Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan first became head of the Illinois Democratic Party in 1998.
Twenty years later, the 76-year-old once again won the title, for a sixth time.
“Democrats are united,” Madigan said Monday after his near-unanimous election by members of the Democratic State Central Committee in Springfield. “We’re united against (Gov. Bruce Rauner), we’re united against (President Donald) Trump
“The Republicans are divided because of Rauner.”
Despite his longevity – or, as some of his critics have it, precisely because of it – Madigan isn’t a beloved figure in Illinois.
A Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll from March showed him with an approval rating of 21 percent, meaning he’s less popular than both Rauner and Trump (neither of whom are well-liked in the state, according to that same poll).
Most of the animus directed at Madigan comes from Republicans, particularly Rauner, who has used both his personal wealth and his bully pulpit as governor to paint Madigan as a “corrupt” leader of a “mafia protection racket.”
There is no indication Madigan is under investigation for corruption, and Madigan on Monday noted that he “would not use the word corrupt, would not use the word mafia unless I had solid evidence to do that, Rauner does not have. To me that speaks to Rauner’s mind, to Rauner’s method of thinking, how he views other people, how he views attempting to gain success. And I think in the end the people of Illinois are going to come to understand that about Rauner and they’re going to vote him out of office.”
Madigan indicated that anyone’s approval ratings would be in the tank had they been subject to the endless barrage of ads, and not fought back.
“All that money was spent on negative advertising against me without response. Without response. This speaks to the dynamic brought on by Rauner’s spending of his personal money. It’s made a big difference,” he said.
Still, members of his own party have criticized Madigan, particularly for his handling of sexual harassment allegations such as those lodged by former campaign worker Alaina Hampton against one of Madigan’s top aides, Kevin Quinn (brother of 13th Ward Ald. Kevin Quinn); Hampton has filed a lawsuit against Madigan’s campaign committees.
On Monday, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly stood to second Madigan’s nomination as party chair, though she said she was “surprised” Madigan had asked her.
“You’ve done a good job in the era of – I know, a lot of eras – but in the era of Rauner, we’re talking about. And the era of Trump,” she said in her nominating speech. “I realize by being in Congress how important it is to be in the majority and I want to do everything I can to elect as many Democrats as I could for the state of Illinois.”
It was a nod to Madigan’s tenure not only as party chair, but also as the nation’s longest-serving House speaker, a position which Madigan has held uninterrupted save for two years since 1983 – dual roles that give Madigan unparalleled power in the Democratic Party and in Illinois politics.
“It’s not a secret that change needs to happen. And we need to be more transparent as an organization, we need to be more inclusive as an organization and we need to make sure that we are respecting any man and woman that has anything to do with this organization,” Kelly went on to say.
Only one, newly elected committeeman, Peter Janko, loudly said “no” during the 35-1 voice vote.
Janko said that Illinois needs a fresh face, as leadership hasn’t evolved.
He said he hopes his opposition would serve as a wake-up call.
Nonetheless, Janko said he supports Madigan as House speaker, and that he hopes to be able to vote for Madigan in four years’ time. Janko did not submit any other name as a nomination for party chair because he is new to the committee, and just getting to know its members, who all were invited to lunch together at a local cafe after the roughly 25-minute meeting.
Rauner is still in Europe, but in a statement his campaign called Madigan “corrupt” and said a vote for J.B. Pritzker is a vote for Madigan and the same broken system that’s hurt Illinois for decades.
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