Little by little, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is being nudged in the direction of a possibly epic confrontation with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan—one the governor has been trying to avoid for years.
Pritzker resisted the calls for Madigan to step down as House speaker and Democratic Party of Illinois chairman during the House’s 2018 sexual harassment crisis. He’s been similarly reluctant for the past year, amid the Commonwealth Edison fallout, and then for the past few weeks since ComEd’s admission that it bribed lawmakers to get what it wanted out of Springfield.
And it’s pretty obvious why: Pritzker still wants to get things done with the General Assembly.
From what I know, the mindset in Pritzker’s office is that Madigan would never heed his call to step down anyway. Instead, the only thing such a demand would accomplish is to make Madigan so angry that nothing would ever get done. There’s no doubt Madigan helped Pritzker line up the support he needed, particularly from organized labor, to win a contested 2018 Democratic primary. So there may be some residual loyalty at play here as well.
As the ComEd scandal and other embarrassing disclosures increased in number and volume, Pritzker began saying last year that a law enforcement raid, a prosecutorial indictment or similar action would trigger his call for Madigan to step aside. So far, as I write this, none of that has happened.
When I pressed him in January during a one-on-one interview, the governor told me that “clear” evidence of targeting by criminal investigators would be “the point at which folks should step aside.”
NBC 5 reporter Mary Ann Ahern asked the governor on my behalf at a July 29 Chicago press conference if he didn’t see clear evidence of targeting by the feds in the deferred prosecution agreement that alleged bribery by ComEd to obtain legislative favors from Madigan.
“Well I have been clear that, you know, when there is a raid, when there is an indictment, you know, I have called for people to step down from their positions, or to resign,” the governor stuttered.
“By the way,” Pritzker said, “that’s the same thing that the Republican caucus leaders in the General Assembly said when they responded.”
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady did release a statement saying that “if” the allegations proved true, then Madigan should resign. But his entire caucus (including him) issued a statement days later saying Madigan should resign. And the day after Pritzker used GOP leaders as a human shield, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said Madigan should immediately resign.