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A different sort of “Madigan Tax”

Monday, Feb 26, 2018

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Every election cycle, House Democratic candidates have to pay what can be thought of as a “Madigan Tax.”

The “tax” is the amount of extra campaign money, labor and ingenuity required to overcome the voting public’s strong negative perception of being in any way associated with House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The tax has always been imposed because Madigan has always been unpopular in this state. But the tax rate has risen over the years as Madigan’s familiarity and unpopularity have grown.

Back in October of 2012, a Chicago Tribune/WGN-TV poll found that 38 percent of Illinoisans had no opinion either way about Madigan. Of those who did, 22 percent approved of his job performance, compared to 40 percent who disapproved.

And then Bruce Rauner got into the game and his constant, well-funded attacks on Madigan made the longtime House Speaker much better known to the average voter.

Just 11 percent of voters had no opinion of Madigan in a 2017 poll taken for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Not only did lots more voters know who Madigan was, they also despised him. Madigan’s disapproval rating was 61 percent in that poll, well above his 26 percent approval rating.

That could explain why Madigan’s House Democrats lost four net seats in 2016, despite a strong statewide win by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Part of the blame can go to Donald Trump, who did well in Downstate areas held by Democrats, but a big reason was that the Madigan tax had become too high in those districts.

The “#MeToo” controversy swirling around Madigan these days has the potential to make that tax rate even more prohibitive for Madigan’s operation. He’s taken two substantial hits over the past several days which might have sunk a lesser man. Madigan had to dump two top campaign advisers after “#MeToo” scandals and more controversy is almost undoubtedly on the way.

While the focus should be on the victims, we cannot escape the political realities.

With that in mind, keep an eye on the 17th House District Democratic primary race on the tony North Shore. The district is currently represented by Rep. Laura Fine (D-Glenview), who is running unopposed in the Senate primary. Rep. Fine and several other local political leaders have endorsed Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz. But Candace Chow has enough money and support to compete.

Chow also has some very slick direct mailers.

“Candance Chow didn’t need Mike Madigan to get from a trailer park to Kellogg Business School,” declares her latest mail piece. “And she doesn’t need him now.” The front features a graduation cap on which somebody has taped the phrase “No Thx Mike.” Clever.

Chow’s campaign took a poll late last year which found 60 percent of the district’s likely Democratic voters (not all voters, just Democratic voters) had an unfavorable view of Speaker Madigan, while just 36 percent of Democrats viewed him favorably. 70 percent of the district’s Democrats expressed doubts about voting for a candidate who was backed by Madigan and his team.

Madigan has never played particularly well in that more liberal part of the world and Chow’s mailer goes on to trash him further. “While others lean on Mike Madigan and Springfield lobbyists, Candance Chow is the progressive, independent Democrat, who will put our schools and our families first.”

Chow has also recently taken to demanding that Gong-Gershowitz return Madigan’s campaign contributions. The House Speaker has dumped over $50K into the Gong-Gershowitz bid so far, mainly on mail and staff.

“It’s become clear that Jennifer’s campaign is under the control of Mike Madigan’s political operation,” Chow said of Gong-Gershowitz in a press release earlier this month. Chow’s release also noted Madigan “is under a growing cloud from charges of sexual harassment.”

Last week, Chow called for Madigan’s resignation from his Democratic Party chairmanship “in light of continued reports of sexual harassment and abuse of power within his political operation.”

Noting that Gong-Gershowitz had yet to comment on the Madigan stories, Chow said, “It makes you wonder how much autonomy her campaign truly has from Madigan at this point.”

There are six candidates in this primary race, which should benefit Gong-Gershowitz because she has big-name local backing and is raising lots of Statehouse money and has ground support. Under normal circumstances, even with the “Madigan Tax,” she would be expected to walk away with this one. But these aren’t normal times.

Whatever happens, Chow’s attempt to turn Madigan’s already controversial contributions into fatal poison with the “MeToo” issue is a first. And it might just spread. He could possibly wind up being “taxed” out of existence.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:02 am:

    Curious to see how quickly the newly elected Democratic state committee members push for a chairman vote after the primary.

    My guess is, quickly.

  2. - Just Observing - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:02 am:

    Rich, I think there are only five Dems left in the race… I think one withdrew or got kicked-off the ballot.

  3. - Just Observing - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:06 am:

    I think, in this race, Chow would be better off selling herself rather than trying to tie Gong-Gershowitz to Madigan. I just don’t think, especially in a Dem primary, that the voters care quite as much as people think. Plus, many voters, even if they dislike Madigan, still want an effective legislator, and some (certainly not all) voters will question how effective their legislator, running against Madigan, will be. And what… Chow, if elected, isn’t going to vote for Madigan as Speaker???

  4. - Not a Billionaire - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:14 am:

    Even as democrats were losing downstate Trump districts they should have offset those in the suburbs….the Madigan tax. Madigan also obsessed about those downstate districts another example of how he is stuck in the past. If there is a democratic wave and Illinois misses it. will be time to say because Madigan

  5. - Telly - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:19 am:

    This has reached epic proportions.

    Turned on the television this morning and immediately saw three Madigan-themed commercials back-to-back-to-back (one each from Rauner and Drury, and then a Proft anti-Durkin piece.)

    I almost wonder if voters will become numb to it at some point…wishful thinking on my part.

  6. - Anonymous - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:30 am:

    “Even as democrats were losing downstate Trump districts they should have offset those in the suburbs”

    And which suburban districts should have flipped but didn’t? The Dems were playing in districts that nobody thought they would be competitive in. Madigan has had a great amount of success in suburbia.

