* Crain’s editorial…
What purpose does Michael J. Madigan serve for Illinois Democrats anymore?
Until recently, the speaker of the Illinois House was the state party’s problematic but predictably dogged counterpuncher to former Gov. Bruce Rauner, a ruthless enforcer of discipline on matters of policy and power if not principles, a deployer of patronage armies, an arbiter of who got what votes, money and, bottom line, permission to pursue any agenda of import in Springfield. To be frozen out by Madigan was to be frozen out—period—and generations of Democrats during his three-decade-plus hold on the legislative reins learned to live with the downsides of his omnipresence in exchange for the seemingly ineradicable grip on control that his speakership guaranteed the party.
All that power, remarkably concentrated in one man, could have been wielded for the larger good since Madigan became speaker in 1983—resolving, say, the pension crisis that threatens to swamp Illinois’ government and ultimately its economy, improving education and services for Illinois residents, or enacting taxation and regulatory reforms that would make the state more competitive with its neighbors as a place to live, work and invest. Instead, that firepower has seemingly been targeted toward one distinct purpose: the acquisition and maintenance of one man’s influence, that of Michael J. Madigan, the longest-serving leader of any state or federal legislative body in U.S. history.
Meanwhile, the state has suffered a slow decline, punctuated by the occasional body blow—governors sent to jail, corporate headquarters opportunities missed, one credit rating downgrade heaped atop another. Illinois now lands at No. 45 out of 50 states on U.S. News & World Report’s recent ranking of state-by-state economic growth and 50th on its measurement of fiscal stability. Illinois’ higher education system, its nonprofit social safety net and its infrastructure are only just recovering from the two-year-long budget stalemate between Madigan and his former nemesis, Rauner. And Illinois has lost population every year since 2014. Along the way, Madigan has become the most despised public official in the state, a persona so toxic as to be a public relations liability for every Democrat seeking office from dogcatcher on up.
* The Question: What purpose does Michael J. Madigan serve for Illinois Democrats anymore? Make sure to fully explain your answers, please.