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Why isn’t Speaker Madigan voting on bills?

Monday, Apr 27, 2015

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

A couple of weeks ago, I started noticing that House Speaker Michael Madigan wasn’t voting on most legislation during his chamber’s floor debates. Madigan was feeling under the weather that week, and was ill enough that a leadership meeting with the governor couldn’t be scheduled until a few days later, so I let it go.

But the pattern continued the following week. A spot check of roll calls showed Madigan was listed as present and accounted for, but hadn’t voted either for or against much of anything.

What the heck?

Madigan’s historical voting record is all over the map because, in the past, he has tended to vote for all of his Democratic members’ bills unless he has a strong ideological position in opposition, or if he has a conflict of interest.

Madigan spokesman Steve Brown told me the speaker decided in January that he only wants to make “informed” votes. There are just so many bills out there and not enough time to consider each one, Brown said.


Madigan and his top staff examine each and every bill and amendment back and forth, upside down at least once a week, and often several times a week. So if any legislator is informed, it’s Michael J. Madigan.

Brown also agreed with my own observation that Madigan could be patterning his behavior after the U.S. House speaker, who traditionally votes on only the rarest of occasions. Madigan did vote for a recent fiscal 2015 state budget fix, but that’s probably because he was a party to the agreement. He has voted on a handful of other bills, but there doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern.

Brown said it was conceivable that Madigan would also step in and vote if one of his members needed an extra push to get his or her bill to the minimum majority of 60.

It’s possible, I suppose, that Madigan doesn’t want to tip his hand to the governor, or anyone else for that matter, about where he actually stands on legislation. But I was told by others that this has nothing to do with the new governor, although they refused to say what was really going on.

Keep in mind, this is a guy who is legendary in Springfield for his mildly eccentric habits. He eats an apple at noon every day. He eats dinner at precisely 7 at night — almost always at one of two Springfield restaurants (unless he’s in the rare mood for a steak, and then he and his people head out to that spot), and he eats the same meal and drinks the same wine every time. A severe crisis erupted at one of those restaurants several years ago when weekend staff accidentally served all of Madigan’s special wine to some tourists.

There is, or at least seems to be, a reason for every single thing he does. He makes no moves without considering all the possible angles. It took him eight hours to issue a press release after Rod Blagojevich was arrested, for crying out loud.

So, after 44 years in the Illinois House, for this man to suddenly and without a credible explanation decide to stop voting on almost all legislation is simply bizarre.

And his top lieutenants are enforcing Madigan’s new policy with a vengeance. I’m told a couple of staffers were upbraided last week when they pushed Madigan’s roll call button on some legislation. They were reportedly told in no uncertain terms to never do that again.

Some have darkly speculated without evidence that maybe some investigators are poking around Madigan’s voting record. But, really, if something is up (and there is zero evidence of that) then why change his behavior now, after it’s too late? That just doesn’t make sense.

Maybe he’s just trying to play with everybody’s head. I just don’t know. Whatever is going on, Madigan certainly wouldn’t allow any of his members to behave this way. I can just see it now:

Madigan: “Why aren’t you voting?”

Member: “I only want to make informed votes, Mr. Speaker, sir.”

Madigan: “Then read the analyses that my staff writes for you and pick a button. Better yet, just let my staff ‘inform’ you of your best voting options. Your constituents sent you here to vote on legislation, not sit there like an armless bump on a log with zero political future because I’m going to find somebody else to take your seat if you don’t start voting right now.”

Member: “Yes, sir. It’ll never happen again, sir. I’m sorry, sir. May I please shine your apple, sir?”

Madigan: “Too late. It’s 12:30.”


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 8:00 am:

    Maybe someone is not tracking past votes but current votes and comparing them to when members are on the floor.

  2. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 8:07 am:

    PCK, voting his own switch is possibly the only pattern here, so thanks for that. But why not just own up to it, if that’s the case?

  3. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 8:09 am:

    “He is just messing with everyone’s head” is my favorite explanation.

    If session goes to overtime as expected, he ought to switch from apples to Cuties.

