Will Madigan Face Challenge for Speaker of the House?

It’s among the first votes the new Illinois General Assembly will take next year: whether or not to re-elect longtime House Speaker Michael Madigan to his post.

It’s normally a breeze, but this year, several Democratic lawmakers are facing scrutiny from their constituents upset at the speaker’s role in the ongoing budget impasse.

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Could Republicans and some Democrats actually plot to dethrone Madigan and install someone else in the position?

The Illinois Republican Party is going all out in mailers and press releases and a website called bossmadigan.com. They’re singling out Democrats who will likely support Madigan for re-election to his post as speaker of the House in the new General Assembly – a position he’s held for 31 of the last 33 years.

The election takes place on Jan. 11 and Madigan is known to say that this is the only time he requests a yes vote. There is some indication the GOP pressure is working. We’ve talked to a handful of Democratic state representatives who say they are getting a lot of calls from constituents angry about Madigan’s role in the ongoing budget impasse with Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Here’s a sample of what Illinois GOP spokesperson Steven Yaffe has sent out:

“Mike Madigan has run Illinois as a political boss for over three decades. Madigan’s only motivation is to increase his own political power at our expense. The middle class, the voters, and honest, transparent government fall by the wayside in Madigan’s Illinois. It’s not too late for them to do the right thing and pledge to oppose Madigan for Speaker this time.”

So the million dollar question: Would anyone actually challenge Madigan for his post?

Whoever decides to do it would have to be nominated by two other representatives and then receive 60 yes votes. Madigan has rarely, if ever, been challenged inside his own party – Republicans tend to nominate their minority leader. But there are no rules that say a Republican couldn’t vote for a Democrat or vice versa.

There are 51 Republicans in the incoming House, and if all of them decided to throw their weight behind a Democrat who wasn’t Madigan, they’d have to find only nine Democrats to defect from Madigan to unseat him. Sources in the Illinois General Assembly tell Chicago Tonight that this indeed is the governor’s plan, and they have floated State Rep. Elaine Nekritz (D-Des Plaines) as a potential challenger.

Nekritz told Chicago Tonight, however, that she was not interested in the position.

Some Democrats have withheld their endorsement of Madigan, including State Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) who says he wants the speaker to pursue a more progressive agenda. Guzzardi says he has met with Madigan one-on-one and says the speaker was receptive to formulating a progressive counter-agenda to Rauner’s “Turnaround” agenda.

Another Democratic lawmaker who has voted against the speaker on several issues says he is keeping all options open, including whether or not to throw his own name into the mix.

“I want to understand all the rules of how the nomination works, who can be nominated and how they can be nominated,” said State Rep. Scott Drury (D-Highwood). “When I have a thorough understanding of who can put their name forward and who can get by the challenges of voting for them, I’ll come to a decision.

“I’m convinced I’m the only person really studying this issue closely, and come Jan. 11, I’ll be prepared to do the right thing for the state of Illinois and my constituents.”

But other house Democrats say, despite any pressure from the GOP, Madigan is still their man.

“He’s absolutely the right man for the job,” said State Rep. LaShawn Ford (D-Chicago). “With such a strong, powerful, rich governor, if we didn’t have Speaker Madigan as a counter, the state would turn to a state that is more fair to big business.”

“I will be the second person in line to vote for Speaker Madigan, because I know his work ethic,” said State Rep. Mary Flowers (D-Chicago).

Thursday’s comments were made at an event after the governor signed a bill providing state IDs for recently released prisoners. It’s something that brought praise from several Democratic lawmakers who’ve worked on criminal justice reform.

That’s a far cry from the contentious stare down of the budget debate.

Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz

Related stories:

Illinois Budget Crisis Hurting Public Safety, State’s Attorneys Say

Dec. 7: State lawmakers don’t appear to be any closer to passing a budget, and prosecutors warn the impasse is damaging public safety. Three county state’s attorneys weigh in.

Power in Springfield Shifts Slightly; ‘Safe Roads’ Amendment Passes

Nov. 9: Despite massive amounts of campaign contributions that poured into state House and Senate races this year, Republicans don’t appear to have significantly shifted the balance of power in the Illinois General Assembly.

Michael Madigan: The Movie

Oct. 13: A new documentary about Michael Madigan is playing now in select theaters. What it reveals about the powerful House speaker, and who is behind it.

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