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After years of not caring, Madigan tries to improve his image

Monday, Dec 16, 2013

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

House Speaker Michael Madigan’s spokesman said last week that his boss’ statement opposing further corporate “handouts” basically “speaks for itself.” But does it?

Madigan invoked the populist gods last week as he called for an end to the “case-by-case system of introducing and debating legislation whenever a corporation is looking for free money from Illinois taxpayers.” Companies requesting the tax breaks, Madigan said, “pay little to no corporate income tax to the state, contributing little or nothing to help fund the very services from which they benefit significantly.”

It would be much easier to believe Madigan had he not just last month pushed a bill over to the Illinois Senate which would give Univar a tax break to help the west coast corporation move its headquarters to Illinois. Not coincidentally, Univar has an existing facility just next door to Madigan’s House district.

The Senate refused to pass the stand-alone Univar bill, opting instead to include the Univar break in a wider package benefiting OfficeMax and ADM. That bill cruised through the Senate, but Madigan didn’t allow it to be called in the House after the pension reform proposal was approved.

So, Madigan’s infamous transactional nature and the traditional tension between the two chambers both appear to be playing into this.

Contrast Madigan’s statement about corporate “handouts” with Senate President John Cullerton’s staunch defense of his chamber’s passage of the tax breaks. “We’re not giving any money to corporations, we’re bringing jobs to Illinois,” Cullerton said. “These specific bills that we passed, they are new jobs that are being added. So we’re not taking any money away from anybody or giving money to corporations, we’re adding jobs that aren’t here now.”

But even Cullerton whittled down the list of companies seeking government assistance. Zurich North America wanted a tax break to help it with its already announced headquarters move from one part of Schaumburg into another, but it was left out of the final deal. Suburban video game developer High Voltage Software has asked for assistance dealing with overseas competition, but it was also removed from the Senate’s package.

Several other corporate execs have also quietly reached out to inquire about tax incentives, insiders say, so the relative trickle could become a raging flood very soon. Madigan appears to have wanted to stop this trend before it got out of hand.

There is also some continuing tension between Madigan and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who refused to publicly endorse a specific ADM tax break bill. Emanuel wants Decaturbased ADM’s new “world headquarters” to be located in Chicago, but hizzoner never publicly requested the subsidy the company wants, and Madigan didn’t want his members taking heat for “corporate welfare” while Chicago’s mayor benefitted without cost.

This move also has a macro side. Madigan has never really cared much about the publicity he gets, but after he was publicly singled out by gay marriage proponents as the main impediment to the bill’s passage, Madigan helped push the legislation over the top and then took credit in an unusual post-vote press conference with the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Greg Harris

Madigan then gave himself full credit for passage of the pension reform bill, claiming that the bill couldn’t have passed without his own leadership. His statement blatantly ignored the undeniable fact of Senate President Cullerton’s massive policy shift on pension reform, which was what really led to the bill’s success. More importantly, though, the Speaker’s statement signaled yet again that he wanted praise for his accomplishments - something he’s never asked for in the past.
And now this move designed to curry favor with the vast majority of voters.

After years of not caring, why does he care now? One obvious reason is the upcoming gubernatorial election.

“Dealing with Madigan” has already become the most important issue in the Republican primary, with Bruce Rauner regularly denouncing Madigan and all four candidates claiming they’re the right guy to bring the most powerful Democrat in Illinois’ history to heel.

It’s highly doubtful that Madigan’s PR ploy will work. The media and the Republican establishment have been blasting Madigan for over thirty years. A sustained attack like that simply cannot be effectively countered in a few months via media coverage alone.

Madigan, at the age of 71 with almost 43 years in the House and close to 29 years as Speaker, is also undoubtedly taking stock of his legacy and has apparently decided that he’d better get his, um, house in order. This state has suffered badly. And while he shouldn’t get all the blame, he has to know that he will anyway.

* Kurt Erickson believes it was all about the “optics”

I prefer to think that Madigan was just trying to avoid the bad optics first floated in a story I wrote back in late September.

Here’s the first paragraph of the story:

“At the same time Illinois lawmakers are expected to debate a plan to strip retirement benefits from teachers, prison guards and university employees, they also may take up a proposal to deliver tax breaks to one of the state’s biggest corporations.”

Flash forward from September to December and that was exactly the scenario facing lawmakers in the House as they voted to approve a plan to reduce pension benefits for tens of thousands of workers and retirees.

What would it have said had they then turned around that same day and gave away millions of dollars in tax breaks to a successful company like ADM so its top brass could be closer to a large international airport?

Except the Senate did just that, overwhelmingly passing the bill with the support of Republicans like Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard. Just five Democrats voted “No.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        


26 Comments
  1. - one of the 35 - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:27 am:

    The fact that Madigan is trying to give himself credit for passage of pension reform also means that he must take credit for the current state of affairs in general. Illinois has been horribly governed under his leadership for 29 years! Our current financial condition speaks for itself.


