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Cracks, not breaks as Madigan buys some time

Monday, Aug 3, 2020

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

The calls were mostly brief and to the point, recipients said. House Speaker Michael Madigan just wanted to know where his members stood last week after two of his members demanded that he step aside as House speaker and Democratic Party of Illinois chairman.

Did they agree with their fellow Democratic state representatives Terra Costa Howard and Stephanie Kifowit, he asked, that he should resign?

Enough said they did not agree that Madigan issued a statement hours later saying the feedback he received was positive and that he had “no plans to resign.”

The House Black Caucus, for one, appears to be mostly sticking with Madigan. That’s really no surprise. He’s been loyal to African American members for years — killing or altering bills they opposed, protecting their districts even after Chicago lost almost 200,000 African-Americans in the last census, etc.

But it goes deeper than that. Black legislators, like most Black people, all know someone who’s been falsely accused of a crime, be it family, friends or constituents. Most are strong backers of social justice reforms. Several told me it would be counter to what they stood for to turn on Madigan now. The same goes for many Latinx legislators. If those two caucuses ever turn on him, though, the party is over. And Madigan surely knows that.

Most “regular” and Downstate Democrats also appear to still be with Madigan. He’s been good to them as well, and the next speaker might be far more liberal than they’d prefer.

And then there’s organized labor, which has long supported Madigan, but then welded themselves to him during the Bruce Rauner years when the Republican governor was trying to kill them off. Labor is the largest source of campaign cash and precinct workers in the state. Cross the unions and you have few other places to turn to for help. Few Democrats will risk this.

Many of the House Democrats I spoke with last week made a “stability” argument. They complained that the people demanding that Madigan resign haven’t presented an alternative to Madigan.

Who, for instance, would handle the fundraising and the precinct work and everything else involved with winning elections this fall if Madigan suddenly departed? Who would lay the groundwork for the fall veto session? Creating a sudden void with no alternative just didn’t make sense to them at this moment, although that may very well change if any of his close associates are indicted, some admitted.

Black Caucus members with whom I spoke almost uniformly pointed to their own internal confusion and stagnation since May when their caucus chair Kimberly Lightford abruptly resigned. They and other Democrats also talked about the brutal infighting within the Senate Democratic caucus after Senate President John Cullerton unexpectedly retired last year. A Madigan departure would be 10, 20 or 50 times worse than any of that, they said, and they’re probably right.

In my conversations with Black Caucus members, I was told that they hadn’t received a single constituent phone call about Madigan since the ComEd deferred prosecution agreement was revealed. Their constituents, I was told, are totally focused on things like crime, unemployment benefits and navigating through everything else wrought by the pandemic. In other words, they’re preoccupied with life during particularly hard times and just don’t care about MJM.

I’m not trying to defend or justify any of this, by the way. I despise treating politics like a one-dimensional cartoon. There’s more going on than may meet the eye with a cursory glance at the headlines.

On the other side of the spectrum, first-term suburban women have their own issues to deal with.

Many of their constituents are indeed making angry calls about Madigan. The speaker’s money and talent may not be enough to save some of them in the face of all this scandal with ComEd and maybe other companies which have more recently been subpoenaed. And as I’ve told you before, the system Madigan built works only as long as his members believe he can protect them from their opponents. Once that confidence is gone, he serves no purpose.

More importantly, this situation is most definitely not why they signed up for a political run. A lot of these folks were activated after Hillary Clinton’s 2016 loss. So, being connected in any way to an alleged bribery scheme likely makes their skin crawl.

It appears that Madigan has bought himself some time, for now. But if more people are charged and the feds get even closer to him, that may not turn out to be enough.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Responsa - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 9:20 am:

    No one in politics is indispensable. Hanging on too long by his fingernails is not doing his party or the state any favors.

  2. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 9:20 am:

    === In my conversations with Black Caucus members, I was told that they hadn’t received a single constituent phone call about Madigan since the ComEd deferred prosecution agreement was revealed. Their constituents, I was told, are totally focused on things like crime, unemployment benefits and navigating through everything else wrought by the pandemic. In other words, they’re preoccupied with life during particularly hard times and just don’t care about MJM.===

    That’s the headwind Raunerites are facing… again… but this time it’s literally life and death, with income, health, and residency far more important.

    Great read, Rich. This I particularly liked;

    ===I despise treating politics like a one-dimensional cartoon. There’s more going on than may meet the eye with a cursory glance at the headlines===

    There’s so much other things going on… than “because Madigan”

  3. - Grandson of Man - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 9:48 am:

    “but this time it’s literally life and death”

    If Madigan gets indicted then let’s clamor deafeningly for his resignation or removal. But until then we have extraordinarily serious and unusual problems with which we must occupy our time and energy.

  4. - Arock - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 10:47 am:

    With the massive amount of money that he raked in in campaign contributions it is obvious that it definitely gets someone a return on their investment, the usual term is bribery. Those that have received the most favorable treatment by this corrupt speaker definitely do not want it to end.

  5. - Regular democrat - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:01 am:

    That was a well written article that really sums it up. Madigan went to the Daley school of buffers so maybe he doesn’t get indicted. Time will tell

  6. - Levois J - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:17 am:

    I respect the Speaker, it would be a free-for-all when someone with his institutional memory and experience departs. We’ll have to see where the fed’s investigations will go!

  7. - Nitemayor - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:00 pm:

    If the Fed’s get McClain to flip, party’s over, turn out the lights. Game over. Downstate democrats become extinct.

  8. - Ginhouse Tommy - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:20 pm:

    McClain won’t flip. The only leverage that House Dems. have is in electing the Speaker and as Rich pointed out in a column last week Madigan night not have the votes to get re elected and threats of revenge won’t work this time.

  9. - Lincoln Lad - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:27 pm:

    If the Speaker stepped down right now - wouldn’t one of his closest supporters likely be chosen to follow him? Wouldn’t MJM make that choice in today’s environment? Wait for it to advance… there is likely more to come and it may impact who’s next.

  10. - Back to the Future - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:41 pm:

    Agree with Regular Democrat that this was a well written article.
    I thought the other article in Crain’s was also well written. I like reading newspaper articles that help me think through this Madigan situation.

  11. - low level - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 1:09 pm:

    Targets will keep hearing about it and people like Brad Stephens are very happy about the Speaker’s decision to stay.

  12. - Southwest Sider - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 1:28 pm:


    I don’t like to be called that term.

  13. - Fighter of Foo - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 2:06 pm:

    This is a great article. I really don’t think he resigns unless there is an indictment. Does anyone think Lisa stepping aside has anything to do with the investigations that were taking place?

  14. - Frank talks - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 4:23 pm:

    While Madigan may not have the votes- who does?
    Who has the institutional knowledge to move things forward?
    Who can get to 60?
    Looking at the roster I see no one cobbling those votes. Maybe Durkin will put his 20-30 on to someone? Foolish move but who knows.

  15. - low level - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 4:58 pm:

    “Who else would raise the money and run the campaigns”.

    Give me a break. There are no other Democrats in the IL House that know how to do this?

  16. - SandyC - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:37 pm:

    Everyone is replaceable, even Madigan. There are a number of representatives qualified and close enough to Madigan to take over. He’s highly intelligent, yes he is, but it’s time to breath fresh air, don’t you think? 🤷‍♀️

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