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Some good intentions, but let’s not kid ourselves

Tuesday, Oct 13, 2020

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin is a former prosecutor, and that outlook on life has never really left him.

He’s not big on a lot of criminal justice reforms, even standing up to his party’s president to oppose the early prison release of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. He was staunchly opposed to legalizing cannabis. I’m sure that House Speaker Michael Madigan’s highly public legal troubles grate on Durkin to no end, as they would on almost any former prosecutor.

So, even though Durkin’s petition, which triggered the creation of the House Special Investigating Committee to look into the allegations against Madigan, is steeped in the politics of the moment (for the obvious campaign reasons, but also to satisfy the demands of some of his members and some major GOP campaign donors who want him to get much tougher on Madigan, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Democrats), I would argue that his main thrust is legitimate from his own perspective.

Even if Madigan didn’t directly engage in “conduct unbecoming a legislator,” as the petition alleges, people under his control most certainly did say and do some things that, if not all illegal, are certainly distasteful and disreputable. Madigan created this environment and yet says he cannot and should not be held responsible for those acting within the confines of that environment; and refuses to cooperate with a committee that is enshrined in the very same rules that Madigan insists must be approved by his members every two years.

Leader Durkin held a press conference last week to express his outrage that the investigatory committee’s chairman, Rep. Chris Welch (D-Hillside), had delayed all future hearings until after the November election.

“Citizens of Illinois must know what the single most powerful person in the state’s role is in this scandal, this ever-growing scandal,” Durkin said. “Illinois residents deserve so much better and they deserve the truth.”

“He needs to stand up and answer those questions,” Durkin quoted Gov. J.B. Pritzker as saying about fellow Democrat Madigan, then called on Pritzker to “immediately demand those answers he has been requesting from Speaker Madigan or demand that he resign immediately.”

But Durkin’s answer to the press conference’s very first question demonstrated how the demand for Madigan’s testimony is far more about putting Madigan in a bad spot than it is about an actual investigation.

Durkin was asked: “What would the speaker say that he has not already said in writing?” a question which referred to Madigan’s long, single-spaced letter denying all allegations and explaining why he would not cooperate with the committee, which he said was nothing more than a political stunt.

“Well, based on what I know,” Durkin replied, “I think the speaker at this point, the only thing you can say is that ‘I take the Fifth Amendment.’”

“This isn’t politics,” Durkin insisted later. But the Leader’s answer gave up the ghost. He essentially admitted that this demand for testimony is about political advantage and not a search for truth. Yes, I know, it’s all so very shocking. Politics in a legislative committee during an election year? My goodness, that’s simply unprecedented.

“Remember,” Durkin told reporters, “the committee’s name is the Special Investigative Committee. The committee has a duty and an obligation to investigate.”

OK, but forcing a televised spectacle where almost everyone including Durkin himself believe that Speaker Madigan will take the Fifth would be more akin to a show trial than an actual investigative hearing. Yes, such a thing would undoubtedly be immensely satisfying for everyone who despises Madigan (and that’s a very long list), but that’s about it. Durkin is doing a good job of keeping Madigan’s name out there and putting the Democrats on defense, but don’t hose down my shoes and tell me it’s raining.

The committee’s Republicans have requested documents from ComEd specifically related to testimony by the company’s compliance officer during its last hearing. Fulfilling that request should be simple and relatively quick. Chairman Welch, on the other hand, has requested what could be thousands of documents containing correspondence between the company and just about everybody under the Illinois political sun going back years. That’s the ostensible reason for the hearing’s delay, along with the claim that Republicans are playing politics. Welch says it shouldn’t take long to fulfill his request, but I still have my doubts.

Hopefully, the Republican request can be fulfilled and the ComEd documents released soon. Maybe we can get some actual substance out of this process going forward.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Mama - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 8:59 am:

    I am sick of the negative ads trying to say Betsy is tied to Madigan in a bad way. I’m also sick of all of the negative ads these last 6 years from the former governor who has posted all over IL and MO. Stop!

  2. - Thomas Paine - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 9:38 am:

    Durkin is a former prosecutor, but he is a political leader now, and he didn’t come by that job of minority leader accidentally, he politicked his way to the top.

    If Durkin’s goal was to remove Madigan, he knows he would have a much better shot of building a bipartisan coalition after Election Day. As Rich noted, the attacks on Madigan by Repubilcans have only corralled Democrats together.

    I am not sure whether this helps Durkin’s caucus at all politically this year, but he has to try something. It does help Durkin rally his own members around him to prevent a challenge to his leadership. And it does boost Durkin’s hope of a statewide bid is 2022, which is just around the corner.