  4. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 8:18 am:

    Great read, Rich, fun too.

    To the Post,

    Maybe, it’s the Speaker is insulating himself, and the target and non-target groups of the caucus. “These are 71 members in a Caucus, not one Caucus. If there are 60 votes to pass something, then there is, I’m stepping back and being Speaker, not the leader of the Democratic side, contrasting Rauner’s iron grip on the ILGOP GA…(?)

    Rauner is taking the idea of “herding cats” to the new ideal of the $20 million cattle prod he wields to the extreme level of unconditional loyalty.

    Sometimes letting things play out in front of you IS a strategy(?)

    I kniw one thing for sure, the only person who knows why the Speaker is taking this tact is the Speaker, and guessing what the Speaker is thinking is still the best game in town.

  5. - Roadiepig - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 8:30 am:

    I think O.W. Is on to setting- with Rauner treating the GOP GA members as low level employees (”Do as I say, or this $20 million will be used to find me a new ,more loyal employee for your position”), by leaving his vote off of less “important” votes could leave one to think the Dem GA members are voting they way THEY chose to vote (even if it’s just a fantasy).

    Makes for some interesting tea leaf reading on which cites the speaker decides to take from now on though …

  6. - Anonymous - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 8:38 am:

    Madigan is old school, he’s playing his cards close to the chest.

    When you’re playing poker with fools, it’s best to just play safe and slowly bleed them, I think this is his take on Rauner.

  7. - Stones - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:03 am:

    Interesting observation.

  8. - Quiet Sage - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:03 am:

    Makes perfect sense. Madigan wants all of the attention placed on Rauner’s positions, not his.

  9. - ZC - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:04 am:

    No idea about the voting, but the apples and the meals reminded me of this bit written by Michael Lewis, an interview he did with Barack Obama:

    “’You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,’ he said. ‘I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.’ He mentioned research that shows the simple act of making decisions degrades one’s ability to make further decisions. It’s why shopping is so exhausting. ‘You need to focus your decision-making energy. You need to routinize yourself. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.’”

  10. - ZC - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:07 am:

    This is totally pop psychology, but as long as we’re playing the speculations game: Madigan obviously isn’t a spring chicken anymore. Maybe he wants to focus all his decision-making energies on how his caucus should vote, not on his own button?

  11. - facts are stubborn things - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:09 am:

    I have known MJM for 32 years and worked closely with him for approx. 27 years. He does what he does for a reason! He has already played the whole game out move by move. He may just be wanting his votes - at critical times - to be more special or symbolic — anticipating the need to either stay above the fray or right smack in the middle of things. One thing is for sure, he has a reasons, and it will be known in the fullness of time.

  12. - Not it - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:10 am:

    I feel sorry for the poor staffer that didn’t get the memo.

  13. - Wordslinger - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:11 am:

    Perhaps, in his own understated way, Madigan is pulling a Bost.

  14. - facts are stubborn things - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:18 am:

    routine is one way to carve out certainty to an uncertain world.

  15. - MrJM - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:21 am:

    In the immortal words of that great political philosopher: “Just when they think they have the answers — I change the questions!”

    – MrJM

  16. - walker - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:22 am:

    Certainly hope he’s well.

  17. - Ghost - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:30 am:

    Reminds me of the old urban legend of (lincoln, darrow insert famous lawyer) placing a wite in a cigar to suspend the ash and distract the jury. Another version has the person staring up into a corner of the courtroom…..

    Anyway, perhaps its just a little distraction. A change whose only putpose is to draw attention to itself to distract from something else :) i seem to recall a number of princesses done in by coy apple vendors….

  18. - Casual Observer - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 9:57 am:

    Rauner’s tactic is working. Madigan is scared. If he votes against Rauner’s wishes, that $20 million can be used to take him down.
    I’m sorry. I can’t go on with a straight face.

  19. - A guy - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 10:11 am:

    The Irish wear a Clauddaugh Ring. It becomes their engagement ring and ultimately their wedding band depending on which hand you’re wearing it on and whether the crown faces the knuckle or the fingers.

