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“That’s not too much to ask”

Monday, Oct 30, 2017

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

I don’t think I’ve ever seen House Speaker Michael Madigan move faster to get in front of a legislative issue than he did last week when he vowed action to address the climate of sexual harassment at the Illinois Statehouse.

The decision came the morning after an “open letter” was published on Facebook by women who work in and around the Statehouse and who claimed: “Misogyny is alive and well in this industry.” The letter has roiled Springfield in a manner that I’ve never seen before.

In case you somehow missed it, the House Speaker claimed that because harassment “thrives in silence,” the House would move forward with legislation requiring legislators, staff and lobbyists to participate in annual sexual-harassment training. Lobbyists would also be required to develop and submit their own sexual harassment policies to the state. Madigan said more changes could be coming after a “thorough review.” I’m told that review will be conducted by a group of legislators, staff and lobbyists.

It’s easy to be cynical here and say that Madigan moved so quickly in order to make sure more stories don’t emerge — perhaps with actual names attached to them next time.

But, really, even if that is the case, so what? After just a couple of days of public agitation by current and former elected officials, lobbyists, staff and consultants, we now have a proposal that all four legislative leaders have signed off on and which will zoom to the governor’s desk as quickly as they can get it there.

It’s also easy to predict that Madigan’s proposal won’t really solve anything. But the excuse often heard is “I didn’t know my behavior was wrong or inappropriate.” At the very least, the annual training will take away that excuse, whether it’s legitimate or not. Once the rules are defined and digested, then more concrete steps can be taken. This problem won’t be solved with a bill alone. But it’s clear that something had to be done.

Depending how they’re drafted, the rules may also ease the minds of some in the community that their past consensual behavior is going to come back to haunt them. There is, without a doubt, a “hook-up culture” in Springfield. Humans being humans, I’m not sure that it can or even should be stopped. But the problem isn’t sex. The problem, as made clear in the open letter, is the creepy stuff.

Is this just a political ploy by Madigan to jump in front of a parade? In some respects, yes. It’s not like he consulted with the other leaders before deciding on his course of action or allowed women to take the public lead on the issue. But, as flawed as it may be, that’s just Madigan’s usual mode of operation. When he gets an idea in his head, he goes with it. And he has a unique ability to make things happen.

I’ve heard several complaints, including from more than a few women, about the methods of the folks behind the letter about sexual harassment that circulated last week. For instance, a whole lot of people, including reporters, are now wondering who that unnamed “chamber leader” is who allegedly propositioned a female staffer by claiming to have an open marriage. There’s worry that this will just devolve into yet another hyper-partisan, gotcha exercise of finger-pointing and anonymous recriminations.

But the letter is having an impact with or without the new rules. Some women told me last week that they’d shaken more hands with men than ever before (instead of the usual hugs). This uproar is causing pretty much all of us to think about what we’ve done, what we could’ve done better and what we should be doing in the future. That’s not a horrible thing. It’ll take some time to work itself out, but at least it’s being addressed.

There’s simply no telling at this point where all this will lead. But almost every woman has a horror story about Statehouse life. They’ve dealt with it over the years in various ways — staying silent, setting their own boundaries, privately consulting with other women about whom to avoid, asking others to discreetly intervene. It can be utterly exhausting.

I think what the women behind this letter are demanding now is that the boundaries should no longer be set by each individual. They should be clear, universal and fair.

That’s not too much to ask.

* Related…

* Rauner ‘deeply troubled’ by accounts of sexual harassment in Springfield: “We’ve seen that 75 percent of complaints in the workplace for sexual harassment receive retaliation, so there needs to be some protections in place so there are no retaliations for women who do choose to come forward,” said Michelle Fadeley, president of Illinois NOW.

* Male Democratic Gubernatorial Lineup Addresses Women’s Issues At Forum: State Sen Daniel Biss, who has been in the legislature since 2011, said he can’t believe some of the conduct he personally has seen at the capitol — seeing women ignored, silenced and harassed. And Biss looked inward. “I think we all need to tell the truth and say that we’ve not done enough,” he declared. “I have not done enough.”

* Greg Hinz: Why is sexual harassment rampant in Springfield?

* Suburban lawmakers join ‘me too’ movement in legislature

- Posted by Rich Miller        

10 Comments
  1. - morninstar - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 9:22 am:

    Words. I am sick of words. Illinois is very good at passing laws, followed by laws that say we must adhere to the law. No, an initiative to educate is not too much to ask, but I will reserve judgement until I see evidence of change and respect.


  2. - Puddintaine - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 9:31 am:

    Who will be flung into the outstretched arms of Baal next? Kevin Spacey? Too late, pick another…


  3. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 10:09 am:

    The cause of #MeToo is long overdue, and while it maintains the highest level of current interest today, that will subside. As all headlines do. I think a wise male will hold his tongue when he has a thought that might differ from the present rage that says basically - “all men are guilty, either by actions or inactions”. I’m not wise, never will be, so I ask this: If all men
    are so charged, do women have any culpability at all? If yes, then in what manner?


  4. - Not It - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 10:42 am:

    Generic diversity training should also be considered. I’ve had to endure more than my fair share of gay jokes over the years, most of them from Democrats ironically.


  5. - Loop Lady - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 10:56 am:

    I have had many opportunities to interact with Speaker Madigan…he has always behaved as a gentleman, and I never felt anything in his presence that was not respectful…


  6. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 11:08 am:

    Remember the line from a song in the musical “Boss” about the girls who keep their jobs with their tails?

    I was told it referred to Illinois Bell employees.


  7. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 11:20 am:

    Well done, no matter what the motivation is.


  8. - A guy - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 11:23 am:

    The only place I’ve ever seen the Speaker “hug” anyone is at wakes.

    It wasn’t natural to him. He’d just as soon bow or nod like Japanese business people do than even shake hands. I’m pretty sure he’s not the leader in question.
    I’m not sure there’s even really a leader in question.


  9. - Molly Maguire - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 1:25 pm:

    Well stated, as usual Rich. I can always look to you for common sense and high standards.


  10. - Anonymous - Monday, Oct 30, 17 @ 1:34 pm:

    I remember back in the 80s when Madigan’s legal counsel was Mary Margaret Jacobs (later Skinner). To her family and all the world, she went by “Honey”. But not Madigan - he didn’t think it appropriate to call a staff person “Honey”, even if that was her preference. So for him, she became “MM”.


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