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From “James Bond” to media hound in less than a year

Monday, Apr 14, 2014

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

A long time ago I asked Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan why he never golfed at his golf outing fundraisers.

Madigan explained that he was a terrible golfer (he’s since improved, I’m told) If people saw him embarrassing himself badly on the golf course, they might take a dimmer view of him as a leader.

He has applied this lesson to just about everything he does. He examines every angle before he acts. He hates mistakes and almost never acts precipitously or impetuously.

For example, Madigan and his staff gather a few times a week to read through every bill and every amendment to those bills to look for flaws, hidden agendas or to discuss strategies. He always wants to be as prepared as possible.

As a result, he rarely fails.

But something else has been happening over the past year or so.

Madigan has become a media hound.

The Speaker has never really sought media attention. He does what he does, and then he goes home, or, more likely, back to his office. A Republican friend of mine calls him “James Bond.”

But after getting royally hammered by the Chicago media over how he asked Metra to give one of his loyal patronage workers a raise, he’s seemed to change. Nowadays, he seeks publicity, and credit.

It started after the House passed the gay marriage bill. It wasn’t an easy task by any means and Madigan publicly took the credit for its passage. A few months later, he took the lion’s share of the credit for passing the long-sought pension reform bill.

Then, earlier this year, out of the blue, he proposed a 50 percent cut in the corporate income tax rate. He got a ton of media coverage, but he hasn’t yet followed up on it. It looked like a “press release bill.” Legislation unveiled merely to generate media interest. It might yet resurface, but as of now it has been disappeared into the ether.

Madigan was also working behind the scenes this spring with the Senate Democrats on a constitutional amendment to impose a three percent surcharge on income over a million dollars. But then Madigan went ahead with his own announcement of the proposal. It was referred to in pretty much all media reports as “Madigan’s millionaire tax.”

At the time of the unveiling, Madigan said he’d done his homework and had talked to his members before announcing his proposal. The constitutional amendment required a three-fifths super majority, so Madigan would need every single one of his Democrats if he couldn’t lock down any House Republican votes.

Rep. Jack Franks, a Democrat who prides himself on never voting for tax hikes, offered tentative early support, but his support was tied to allowing the 2011 income tax hike to expire. Just days later, Madigan publicly supported keeping the tax hike permanent.

Rep. Franks says he told the Speaker that he couldn’t back the proposed constitutional amendment a couple weeks ago. Madigan asked for time to try and find GOP votes. In the meantime other Democrats went off the reservation, including Rep. Scott Drury, who issued a press release last week announcing his opposition. The momentum was going too fast the other way, so the plug was pulled.

Madigan, through a spokesman, blamed the Republicans for the proposal’s defeat. But Madigan had surprised the Republicans with his plan’s unveiling, instead of finding some GOP support in advance.

As it turns out, Madigan simply bit off more than he could chew. His proposal failed, but he sure got a lot of publicity about it, much of it favorable.

And, hey, lemons into lemonade. Pro-business groups like Americans for Prosperity Illinois offered up praise for Rep. Drury, who faces a Republican opponent in November. Drury and Franks, “should be commended for siding with taxpayers and small businesses by taking a courageous stand against this proposal,” said AFP Illinois State Director David From via press release. That’ll surely make Drury more palatable to tax sensitive business owners in his district.

And the proposal put Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner in a difficult spot. Rauner flatly opposed the tax, while leaving open the possibility that he could favor taxing retirement income and services. It didn’t make him look good.

Maybe this is all part of some grand scheme. But right now it sure looks like James Bond has gone tabloid.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - DuPage - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 9:45 am:

    He is being watched and written about in the press anyway, so he makes the stories about him look as favorable as possible.

  2. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 9:49 am:

    I think Madigan might have given his public image a re-think after the ridiculous spectacle he made of himself last summer ducking Chuck Goudie outside his home and at his district office.

    I understand why Madigan would be honked at the “ambush” interview tactic, but, c’mon, I think he can match wits with Chuck Goudie.

    Madigan’s actions made him look silly, and it was self-inflicted.

  3. - Walker - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 9:50 am:

    This was a smart move.

    But it’s value for PQ will be diminished by election day.

  4. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 9:53 am:

    Madigan’s increase in public pronouncements predates marriage equality.

    He was actually pretty outspoken about his role in passing pension reform.

    I also don’t think it has much to do with Metra. Madigan’s long career has been sprinkled intermittently with such “scandals.” They always fade, and he never altered his public role before.

