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The point of no return

Monday, Dec 7, 2020

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Illinois House Democratic Caucus Chair Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, told me last week that her decision to oppose Speaker Michael Madigan’s reelection was a process she’s been struggling with since the summer.

Willis became the 19th House Democrat to declare opposition to Madigan, putting him six votes shy of the 60 he needs to win.

“Over the last couple of weeks, it’s been getting more and more troubling,” she said. It boiled down to “an ethical decision, a moral decision.”

Willis’ father had heart surgery the previous weekend and, while sitting with her mother, she remembered what her mom had told her when she first ran for the House in 2012: “Don’t ever let your morals or standards decline.”

“And I was looking at my mom and I thought, ‘I want her to continue to be proud of me.’ And this is what I had to do.”

When I initially received Willis’ email announcing her decision, I checked the return address to make sure it wasn’t a hoax. Willis said several people asked her whether the email was legit. She was the first member of House Democratic leadership, after all, to publicly break with Madigan. This was no small deal. It felt to me and to others that this one was different.

Willis said she didn’t know if her decision would allow other House Dems to come forward. “I think everybody has to come to their own decisions their own way,” she said. “Maybe it’ll give them strength to be able to do that, but it’s not intended to push people to do something they’re not ready to do.”

She said she didn’t have anyone in mind to be the next House speaker but wants to support someone who is “willing to be a collaborative leader, so that it’s not just all controlled by one person. I think we need to see a change in leadership style.”

Asked if she was interested in the top job herself, Willis would only say, “That’s not the purpose of what the statement was. It was more to really free myself up.”

I told Willis I had just been talking on the phone with a union lobbyist who said there was no way that Madigan will ever give up. He’s just going to wait for everyone to flip back, the labor guy said with supreme confidence. There will be no surrender.

“I honestly don’t think they’re gonna flip back,” Willis said about the 18 House Democrats who preceded her in vowing to vote against Madigan.

“When I made the decision to do a written statement, it was knowing that there was no point of return, there was no going back by doing a written statement. That forced my hand. And I think the other members that did the same thing, if they were to ever turn back they could never run for office … that would be a career-ending move.”

None of them took the decision lightly, Willis said. “I think they all realize that it’s a point of no return.”

As you might imagine, the paranoia level among House Democrats is pretty high these days. So, it wasn’t too surprising that moments after Willis issued her statement, members were asking whether this might be some sort of Madigan plot to place one of his own leaders behind enemy lines. Willis flatly denied anything of the sort.

“If you had been on the conversation I had with him earlier this morning, you’d know that he did not put me up to it,” Willis said with a laugh.

Willis wouldn’t talk too many specifics but said she called Madigan as a courtesy.

“He did not want me to release the statement, and I told him I had no choice. I have made the decision to do it, and I wanted to do it. He really felt strongly that I should not release a statement and I said, ‘Well, the only way I won’t release the statement is if you withdraw from running for speaker,’ and he assured me that he was going to continue to be a candidate. There were a few other things that got said in between, but that’s the gist of it.”

Madigan didn’t lose his temper and was “very reserved,” she said.

“It was the most difficult call I’ve ever made in my life. But after the call was done, I felt like a ton of bricks was off of my shoulders.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Socially DIstant Watcher - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:07 am:

    Since I think many of us are thinking about this…

  2. - Techie - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:08 am:

    I hope Willis’ statement does encourage other reluctant Democrats to tell Madigan to take a hike. The party and the state need new leadership in the House, someone who will be more cooperative with different factions within the party.

  3. - Flyin' Elvis'-Utah Chapter - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:09 am:

    Methinks labor is whistling past the graveyard on this one.

    Everyone, everything has a shelf life, even Madigan.

  4. - Nick - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:10 am:

    === “He did not want me to release the statement, and I told him I had no choice. ===

    He understands what some people here don’t.

    You don’t need an alternative right now, you just need it to be clear that Madigan lacks a majority.

  5. - Just Me 2 - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:12 am:

    I couldn’t help but notice that nowhere in her decision making process did she say she thought about her constituents or district.

  6. - TNR - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:17 am:

    I want to see Madigan go, too. But I don’t see it as a moral question. It’s about politics. If it is about “morality” to her, Willis should probably give up the leadership position Madigan gave her and the stipend that comes with it.

  7. - JS Mill - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:21 am:

    Great article Rich. This really puts into perspective what many of these legislators are dealing with. It isn’t as easy as some would think, and most of those throwing stones have never been in the same situation.

  8. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:26 am:

    After all of this only 19 Democrats oppose the Mike Madigan’s re-election as Speaker and chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois?

    We are week beyond the “if this is true” stage and the elections are over.


  9. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:30 am:

    ===and the stipend that comes with it===

    There is no stipend.

    Also, a question just occurred to me: Why give up the chairmanship of the caucus when MJM wants to call a caucus? She’s in a good spot.