    Culture eats strategy for breakfast, but environment eats culture for dinner.

    The Feds don’t only avoid indictments near election time because they don’t want to taint the election, they are also trying to avoid politics from tainting their investigation.

    Durkin’s effort has been avoidably tainted.

  3. - Lincoln Lad - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 9:42 am:

    With the election three weeks away, nothing will happen or change from the present state. The GOP tried to draw attention to the ComEd fiasco (not unexpected), and the Dems have fendedit off (also not unexpected). The real question is can anything be done after the election to effect meaningful change. I think JB wants it, the citizenry wants change, but the Speaker’s power and hold on it is not easily changed. It likely comes down to the ability of the feds to make the case.

  4. - Nobody Sent - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 9:43 am:

    Anyone who thinks ComEd/Exelon was only dealing with Democrats is kidding themselves.
    Out of curiosity, has anyone considered how Ameritech/SBC/AT&T got legislation passed leaving it largely unregulated?

  5. - PublicServant - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 9:51 am:

    If Durkin admits that Madigan will only invoke his 5th amendment rights in front of the investigative committee, due to pending litigation, then there would be no “investigative” purpose for having him testify.

    As far as just obtaining documents related to the testimony of the compliance officer of a corporation that failed to comply with the law, other potentially offsetting documents that have been requested by Chairman Welch should be obtained to fully inform the committee and the public before releasing partial information in support of the testimony of the representative of a cooked corporation.

    Thus the justification for delaying the committee’s hearing until after the documents are obtained.

  6. - @misterjayem - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 10:36 am:

    Durkin’s backers want to tank the Fair Tax Amendment — viewed through that lens, his actions make perfect sense.

    – MrJM

  7. - walker - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 10:56 am:

    “”Culture eats strategy for breakfast, but environment eats culture for dinner.”"

    thanks for that

  8. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 11:51 am:

    One of the first takeaways I have is how little Durkin can trust Demmer in any part of this circus.

    Durkin wanted his opening statement, to ask questions, heck, even after, the pictures of Durkin needing to instruct… as much as it can be said to Welch and his role, Demmer is seen in the open as someone who can’t deliver, you can’t rely on, and Durkin needed to do all the work, because… activity alone wasn’t going to cut it.

    The Raunerites, like this committee play, are empty and void of substance to win elections.

    Raunerites are regional, white, angry… and this circus was to feed into all that to save the likes of a Wehrli, who has admitted he, like Demmer, is ineffective, and Wehrli is afraid his district heard him say it out loud.

    After the tens of millions to go after Madigan, and a movie about Madigan, after the caucuses being bought by Bruce and Diana Rauner (Diana, the Democrat), all they have at the end of the day is Durkin *needing* to take over for a failing Demmer, using the only think that keeps them above 40 seats… “Madigan”

    Think on this;

    Without “Madigan”, what would the Raunerites have?

    What makes a Raunerite like Wehrli… appealing to his constituents?

    Raunerites vote angry in the GA, willing to take the sides of the hard right, allow the Eastern Bloc the luxury of owning the field to a narrative, heck, Raunerites can’t even agree we are one state, Illinois.

    But they all agree… “Madigan”

    They all agree… on Madigan… when the Republican should be about 80% agreement and trying to have a majority of voters see policy as they do.

    I feel bad for Durkin. I honestly do.

    He had one play, and in that play, Durkin needed help, never got it because in farce there needs to be truth at the core, and at the core this was never about removing Madigan, Demmer never sought that, not once in a public way trying to show that end.

    The farce, as it turns out, is just the Raunerites.

    Next time, if after the election won’t work… Durkin should look for a barn? Maybe we could hold the trial there. Wehrli can sew the costumes and maybe Demmer can be the judge…

    Activity… achievement… and *still* the Raunerites are gonna lose seats.


  9. - Arock - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 12:09 pm:

    Yep this kangaroo court led by Welch is much like the impeachment proceedings against Trump in the Senate. We know the truth of the matter but the party in the majority is going to protect their own no matter how unethical that person is. Both sides will back unethical behavior in their own parties if it keeps them in power.

  10. - Oswego Willy - Tuesday, Oct 13, 20 @ 12:13 pm:

    === We know the truth of the matter but the party in the majority is going to protect their own no matter how unethical that person is.===

    So you think Trump shoulda been removed? That’s what you’re saying here.

    If your lil analogy is at all honest, how can you support any Raunerite that also supports Trump’s re-election, even as they support removing Madigan?

    You must be voting for Biden.

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