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Pritzker puts off what may be the inevitable

Monday, Aug 3, 2020

* My Crain’s Chicago Business column

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.

Read the rest before commenting, please. Thanks.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Last Bull Moose - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 10:30 am:

    Some people think of corruption as the use of power to get money. It can also be the use of power to get more power. I don’t see Madigan acting unethically for cash. I can see him acting unethically to get more power.

    Pritzker should hold fire until he knows he can win. See what the Feds develop.

  2. - Merica - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 10:45 am:

    MJM needs to go and the State need to re close. No point in delaying the inevitable

  3. - Mr. Smith - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 10:46 am:

    I believe that this may actually be a smarter play than rushing to call him out. If Madigan is in as serious a situation as most believe, the Feds will be coming for him. It may not be the bravest solution, but if someone else is going to take him down, why go to war now unless you have to?

    Of course the Republicans want Pritzker to call Madigan out. If Madigan responds as you suggest he would, then they suddenly become relevant again politically.

  4. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 10:50 am:

    == Pritzker should hold fire until he knows he can win==

    It’s a chicken/egg scenario, to some extent. Pritzker can only “win” by jumping into this with his bank account, and without jumping in with his whole bank account, he can’t “win”. The only way Madigan loses major support among members is if JB not only demands the resignation, but backs that up by pledging to single-handedly support candidates who do the same. The majority of HDems aren’t going to do it if they’re still going to have to rely on Madigan for campaign support. Forcing MJM out will require a hostile takeover of DPI by JB and his allies. In the long run I think it would be good for the state party, but a) it’s not my money, and b) JB simply may not care enough - after all, I doubt JB got into this to reform dem politics in Illinois. He may prefer to tiptoe around the subject and awkwardly answer questions until the situation resolves itself.

  5. - RNUG - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 11:10 am:

    You don’t attack a king or kingmaker unless you are sure you can depose him and you have enough support to crown a new one. We haven’t reached that point yet.

  6. - @misterjayem - Monday, Aug 3, 20 @ 12:26 pm:

    “if someone else is going to take him down, why go to war now unless you have to?”

    The Feds act on their own schedule.

    If they move on Speaker Madigan immediately before the big vote on the Fair Tax, the Governor will wish he had moved against the Speaker harder, sooner.

    – MrJM

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