    So you could tell would be suitors: I’m married, I’m engaged, I’m going steady (but it’s not a deal yet) OR, my heart is open.

    Maybe the Speaker is telling would be suitors “his heart is open” on some of these bills.

  20. - Norseman - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 10:11 am:

    LOL, Casual.

  21. - Jake From Elwood - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 10:32 am:

    Not sure if it this a calculated poker move, a random confluence of events or an implicit sign of weakness or strength. It is interesting to consider the theories out there.
    Ghost, great line with the coy apple vendors…

  22. - Arsenal - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 10:35 am:

    “Maybe the Speaker is telling would be suitors “his heart is open” on some of these bills.”

    Except once the vote is over, Madigan’s “indecision” on the issue is irrelevant.

  23. - Urban Girl - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 10:37 am:

    Someone should write a book about powerful people and their quirky routines. I remember reading years ago that John Rogers, the CEO of Ariel, ate the same McDonald’s breakfast every morning and had the exact change ready. Some profile of federal judge Posner said that he never went to an ATM, but just took money from his wife’s purse. He only knows how to cook one meal, and he would only make it for him and his wife as he was not sure he could adjust the proportions for a larger group.

  24. - Joe Biden Was Here - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 10:56 am:

    Over 25 years ago I got a tour of the House chamber including the Speaker’system podium. On the podium was a home made sign that read “Has the Speaker remembered to vote? ” Perhaps someone removed that sign recently??

  25. - Worth It - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 10:59 am:

    More importantly, what is his preferred wine?

  26. - hisgirlfriday - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 11:33 am:

    This feels to me like a strategy to insulate his members from anti-Madigan attacks. No one can send out a mail piece saying so and so downstate dem votes with Madigan 95 percent of the time if 95 percent of the time Madigan is voting present.

  27. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 11:35 am:

    ===No one can send out a mail piece saying so and so downstate dem votes with Madigan 95 percent of the time if 95 percent of the time Madigan is voting present. ===

    Actually, it’s maybe the opposite. If he only votes a couple dozen times a year, then it might be more likely that even more Dems will be 100 percent with him.

  28. - Upon Further Review - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 11:38 am:

    A former legislator once told me that he ran afoul of the Madigan staff by actually asking questions and reading the texts of various bills rather than relying upon the summaries provided by the staff.

  29. - Anonin' - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 2:44 pm:

    What about the idea that Capt Fax had exhausted all plausible ideas for material, bored everyone with constant Oscar The Puppy and Madigan decided to give him something to write about?

    Sadly Madigan came to the conclusion about 2 months ago, but Capt. Fax did not catch on until last week and after 2 rehashes it is clear CF is out of gas again.

  30. - Rich Miller - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 2:47 pm:

    ===but Capt. Fax did not catch on until last week ===

    Two weeks ago.

    I always know I’m getting close to something that I’m not supposed to know about MJM when the help gets snippy.


  31. - Empty Suit - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 3:24 pm:

    Sounds like Humphrey Bogart in Caine Mutiny..that’s it he’s making a movie!

  32. - A guy - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 3:49 pm:

    === Arsenal - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 10:35 am:

    “Maybe the Speaker is telling would be suitors “his heart is open” on some of these bills.”

    Except once the vote is over, Madigan’s “indecision” on the issue is irrelevant.====

    Unless it’s amended in the other chamber and comes back, or a similar bill comes back up in the next session. But, don’t worry, that kinda stuff never happens.

  33. - Snucka - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 4:00 pm:

    The Speaker is preparing for one of the bigger political battles in Illinois history. Perhaps he thinks it best to keep his powder dry until he needs to engage.

  34. - Levois - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 6:09 pm:

    Very interesting column. And hilarious! And no matter what never cross the speaker. LOL!

  35. - DuPage Grandma - Monday, Apr 27, 15 @ 11:17 pm:

    CF may be many things to many people, but with all due respect, boring is not one of them! EVER! For that I thank you!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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