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Two female pioneers announce retirement

Monday, Sep 18, 2017

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Late last Thursday night, I was chasing a story about the rumored retirement of state Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, Illinois’ first-ever female House majority leader, when I got a text message from a high-level employee of Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

She asked if she could call me Friday morning about something her boss was doing that day. I said of course and went back to work.

A few minutes later, Leader Currie finally returned my repeated calls and texts, and I forgot all about the AG Madigan request.

Back in 1979, when Currie started her first term, Chicago’s House delegation was packed with very conservative white men. But, now, “I don’t feel as if I’m leaving a void” by retiring, the liberal legislator from Chicago’s liberal Hyde Park neighborhood told me Thursday night. The city’s delegation these days is filled with “fresh, bright, able, progressive people,” Currie said.

Currie had a difficult time that night singling out a favored highlight of what will be 40 years in the House and 20 years as Majority Leader by the time she retires. Instead, she ticked off a long list of subjects, ranging from early childhood education, to civil rights and civil liberties, women’s issues, environmental issues, freedom of information, school funding and even the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich.

Currie said her stamina and energy isn’t what it used to be and it was time to “do something different.”

Currie took a lot of grief when House Speaker Michael Madigan made her his majority leader. Some of her fellow independent liberals viewed her as a sell-out to party machine hacks. Downstate legislators were upset that Madigan had picked a fellow Chicagoan instead of maintaining geographic balance by choosing someone from their ranks. And conservative Democrats, some of whom were uncomfortable with a female majority leader, viewed her as too much of an intellectual who was always championing politically “dangerous” ideas like state-regulated needle exchange programs to prevent the spread of AIDS among intravenous drug users.

But she has shown over time that she could effectively work within the system without losing her liberal street cred, and Speaker Madigan is now far more open to liberal causes than he was before he elevated Currie to the second chair. Illinois, for instance, now has five needle exchange centers. Also, as the country has shifted to a partisan divide between urban/suburban vs. exurban/rural, Downstate Democrats have been disappearing and losing some influence within the caucus.

I finished talking with Currie and went to bed. The next morning after I’d written the story about her and done a couple of blog posts, my phone rang. It was that same Lisa Madigan employee who’d texted me the night before. I’d completely forgotten about it.

“Hold on a second,” the staffer said, “Lisa wants to talk to you.”

I instantly knew what it was. This was no routine call.

The attorney general informed me that she wasn’t running for re-election or any other office next year.

“I’m ready to move on to a new challenge,” she said when I asked why.

Attorney General Madigan talked about running for governor more than once in the past, but she took herself out four years ago, saying she wouldn’t run as long as her father, Speaker Madigan, was in office.

But AG Madigan told me she doesn’t regret not having the opportunity to run for governor. “I ran for attorney general because I believed this office would be the greatest opportunity to help people,” she said, flatly denying that she got out because she feared she might lose re-election because of her infamous father’s horrific poll ratings.

She didn’t rule out a future run for office and pointedly refused to rule out a bid for governor beyond 2018.

But if a Democrat defeats Gov. Bruce Rauner next year, that’ll put Madigan out of the running for maybe eight more years. I can’t say I blame her for getting out now. She’s also been mentioned as a possible Chicago mayoral candidate, but I was told in no uncertain terms she wouldn’t run for mayor in 2019. It really sounded to me like she was looking forward to a private sector career.

And what about Speaker Madigan, who’s been in office almost forever? Several people close to him have recently retired. And then came Majority Leader Currie’s announcement. And then his own daughter. But I can’t find anyone who has a convincing argument that he’ll actually hang up his spurs any time soon. He still seems to be enjoying himself.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Gruntled University Employee - Monday, Sep 18, 17 @ 9:38 am:

    Bruce Rauner has spent tens of millions of dollars soiling the Madigan name state wide, I can’t help but think that had some effect on the AG’s decision. As for the Speaker, I don’t see him retiring until he sees the political demise of Bruce Rauner. As a very proud and somewhat vindictive father myself, it’s what I’d do.

  2. - wordslinger - Monday, Sep 18, 17 @ 9:44 am:

    According to ISBE, Madigan has $2.3M in her campaign fund. On July 7, she booked 58 contributions of more than $1,000.

    Curiously, Illinois AG has not historically been the springboard to higher elective office, although a number have tried but failed. Bill Clark went straight from AG to the Illinois Supreme Court, but that’s about it.

  3. - PublicServant - Monday, Sep 18, 17 @ 9:53 am:

    Even if Mike Madigan was thinking about retiring soon, that went on the backburner ever since Rauner thought he could push him out. That ain’t gonna happen…ever.

  4. - Anonymous - Monday, Sep 18, 17 @ 10:04 am:

    There are a lot of folks who dislike Lisa simply because of her last name but her record of service as AG is a good one. She got some good things accomplished.
    As long as Rauner is Governor I don’t see Speaker Madigan going anywhere.

  5. - VanillaMan - Monday, Sep 18, 17 @ 10:07 am:

    Currie has to be looking at the past fifteen years and feeling pretty tired. Illinois has to rise above the politics which are smothering it. ILGOP is a shell owned by a failed governor, and ILDEM is a shell without any new ideas they haven’t run to the ground in failure.

    Accomplishments besides surviving four of the worse governors? Hard to get beyond, “Well, it could have been worse”.

    Anyone want to administer a political basketcase of a state?

  6. - A Jack - Monday, Sep 18, 17 @ 11:10 am:

    I speculate that Lisa will be running for a national office in 2020. Since she is taking a break from public life she will be able to devote all of her time to that race.

  7. - VanillaMan - Monday, Sep 18, 17 @ 11:13 am:

    She’ll continue devoting her time to what she loves, and it isn’t politics.

  8. - DougChicago - Monday, Sep 18, 17 @ 5:13 pm:

    Lisa is hardly a pioneer. She is the spoiled brat child of a machine pol — hardly a pioneering way to get your political job in Illinois.

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