  10. - Ukrainian Villager - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:30 am:

    ==“It was the most difficult call I’ve ever made in my life. But after the call was done, I felt like a ton of bricks was off of my shoulders.”==

    This says a lot about both Willis and the Speaker. Good for Rep. Willis doing what she believes is right.

  11. - Steve Rogers - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:34 am:

    “there will be a time when we must choose between what is easy and what is right.”

    Good for Willis.

  12. - Norseman - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:39 am:

    In his book, Nobody Calls Just to Say Hello, former Senate President Phil Rock in an analysis I agreed with compared his priorities in office with that of Speaker Madigan. His priorities were to focus on governing first and party politics second, while Madigan’s priorities were party first and governing second. Having a huge ego and acting in self interest are a given in politicians, the good ones, like Rock are able to harness theirs for a bigger goal. Rock’s was governing. Madigan’s appeared to be party.

    What’s becoming clear is that feeding his ego has now become Madigan’s primary focus. It’s clouding his judgment as to what is good for his party. He believes that he is the only one in his caucus who can deal with the problems faced by them and the state in the upcoming session. In a sense this in and of itself is a condemnation of his leadership in that a true leader plans for his succession. Madigan also thinks that he can only provide assistance from the front. A true leader would step back and help his replacement through the transition; providing the new leader with the benefit of his knowledge and experience.

    By allowing a prolonged fight for the speakership, Madigan will harm the party he once prioritized. Mr. Speaker, set aside your ego and do what is best for your party.

  13. - TNR - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:41 am:

    == Why give up the chairmanship of the caucus when MJM wants to call a caucus? ==

    Legit point. Although, I suppose Madigan can take that from her.

  14. - Nick - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 9:45 am:

    If he takes it away from her he looks vindictive.

    It also would probably solidify opposition to him, if he’s already stripping people of their positions. There’s really no way to get some of those 19 back after that.

  15. - Responsa - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:03 am:

    ==Methinks labor is whistling past the graveyard on this one.==

    When you say this who exactly do you mean is whistling?

  16. - Colin O'Scopy - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:13 am:

    Rich, my post from a few minutes ago, as with the case of other “non-controversial” posts recently, isn’t showing up. Am I in “Cap Fax jail”? Or are these posts lost in a vortex?

  17. - Fav Human - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:19 am:

    It’s interesting that only two people showed up for the Saturday meeting.

    It seems brutally obvious that MJM is going to be hanging on to the stern pole as the ship of his speakership goes under.

    Question is, who steps up and starts getting support? To me, the longer that takes, the more MJM feels he can survive this.

    posts lost in a vortex?

    HAppens to me too. I think it’s just random.

  18. - supplied_demand - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:20 am:

    ==the elections are over.==

    Quick, tell your fellow Republicans, then we can start moving forward.

  19. - Just Me 2 - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:23 am:

    Colin - same thing happens to me from time to time. I suspect there is another category of posts in purgatory.

  20. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:28 am:

    === We are week beyond the “if this is true” stage and the elections are over.===

    As a Trump supporter, you can’t believe that?


    To the post,

    As leader of the Caucus I can see Willis’ decision here be a “point of no return” to the point of the bigger number(s) of 19 and 21, two unique groups deciding that they can work together for a FIRST step… denying Madigan 60.

    So far, that point has yet to be publicly decided, as one voice.

  21. - Chicagonk - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:29 am:

    The sooner the other reps realize all Madigan cares about at this point is himself, the better. If he cared about the state or about the party, he would have stepped down as soon as he realized he didn’t have the votes for another year.

  22. - Lucky Pierre - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:36 am:

    Continue defending the indefensible by changing the subject to Rauner and Trump instead of the issue at hand.

    Bring your receipts on the Trump support OW. It was tepid if you were honest

  23. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:46 am:

    === It was tepid===

    You already, right there, admitted you supported Trump.

    So stop while you’re behind, k?

  24. - Annoyed - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:47 am:

    I love this ‘he should step down because he doesn’t have the votes’ comments. Guess what? Nobody has the votes, but they may after the voting starts. Lincoln didn’t have the votes on the first ballot but enough people switched by the 3rd ballot to capture the nomination.

  25. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:50 am:

    ===Guess what? Nobody has the votes, but they may after the voting starts.===

    If you want me to take your ridiculousness in any way serious… show me which of the 19 are gonna flip back.


    Forget on Raunerite support, Durkin is trolling the process as a candidate for the 19, (which only unified Dems to find a Dem, so it was a wash).

  26. - Chicagonk - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:51 am:

    @Annoyed - Can’t believe you just compared Mike Madigan to Abraham Lincoln.