    Madigan seems to have simply realized that his leadership requires a media dimension. Durkin, Rahm, Cullerton, Radogno are all more media savvy than their predecessors.

    Blago could govern, was awful at politics, vacuous when it came to policy, but one thing he was pretty good at was getting his talking points out there.

    Madigan has been pretty content to allow others to define him, as long as he was still able to achieve his policy and political objectives, but no more.

  5. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 9:54 am:

    To the Column,

    Michael J. Madigan, in the past, has made Stealth technology look like hiding behind a poster board in the middle of an intersection at rush hour compared to his “Stealth” way. It was never about the visuals, but the result. When anyone focuses on results and focuses less on the visuals, results seem to come more frequently.

    With the Speaker becoming more of a “visual” leader, sometimes the optics aren’t too good when leading by Press Release or Press Conference. The Speaker knows this, the Speaker preaches this by actions, not words, until these recent events.

    In any industry, if you can use the media to get across and idea, a message, you try to angle the message for the maximum impact. However, that is not MJM’s wheelhouse, nor is it the manner Speaker Madigan goes to without knowing “the score” before the game is played.

    If it’s part of a grand scheme, maybe a few more moves on the chess board wil reveal the end game. I get the ideas and premise of the driving voter turnout, or “protecting” the fininte member group of Drury, and giving Franks a nice push, but usually that is done with the “cover” of direct mail, in the precincts, not in a media strategy under the guise of helping Illinois.

    I am probably missing “something”, that is the one thing I know is true, but before I question too much the strategy, I better question what is the end game first.

  6. - One of the 35 - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 9:54 am:

    Perhaps, in the twilight of his career, Madigan, like many men, is thinking more about his legacy.

  7. - A guy... - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 9:54 am:

    It’s impossible for me to think of it as anything more than a strategic scheme. I’m not sure if it’s ‘grand’ yet, but time will tell. Like you said, he’s not impetuous, nor are his inner-circle. It’s always for cause. Now it’s time to look for effect. I’m disappointed in myself for not seeing it yet. Something’s going on. Good column.

  8. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:02 am:

    @One of 35:

    Folks have been talking about the twilight of Mike Madigan’s career for a long, long time.

  9. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:08 am:

    There are two Fair Tax amendments in each chamber. The Senate version is further along in the legislative process. Both amendments have lots of sponsors.

    If the Senate version makes it to the House, we shall see what if anything Madigan can do to get support for it and get it put on the ballot.

  10. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:09 am:

    Why take the constant pounding from the likes of the Tribbies, Kass, Chuck Goudie, etc., when you have a story to tell?

    In addition to gay marriage, Madigan made sure everyone knew that he got c-c over the goal line with a veto-proof majority.

    He also popped the balloon on the alleged grand conspiracy, 15 years in the making, to “install” Lisa in the governor’s office. He made a lot media deep-thinkers look pretty stupid there.

  11. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:12 am:

    I agree w others on the legacy angle. Madigan is the longest serving state house speaker in the country. Maybe ever. But what is the lasting impression? A style? Use of power? Or solid accomplishments?

    He isnt anywhere near ready to walk away, but he has to be thinking the horizon is getting closer. Makes me want an apple. Or chicken w peppers at saputos

  12. - Robert the Bruce - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:13 am:

    Great column!

    Is he starting to care more about his legacy, and he knows that the major media will help review that legacy?

  13. - Bill White - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:16 am:

    It sure seems to me that Madigan is “net ahead” after proposing and pulling the millionaires tax, including the following highlights:

    = [This episode made] Drury more palatable to tax sensitive business owners in his district. =

    And, while November is still a long way away, I suspect the Speaker is just getting warmed up . . .


    = [T]he proposal put Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner in a difficult spot. Rauner flatly opposed the tax, while leaving open the possibility that he could favor taxing retirement income and services. =

  14. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:17 am:

    ===He also popped the balloon on the alleged grand conspiracy, 15 years in the making, to “install” Lisa in the governor’s office. He made a lot media deep-thinkers look pretty stupid there.===

    Actually, that has been the most fun I have gotten with the MJM media front opened by him. I guess all those theories ran out of “dots”?

    The “golf” reasoning by the Speaker I have heard from many people in my life;

    “If we went out and even played 9 holes, your image of me would be ’shot’, so no.”

    Some paly on Election Day, and they could play really well on a really good course, but the image of just “being there” on that day doesn’t cover the 39 you shoot on the “front side” *cough* Tom Cross *cough*

    Solid column, Rich. There is an irony of MJM not wanting to looked upon badly for badly playing a sport, …and looking at the last few months, and looking at MJM, playing, … “out of character” … in his chosen sport.

