New Democratic Legislator Pushes Against the Machine

There’s a new Democratic state representative who was just elected in Republican-leaning Naperville. In her campaign, Anne Stava-Murray vowed to vote against Michael Madigan for an 18th term as speaker of the House. She’s only the third Democrat to publicly oppose Madigan in 34 years.

And now she’s feeling the heat for that stance.

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Stava-Murray joins us to talk about her win and the pushback for opposing Madigan.

Below, an edited Q&A with Stava-Murray.

You literally ran against the machine. You took no money from the Democratic Party – what you’ve called “Madigan money.” So talk about your path to victory.

So when I decided to run for office I was a very nontraditional candidate. I have two very small children. From the get-go, I knew that I wanted to do something different. So the path to victory to me was thinking about building a real coalition among people, finding out what the people in my community were passionate about and talking about those issues and being a voice of reason and just doing my best to be as educated as I could on all of the topics that the people of our community care about.

I think at the end of the day, people don’t expect their legislator to agree with 100 percent of the things that they say, but they do want them to be honest with them. And that’s something that I think we had been really lacking with the Republican machine controlling our seat. And that’s what I think people were getting really excited about throughout my campaign.

I think the most exciting thing about all of this is that I did something pretty radical with $30,000 beating an incumbent with $300,000. And it really, I think, sends a message that money can’t always buy the race.

Part of what you ran on was that you were going to oppose Michael Madigan’s bid to become House speaker. What’s happened since you won?

I first said that I was going to oppose Michael Madigan as speaker after a lot of the #MeToo stuff started coming out of Springfield. I had heard the extent to which there is a toxic culture in Springfield in regards to sexual harassment and assault that happens there. And someone had told me actually that it won’t be as bad for you because you are a legislator and they won’t take advantage of you as much as they would a lobbyist or a staffer. But that really didn’t make me feel a ton better because I think they really should not be taking advantage of anyone. And so it was described in terms of a cesspool. And when you get to the point where a leader has abdicated leadership on such a critical issue, I just couldn’t, in good conscience knowing that there were so many survivors out there, let him have a unanimous vote from our caucus because I knew that that would send the wrong signal to survivors, that it doesn’t matter if you speak out, nothing’s ever going to change.

In terms of what Madigan has done to address sexual harassment, what would you like to see going forward?

I’m going to be working on some legislation that introduces an actual process to it because right now there’s no outline of the process that goes through, no timeline.

I’m a survivor of workplace sexual assault but I am by no means an expert on this issue. What I would really like to see is that they hire and pay for people who are actually experts ... They’ve got an HR department but I think what they really need is a director of diversity and someone who’s paid job it is to focus solely on making sure that this cesspool is not allowed to continue. 

For so long, legislators weren’t held accountable for any sort of rules around sexual harassment. And a lot is talked about this one-day training we’re going to have. But a one-day training doesn’t fix everything. I can certainly bring forward legislation and work with advocates. But to ask me to solve the problems that a bunch of gentleman who created the problem aren’t willing to solve themselves I think is a little bit unfair.

In a letter to Madigan’s chief of staff you said, “… There will be subsequent complaints filed in each perceived instance of retribution. I will not be a quiet victim as has been counseled to me as a requirement to be effective. Requiring such is not only immoral; it is in fact, illegal.

What was the response to that? And where would you file charges?

So if I file charges, I want to talk to a civil rights lawyer, of course, but (also) the EEOC and the Illinois Department of Human Rights because both have protected classes of individuals. So if you’re doing a protected activity such as standing up for a group that is within these defined categories, then you are not to face retribution for standing up for the people. So my vote was very clearly a vote to stand up for a federally protected class of people. And so I’m going to be documenting if there’s retribution. And I will file what the retribution is and ultimately I’m filing a complaint against the speaker himself because throughout the process of people calling me, when there were several different people calling me, it was clear that they had not talked to each other and yet they used the exact same phrases when talking to me. And when I say exact, I mean verbatim. And so it was clear that there was a common source that was causing the harassment.

So the subsequent complaint, I think, will be something that I would add to the file of how retribution is enacted through the organization by its leader. And it’s not about calling out individuals who are being leaned on to do these acts. Certainly, do I hope that my colleagues choose to not join in on this? Absolutely. But I’m not thinking about the reporting of the retribution as the colleague being the goal of it. It’s been made very clear to me that it’s my vote against Madigan that is what is what would cause the retribution.

Two other former state representatives voted against Madigan’s speakership in 1987 (Rep. Richard Mautino) and 2017 (Rep. Scott Drury). And after that, they were isolated and their bills put on ice. You were warned that it could happen to you by your colleagues. What do you say to people who say, “Well that’s just politics”?

Well, the law still applies to politics. It should apply to politics. Now whether or not it actually does, that’s for the civil rights attorney to figure out. But in my mind, saying that someone cannot speak up for survivors of sexual assault, that in of itself is a reason to not be voting for him. So, in that kind of silence, clearly the silence has been ongoing for 30 years and I think that’s the biggest difference between Scott Drury and Mautino and myself are what drives us. And what drove me to the vote and what I told the speaker to himself the day before the vote so he 100 percent had knowledge of this. He had knowledge of this the week prior when he told one of the legislators to send me all of the memos that had been written by him to the Democratic Party caucus as well as the Democratic Party of Illinois. And my response to that was, “Where were the memos before 2017?”

And, you know, it’s interesting that people want to hold me accountable but yet we’re not speaking about these 30 years where a cesspool of harassment and assault were allowed. And I think that’s very telling. And, you know, maybe that was politics 30 years ago but it shouldn’t be politics in 2018, 2019.

Related stories:

New Report Highlights Harassment in Illinois Politics

Speaker Madigan Denies Retaliation Claims, Calls for Investigation

Michael Madigan Wins 6th Term as Head of Illinois’ Democratic Party

Former Staffer Sues Madigan, Democratic Party for Sexual Harassment

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