  27. - Jason - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:54 am:

    I am for Madigan for one simple important reason. None of the potential replacements are better or equal to him. Be careful what you wish for. Don’t take out a working engine that is not at it’s prime if you don’t have a new and better engine to replace it with

  28. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 10:58 am:

    === None of the potential replacements are better or equal to him.===

    That’s the point of the exercise.

    It appears the 19 don’t want… “better or equal to him”.

    “Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”… except they ain’t saying “maybe”

  29. - Honeybear - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 11:00 am:

    OW- I’d love to hear your thoughts on something. Is the reason why labor is so behind Madigan because they believe that only he has the power to coerce a tax hike and therefore save the state budget from cataclysmic cuts to both private and public union interests, or is it old school loyalty to the “boss” so to speak?

  30. - Jockey - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 11:04 am:

    “That forced my hand. And I think the other members that did the same thing, if they were to ever turn back they could never run for office … that would be a career-ending move.”

    That sentence stuck out to me most. They’re more worried
    about their careers, and less about the citizens.

  31. - Candy Dogood - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 11:06 am:

    ===“Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die”… except they ain’t saying “maybe” ===

    Imagine the things that could occur if the next Speaker of the House believed in meritocracy.

    Imagine the things that could occur if the next Party Chairperson believed in an open and transparent political party.

  32. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 11:10 am:

    - Honeybear -

    Missed ya. Hope you’re well, stay best to ya.

    Labor and Madigan, at their core(s) and to who they are, beginning, end, and always…

    You stick with who stuck with you.

    Rauner united Labor and Madigan in a way even Madigan’s career ups and downs with Labor couldn’t stitch whole.

    When it mattered, when rubber and road during those 4 years… Madigan was always there.

    Coulda made a deal, flipped on Labor a lil here, lil there… never.

    But, when this plays out, there aren’t permanent enemies, only permanent interests… Labor can count too, and Raunerites are a non-starter… so for now until it’s publicly and clearly untied that Madigan is out, Labor will push the issue and the marriage between they and Madigan will continue, very publicly, at least… and by the EFTs too.

  33. - Rich Miller - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 11:22 am:

    Oops. The leadership slot is paid now. Sorry. But she’s still in the catbird seat.

  34. - Annoyed - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 11:22 am:

    @Chicagonk , I can’t believe you tried to discredit my example just because you don’t like one of the two candidates running.

  35. - Johnny Tractor - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 11:26 am:

    Given Illinois’ demographics, there’s no chance of this issue causing the House to flip to Republican control. So, doesn’t this become a calculation about whether Speaker Madigan’s fund raising prowess will be used to primary anyone who votes against him? What would these candidates run on against the incumbent members who don’t support Madigan? I was surprised by how much traction the Madigan factor provided in the general election - does anyone think that unwavering support for the Speaker will get someone elected in a Democratic primary?

  36. - North Shore Republican - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 11:58 am:

    I was on a birthday party zoom last week with north shore women most of whom grew up with republican followers and all they wanted to do was attack trump and say how happy they were he was gone. They didn’t really care about the birthday we were there for. I don’t think people fully appreciate how hated the republican brand is with college educated women in the suburbs and if democrats swap out madigan it’s not going to fix the republican partys problems and make us competitive again.

  37. - Pot calling kettle - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 12:36 pm:

    ==None of the potential replacements are better or equal to him.==

    The potential replacements include every Dem in the House. If none are qualified to replace Madigan, that is a truly sad state of affairs. It also indicates that Madigan is a poor leader because he has placed many of those folks in various leadership positions.

  38. - Honeybear - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 1:53 pm:

    Thanks for the well wishes. The same to you and all those on the blog. Going through a divorce and in a 12 step recovery program for codependency has laid me low. I’m getting back on my feet though and I’ll soon be back in the ring.

  39. - Veil of Ignorance - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 3:55 pm:

    I think a number of members are nervous about redistricting, especially given some of the tough and likely unpopular decisions that’ll be needed with Fair Tax failing to pass. The Speaker’s likely sold many caucus legislators that now’s not the time to ditch his experienced hand given he’s handled it so many times. Adding to that pressure is the population loss in Chicago and the tension that will create among the different caucuses related to redistricting. Since the Governor’s already taken a position on the Speaker stepping down, it might be a good idea for him to give assurances of support for all members with respect to 2022. Democratic White House about to be sworn in and we now have this to deal with…our state politics sure knows how to harsh my buzz.

  40. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 4:15 pm:

    === I’ll soon be back in the ring.===

    Take care. My best.

  41. - Huh? - Monday, Dec 7, 20 @ 5:44 pm:

    HB - Your biting wit and sharp commentary has been sorely missed.

    Sounds like the Chaplain has gone through a hurricane. Find refuge in the lee of a deep water sheltered inlet. Rest and refit. Scrap the barnacles, restep and rerig a new mast. Set sail when ready. Prime your cannon. We will be waiting for you. Blessing upon thee.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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