that anyone transporting a gun—even one contained in a case—in a vehicle in which ammunition is “readily accessible” should be charged with a felony. This was part of his version of the Safe Neighborhoods Act—a piece of legislation designed to reinstate Draconian gun-control measures found unconstitutional by the Illinois State Supreme Court. Governor Ryan tried to ram his Safe Neighborhoods Act through the Illinois House last Christmas, by calling a special legislative session that forced many of the state reps to stay in Springfield during the holiday break. The bill passed the following spring, but only after the charge for a first-time criminal offense (say, for some hunter who travels with his box of bird-shot shells in the floorboard of his pickup) was reduced to a misdemeanor—and that’s only for the first offense. All bets are off, though, if your pistol is loaded and under the seat (say, in the case of some honest, taxpaying citizen who has to drive through a gangland every day on his way to work).

Like Clinton and Bush, Ryan campaigned on his commitment to uphold the rights of “hunters and collectors” (always code for latent anti-gun tendencies), while supporting the ban on assault weapons and opposing a concealed-carry law “out of a firm conviction that allowing more people to carry guns will only increase the bloodshed on our streets.” That’s right—everyone who carries a loaded gun for self-defense is really a latent criminal, just waiting to “increase the bloodshed.” Candidate Ryan painted his Democratic opponent, Glenn Poshard, a former school teacher, as a gun nut, simply because Poshard supported a concealed-carry law that applied only to former policemen and military personnel.

For the record, Glenn Poshard was also more conservative than Ryan on abortion, stating in his campaign that he was pro-life across the board. The Ryan campaign refrained from discussing the issue, allowing pro-life Christians to circulate voters guides indicating that George Ryan was very pro-life, while casting doubt upon the evil Democrat Poshard. The official position of the Ryan campaign was as follows: “George Ryan is pro-life with exceptions for rape, incest, and the life of the mother. He is aware that the U.S. Supreme Court has clearly stated that a woman has a Constitutional right to choose to have an abortion [always code for latent anti-life leanings]. As Governor, he would carefully weigh any abortion-related legislation to ensure that it does not run counter to existing Constitutional law, and would likely withstand court challenges. George Ryan does not and never has used one’s position on this issue as a litmus test for inclusion in the Republican Party.” This past June, Ryan vetoed Illinois House Bill 709, which would have stopped all state funding of abortion in Illinois, for which he was praised by Republican Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood: “[F]irst, it was the right thing to do because protecting the health of poor women is good public policy; second, the Governor’s veto was consistent not only with the law and the courts, but also with Republican philosophy.” Wood is now considering running to replace Ryan.

In addition to these feats of conservatism, George Ryan has sparked a national debate over the death penalty by issuing a moratorium on all executions in the state of Illinois because he believes there are too many blacks on death row. In mid-August, he vetoed legislation sponsored by Rep. Susanna Mendoza (D-Chicago, and a Latino representative of a Latino community riddled with gang violence), which would have made those convicted of gang-related homicide automatically eligible for the death penalty (if Ryan ever reinstates it). Governor Ryan claimed that this legislation “introduces arbitrariness and discretion” by singling out minorities, because gangs are mostly made up of blacks and Latinos. That doesn’t quite jibe with his campaign statement that he would “put the priorities of law-abiding people ahead of hoodlums.” Of course, by “hoodlums,” he meant white suburbanites.

The absurdity of George Ryan’s career as a one-term governor in the Land of Lincoln is undeniable. The real question that remains is: Have conservatives learned their lesson? Why voters who are pro-life, pro-gun, and anti-tax always default to the Stupid Party is beyond reason. But if George Ryan’s ridiculously leftwing term has been a wake-up call for them, then perhaps he has served a purpose.