  15. - MrJM - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:20 am:

    Perhaps I’m a cynic, but I view Mike’s change in tactics only through the lens of Lisa’s (soiner or later) run for governor. When she runs, the press will do stories about her dad, this way the Madigan’s have more control over the tone and content of those inevitable pieces.

    – MrJM

  16. - MrJM - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:21 am:

    (Did I mean to type “soiner”? Why, soitenly!)

  17. - OneMan - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:22 am:

    It’s hard to look at any of this without the underlying thought that so often enters at least my mind anything Madigan does something out of the ordinary…

    “He is a really smart and clever guy and must have a plan that I am not seeing”

    I also don’t see him worried about legacy, because he has never struck me as a guy who cared too much about that, well not nearly as much as keeping control.

    So is this part of some plan to try and beat back term limits, showing what control and long serving legislators can do?

  18. - Langhorne - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:23 am:

    I agree w the legacy angle. Madigan is the longest serving statehouse speaker ever. Maybe nationally. But what is his legacy? A style? Use of power? Or specific accomplishments?

    He was quiet for years, esp north of I-80, bec thats what you had to do in the daley years. Ask paul vallas.

    He is not ready to walk away from the speakership, but the horizon is getting closer. Makes me want an apple.

  19. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:32 am:

    ===So is this part of some plan to try and beat back term limits, showing what control and long serving legislators can do? ===

    There’s no stopping that term limits train, man. Even he has to know that.

  20. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:35 am:

    I did a quick Google search and couldn’t find anything, but I wonder if voters in any state have ever defeated a real term limits proposition. I say “real” because one went down in California back in ‘08, but it grandfathered in current incumbents.

  21. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 10:56 am:

    Mr.MJM….you can never go wrong invoking The Stooges…..Bwwooobbb, Bwoooob, Bwwooob, Bwooob..

  22. - Living in Machiaville - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 11:22 am:

    So who’s the heir apparent to the Speakership? Franks, Nekritz, Ford, Mautino? Oh that’s right, he who reigns ain’t ready to hand over the reins. But it’s always worth gossiping about.

  23. - Quiet Sage - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 11:29 am:

    He’s taken stealth to a whole new level. Incredibly, people here are now analyzing and debating the real, hidden reasons the Speaker is now acting in a more open manner. After a string of misseps last year in which many commentators pondered whether the Speaker had lost a step, he has adjusted his game to match current political realities and is now operating on an ethereal level few, if any, politicians have ever reached. It must always be kept in mind, however, that the Speaker is a political genius, not a policy genius. He is not a Lincoln.

  24. - VanillaMan - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 2:11 pm:

    Watching Madigan with his Millionaire Tax was like watching your favorite great uncle at a wedding, get drunk and then try to break dance.

    His proposal only excited those who still think we can tax our way into prosperity. While they applauded and cheered, everyone else was covering their mouths and racing for the exits.

  25. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 4:51 pm:


    No one was “racing for the exits.”

    Illinois is only one of eight states where millionaires only pay a flat tax.

    In fact, in your beloved state of Wisconsin, the upper tax rate applies to individuals making $225,000 or more.

  26. - wordslinger - Monday, Apr 14, 14 @ 5:44 pm:

    YDD, don’t try to bother VMan with facts. “Facts” to VMan are Fred, Wilma and Dino at the drive-in in Bedrock.

    VMan, who’s living on Park Avenue, Michigan Avenue, in Beverly Hills, Belgravia, Singapore, Zurich, Tokyo, etc., these days?

    A bunch of drunk uncles, too drunk to flee the tax man?

    “Can’t tax your way into prosperity.” Wow, never heard that one before! Thanks for the insight!

    It’s true, you can’t. But you also can’t be an ignorant fool and insist on a certain level of services without paying for them.

    And a graduated income tax has been pretty standard in the civilized world since, oh, it got civilized.

    For crying out loud, why does anyone show up here to regurgitate stupid cable TV talking points? Is that supposed to impress? Who?

    Life’s a little more complicated, don’t you think?

    That nice Mr. Walker has a reasonable thing going with a graduated income tax up in Madison. Some folks down here think he’s the bee’s knees — but they never mention that graduated tax. It’s “progressive.” Bad word. Can you dig it?

    The Gates boys in Washington seemed to think it was a good idea, and I hear they have some money.

    They lost, but Old Man Bill had this to say about the “soak the rich” argument.

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