  2. - Jack Handy - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:28 am:

    Maybe MJM’s blatant grab of responsibility for passing pension reform and Quinn’s low-key signing of the bill was just a ploy so the unions can more easily support Quinn in the upcoming election.


  3. - walkinfool - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:28 am:

    100% Rich. Answer to the Madigan question: all of the above.


  4. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:32 am:

    I suspect it’s more legacy than the governor’s race.

    Over the years, Madigan probably had his best relationships with Big Jim and Ryan, less so with Edgar and Quinn, and outright warfare with Blago. A GOP governor isn’t the end of the world to him, by any means.

    After all these years, he’s probably sick of the beating he takes from the know-nothings in Chicago media.

    Conceal-carry, gay marriage, a more severe pension bill — none of them get across the goal line without his influence and he’d like the public to know it.

    And anything that slows down the rush of corporate hogs to the taxpayer trough is okay by me.


  5. - AFSCME Steward - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:32 am:

    What is missing is Madigan taking responsibility for engineering the mess in the first place. The pension mess didn’t start with Madigan, however, during his tenure as Speaker he year after year failed to address the issue. He passed borrowing plans & pension holidays, never ever worring about the consequences. He is sort of like the arsonist that sets a big fire and then takes credit for leading the effort to put it out.


  6. - AFSCME Steward - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:33 am:

    Jack Handy

    Ain’t gonna happen

    “Maybe MJM’s blatant grab of responsibility for passing pension reform and Quinn’s low-key signing of the bill was just a ploy so the unions can more easily support Quinn in the upcoming election.”


  7. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:34 am:

    I’ve said it before. After writing a book for 40 years, it’s time to work on the Epilogue. And that’s what he’s doing. Once he leaves (on his own terms, whenever that may be), there will be a power vacuum the size of which we have never seen. There will be some legislative chaos. Right, wrong or indifferent, he’s the guy who holds it all together there. He has prevented some very kooky things from happening no matter how jaded his record might look. With any luck, when he does leave, it will be during a time without a ’super majority’ in place. If it is, people might see exactly what some of the stuff he’s protected them from might look like. Regardless, he’d like his ending period to be one of great reflection, bold moves and reform (at least his version of it). I wouldn’t bet against him pulling it off. He’s counting on the comparison to what comes after him.


  8. - walkinfool - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:37 am:

    Your reference to the governor’s race, was read by me to mean its effect on the timing of Lisa’s possible run. That’s where his legacy and state-level politics intersect.


  9. - OLD BRASS - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:41 am:

    “Maybe MJM’s blatant grab of responsibility for passing pension reform and Quinn’s low-key signing of the bill was just a ploy so the unions can more easily support Quinn in the upcoming election.”

    I think that analogy is pretty optimistic. The unions and everyone else who were the recipients of pension theft have paid very close attention. They know exactly who voted “yes” and who voted “no” and the cards are already starting to fall. In terms of support , some will be invited back, others shown the door.


  10. - one of the 35 - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:41 am:

    A Guy: Could the “power vacuum” scenario you speak of possibly yield a worse result than our current financial condition?


  11. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:46 am:

    –Maybe MJM’s blatant grab of responsibility for passing pension reform and Quinn’s low-key signing of the bill was just a ploy so the unions can more easily support Quinn in the upcoming election.–

    I don’t get this theory. Unions didn’t notice that Quinn signed the legislation because he didn’t have a brass band and cheerleaders there?


  12. - Trooper - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:47 am:

    Part of Madigan’s stance against corporate tax breaks is probably tied to the upcoming pension bill court challenges. Hard to argue you can’t pay a constitutionally protected pension when you are kicking back tax income.


  13. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 10:48 am:

    One of the 35: Yes.


  14. - DuPage - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 11:15 am:

    @AFSCME Steward, What about the ABC anti-union contractors supporting Rauner? Rauner wants to end prevailing wage, make Illinois a “right to work” state, end the right to strike and end fair share for public employees, and turn public pensions into a 401k-like plan with no match. As bad as Quinn has been to unions, much of the damage to pensions may be reversible in court. The damage Rauner may inflict to unions would not be protected or reversible by the courts.
    The trades unions in the collar counties would be hit pretty hard if Rauner wins. A lot of them might look it as a choice between bad and much worse.


