Illinois’ 100th General Assembly began with a whimper.
That was the sound of House Democrats casting their votes for the most hated
politician in the state, Mike Madigan, on the floor of the Sangamon Auditorium
on January 11.
Despite cries across Illinois to change course, House Democrats elected to
defend the Cook County property tax lawyer at the expense of their own
constituents. They gifted Madigan the House speakership for the 17th time on a
straight party line vote. House Republicans voted for state Rep. Jim Durkin,
In a hopeful wrinkle, Highwood Democrat Scott Drury cast a “present” vote. This
is the first time a Democrat has voted present for the speaker in 30 years.
The remaining House Democrats cast their votes for Madigan: state Reps. Carol
Ammons, Jaime Andrade Jr., Luis Arroyo, Daniel Beiser, Daniel Burke, Kelly
Burke, Kelly Cassidy, Linda Chapa LaVia, Deb Conroy, Melissa Conyears, Jerry
Costello II, Fred Crespo, Barbara Flynn Currie, John D’Amico, William Davis,
Anthony DeLuca, Marcus Evans Jr., Sara Feigenholtz, Laura Fine, Mary Flowers, La
Shawn Ford, Robyn Gabel, Jehan Gordon-Booth, LaToya Greenwood, Will Guzzardi,
Michael Halpin, Sonya Harper, Gregory Harris, Elizabeth Hernandez, Jay Hoffman,
Frances Ann Hurley, Thaddeus Jones, Stephanie Kifowit, Lou Lang, Camille Lilly,
Theresa Mah, Natalie Manley, Robert Martwick, Rita Mayfield, Emily McAsey,
Christian Mitchell, Anna Moeller, Martin J. Moylan, Michelle Mussman, Elaine
Nekritz, Brandon Phelps, Al Riley, Robert Rita, Sue Scherer, Carol Sente, Elgie
R. Sims Jr., Justin Slaughter, Cynthia Soto, Julia Stratton, Katie Stuart,
Silvana Tabares, André Thapedi, Arthur Turner, Litesa Wallace, Lawrence Walsh
Jr., Emanuel Chris Welch, Ann Williams, Kathleen Willis, Sam Yingling and
Michael J. Zalewski.
Madigan voted for himself.
On one hand, sadly, this result is not at all surprising. Madigan has held the
speakership for 32 of the past 34 years. Come the end of his term in 2019, he
will be the longest-serving House speaker of any state in modern U.S. history.
No American will have led a state legislative body for longer.
To put that in context, three Chicago Democrats who voted for Madigan on
Wednesday – state Reps. Will Guzzardi, Christian Mitchell and Marcus C. Evans –
were not alive when Madigan first became speaker in 1983.
But, on the other hand, Illinoisans should be flabbergasted.
“You’ll see a man who works seven days a week to get the job done without
putting the focus on himself,” state Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton, said after
seconding the nomination for Madigan as speaker.
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When nearly two-thirds of voters disapprove of the speaker,
according to polling from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute,
how could so many lawmakers give the man ultimate power over the
House? These representatives aren’t supposed to work for the
speaker. They’re supposed to work for the rest of us.
And it is ultimate power. An Illinois Policy Institute report
surveying all 50 states revealed that Illinois grants more control
to its House speaker than anywhere else in the country.
Madigan decides which bills receive a public hearing. Madigan
decides who chairs committees and receives the $10,000 stipends that
go with them. Madigan decides who votes in committees. And Madigan
decides when bills are called before the full House.
That’s not democracy. That’s a dictatorship.
One-man rule of the General Assembly has crippled Illinois.
Madigan’s has not been a long and prosperous reign for Illinoisans.
Under his watchful eye, the Land of Lincoln has slid further into
financial decay and slowly become a desert of economic opportunity.
It is now the former home of millions who have fled for other
states, seeking better lives.
Yet, every two years, about 22,000 voters from his small Chicago
district send Madigan to the Statehouse. And then House Democrats
make him king.
Because of enormous public pressure, lawmakers in the run-up to the
vote faced unprecedented questioning about their vote for speaker.
Many dodged criticism by framing the vote as one between a Democrat
and a Republican, Durkin.
That argument falls flat. If Democrats really wanted leadership
change, it would have required only one brave lawmaker to accept a
nomination and another to second it. Just a lone Democrat out of the
66 not named Mike Madigan.
State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, offered a slightly different
justification for her vote. But it’s just as concerning.
“I have a good working relationship with Leader Durkin,” she wrote
in an email to constituents defending her vote for the speaker, “but
to put him in charge of the House would effectively put Governor
Rauner in the driver’s seat.”
Cassidy points to the problem of the speakership under Madigan: If
one Republican could turn a Democrat-majority House into the
governor’s lapdog, the speaker’s role has become far too powerful.
A vote for Madigan has nothing to do with ideals. It has everything
to do with power. And the speaker still holds all the cards.
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