  7. - 47th Ward - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:44 am:

    “He ain’t heavy, he’s my Speaker.”

  8. - Rich Miller - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:49 am:

    ===Madigan has had a great amount of success in suburbia===

    Not last cycle.

  9. - Blankster - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:03 am:

    I live in the 17th and the Chow’s direct mailers worked for us. She will get our votes.

  10. - Roman - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:08 am:

    == Madigan has had a great amount of success in suburbia. ==

    Clinton won several suburban GOP house districts by double digits in ‘16, but there were no coat tails for Dem house candidates. The “Madigan Tax” likely figures in that. If you have another explaination for the thousands of Hillary/Ives ticket splitters in DuPage County (yes that happened,) I’m all ears.

  11. - TKMH - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:21 am:

    Remember all that voter hatred at Biss and Fine (both of whom represented the 17th) for being Madigan-backed candidates? Me neither.

    Madigan is awful, but he’s also awfully good at picking candidates that voters tend to like.

  12. - NoGifts - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:26 am:

    If they want to get rid of the Madigan tax, they should stop piling on and start pointing out the ways Madigan has been good for the people of Illinois and an effective leader.

  13. - paddyrollingstone - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:29 am:

    I, too, live in the district and Chow will not get my vote because of this. The anti-Madigan hysteria is crazy to me.

  14. - JackD - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:42 am:

    The New Trier Dems, a pretty progressive organization, endorsed Gong-Gershowitz.

  15. - OneMan - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:43 am:

    Don’t live in her district, did work with her professionally. Do not underestimate her.

  16. - James Knell - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:56 am:

    In November 2016 Rauner spent a ton of cash in the western suburbs. Did they pick up any seats? I don’t think they did.

    What really bothers me is how the GOP & friends continue to spread this fantasy that Illinois can exist just fine on a 3% or 3.75% income tax. All one has to do is look at Illinois’ neighbors. All but Indiana have higher income taxes. And if Indiana is what you want… they would love to have you.

    Perhaps it will take a generation of being flogged by rating agencies for this to sink it. That’s very sad because all the interest payments on that debt could be used for good things… even a lower tax rate. IL bond holders are still getting paid a pretty penny because the too many of us buy the low tax fantasy.

    Mike Madigan is 75. When he goes, the heavens will not open up and all the same problems with the state government AND it’s voters will remain. Then who will the new scapegoat be?

  17. - Stand Tall - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 11:56 am:

    Large pension debt, large retiree healthcare debt,
    large out migration, state under funds schools, no balanced budgets for close too two decades, sexual harassment cases starting to come out, worst recovery from the recession, terrible roads with no plans to fix them, part of a corrupt political system, etc, etc…, yes that is some great leadership by Michael Madigan, with more leadership like that we can qualify for bankruptcy if it was available for states. All these items were in in place before Rauner took office as well. Rauner didn’t help the cause but the problems were in place before he came onto the scene.

  18. - Chicago Cynic - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 12:12 pm:

    Get ready to cue the sarcasm, but I find it interesting that there is not a single solitary Chow yard sign anywhere in the district. There are a ton of Gong-Gershowitz and Eidenberg signs. But nary a Chow sign to be found. I guess this will be a good look at whether the old adage is true that yard signs don’t vote.

  19. - Rich Miller - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 12:37 pm:

    ===November 2016 Rauner spent a ton of cash in the western suburbs. Did they pick up any seats?===

    Because the wind was against the GOP. It was at the Dems’ backs, but did they pick up any suburban seats on a map they drew? Nope.

  20. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 1:32 pm:

    ==All but Indiana have higher income taxes. And if Indiana is what you want… they would love to have you.==

    James Knell - the Indy income tax rate argument is a canard. Their state rate is just a little lower than ours at 3.23, but they also have a county income tax. County rates go from .35 in Jefferson to 3.38 in Pulaski. Don’t let Rauner or any other republican tell you Indiana’s tax rate is lower than ours, it’s complete bull.

    Their property tax rate is lower, though. Unlike Illinois, Hoosiers do fund the schools like they’re supposed.

  21. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 1:41 pm:

    ==Because the wind was against the GOP. It was at the Dems’ backs, but did they pick up any suburban seats on a map they drew?==

    To be fair, did they have that many realistic opportunities to pick up seats? Madigan was already working (numerically speaking) with a veto-proof majority, even if Drury and Dunkin made over-riding anything a pipe dream. Maybe they could have held the seats they lost, but I would think even in deep-blue Illinois 71 house seats would be incredibly hard to hold even with a speaker who isn’t widely disliked.

  22. - TKMH - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 4:34 pm:

    ==Mike Madigan is 75. When he goes, the heavens will not open up and all the same problems with the state government AND it’s voters will remain. Then who will the new scapegoat be?==

    This is baloney. Madigan is the face of the sneering, old-guard, “we don’t want nobody that nobody sent,” “Vote Epton: Before It’s Too Late” machine. He is the polestar of everything wrong in Springfield, tied with Bruce Rauner.

    When he leaves office, there will hopefully be younger, more thoughtful, and forward-thinking leadership to succeed him. Literally anyone else would be more constructive and less corrupt.

  23. - peon - Monday, Feb 26, 18 @ 10:43 pm:

    Very good column. Madigan has always been unpopular where I am (before Rauner ads) - because he disenfranchises local representatives by having overly restrictive control of legislation in the House. He is respected for what he achieves but the gridlock in Blago and Quinn administrations, though not all his fault, turned the tide and it hasn’t come back.

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