  15. - langhorne - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 11:17 am:

    i think madigan has his farewell speech pretty well written in his head–he just wants to fill in a few more bullet points. he also probably realizes that only one or two reporters will take the time to take the measure of his entire tenure in the GA. most will present a quick caricature, with some anecdotal stuff that overlaps with their time around the capitol.

    madigan is keenly aware of his claim to a place in history, but he wants it written his way. billy bulger wrote a book, and took a nice job w UMass after his legislative career. i dont see madigan going on to other employment, w the exception of some legal work. writing a book (w steve brown) might be his attempt to put his spin on things, and settle a few scores, while he is on the right side of the dirt.

    we had the best balance in the GA when madigan was paired w pate. that way, each leader could let his caucus pass whatever half baked stuff they wanted, as long as they also got a budget done and whatever really had to get done, and rely on the other chamber to kill the goofiness.


  16. - Liberty First - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 11:26 am:

    Maybe MJM isn’t as smart and strategic as the media give him credit for.


  17. - wordslinger - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 11:29 am:

    Langhorne, I doubt if MJM wants to be compared to Billy Bulger, lol.

    After all, some people think Whitey might have had a little help those 16 years on the FBIs Ten Most Wanted when he was hiding in plain sight on the beach in Santa Monica. With his $800K in cash and dozens of guns in his apartment.


  18. - Loop Lady - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 11:46 am:

    Word: Whitey got outed because of a cat that his girlfriend took a shine to…the FBI had no idea where he was…

    To the post: MJM is a wows me and mortifies me at the same time…shrewd, calculating, self serving, and very powerful…


  19. - AFSCME Steward - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 11:49 am:

    DuPage

    I was down at the council 31 office last week. There was a lot of discussion about this very issue. Rauner is viewed as an absolute no way candidate. Quinn is viewed only slightly better. I’m thinking there might be an endorsement for Rutherford (most likely) or Dillard (not likely) in the GOP primary. The Green Party is also being discussed, as is sitting out the whole affair. There is also the issue of challenging GA members in the primaries. I live in Deb Mell’s old district. There are choices to vote against the pension vote. But doing so would require me to pull a Dem vs GOP ballot. I am a registered GOP voter, but have crossed over in the past. I want to vote for Rutherford, but I also want to vote against Dick Mell’s hand picked candidate. It’s quite a dilema right now. The PEOPLE committe is meeting in January. We’ll know more then.

    “@AFSCME Steward, What about the ABC anti-union contractors supporting Rauner? Rauner wants to end prevailing wage, make Illinois a “right to work” state, end the right to strike and end fair share for public employees, and turn public pensions into a 401k-like plan with no match. As bad as Quinn has been to unions, much of the damage to pensions may be reversible in court. The damage Rauner may inflict to unions would not be protected or reversible by the courts.
    The trades unions in the collar counties would be hit pretty hard if Rauner wins. A lot of them might look it as a choice between bad and much worse.”


  20. - Original Rambler - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 12:10 pm:

    Why would AFSCME be against Mell’s hand-picked candidate? After all, its State membership swelled thanks to a previous Mell hand-picked candidate!


  21. - AFSCME Steward - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 12:15 pm:

    He voted for the pension reform bill.

    “Why would AFSCME be against Mell’s hand-picked candidate? After all, its State membership swelled thanks to a previous Mell hand-picked candidate!”


  22. - Under Influenced - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 2:43 pm:

    Some interesting reasons given by the “courageous” Senator Duffy as to why he voted against the pension bill…

    http://illinoisreview.typepad.com/illinoisreview/2013/12/ready-senator-dan-duffy-7-reasons-why-i-voted-against-the-pension-reform-bill.html


  23. - A guy... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 4:22 pm:

    One thing’s for sure. When you go from “not caring” to “caring”, something’s up.


  24. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 4:23 pm:

    === The fact that Madigan is trying to give himself credit for passage of pension reform also means that he must take credit for the current state of affairs in general. ===

    Interesting point.

    If Madigan takes credit as “all-powerful” or the “main man” for good stuff over these next few months, he tacitly and simultaneously takes credit for all the bad stuff under his watch as well.

    You can’t plausibly claim to be “the man” when good things happen but not the bad.


  25. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 4:30 pm:

    ===he tacitly and simultaneously takes credit for all the bad stuff under his watch as well.===

    Dude, he already gets the blame. Do you not read the papers?


  26. - Formerly Known As... - Monday, Dec 16, 13 @ 5:09 pm:

    === he already gets the blame ===

    lol, that is an excellent point. So very, very true.

    It seems we are now entering a chapter of broader narrative/view of Madigan. Few will claim he is purely “good” or “bad” any longer, but both “sides” will begin admitting he is like most human beings: a mixed bag with a little of both. Some ups, some downs, some victories and some mistakes. Judging the body of work as a whole, if you will.

    One of the most visible differences, imho, is the shifting tone of both his “haters” and “defenders” in the public realm. It is different to see some of those “haters” grudgingly giving him credit for something or other, and some of those “defenders” grudgingly admitting that he was misguided on something or other.

    It will be fascinating to read the epilogue of this book that is Madigan.


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