Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is not voluntarily giving up his gavel, despite a growing, albeit small, chorus of Democrats encouraging him to step down due to his entanglement in Commonwealth Edison’s bribery scandal.
“I have no plans to resign,” Madigan said in a statement. “I have never made a legislative decision with improper motives and any claim otherwise is unfounded. I will continue to lead the effort to defeat Donald Trump, expand the Illinois congressional delegation and the majorities in the Illinois House and Senate.”
Madigan, who wields immense power in Illinois due to his dual roles as house speaker and chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois, spent much of Thursday on the phone with Democratic members of the House.
While Madigan’s motivations are unknown – he could have been measuring members’ temperature on his future as their leader or demonstrating he’ll remain active and receptive despite his ongoing legal troubles – his run through the House Democratic caucus phone tree allows the speaker to say he has members’ endorsement, and to back that up.
His statement issued Thursday night does just that.
“I understand that the last couple of weeks have been difficult for our caucus and party, and I have had many candid conversations with members of the Democratic caucus on this matter. The feedback is positive and demonstrates continued support for me and my leadership roles,” he said.
Whether the phone conversations are a true gauge of legislators’ feelings about Madigan is another matter.
Talking to colleagues about Madigan’s potential missteps is one thing; it’s another to tell him directly or to go public with demands that he go.
Legislators who talked with WTTW News on background, for fear of retribution, had various reasons for not calling for his resignation including punishment, a belief that there’s no reason to rebuff him given that he maintains enough good will in the caucus that it would do little good, and a belief that there is no one else that has the political savvy that’s allowed Madigan to remain speaker for all but two years since 1983 and that’s led House Democrats to supermajorities.
There’s widespread fear of retaliation given that Madigan has control of which measures advance in the capitol, plus his control of the party’s purse strings come campaign time.
“We should never feel that way in our job,” State Sen. Iris Martinez, D-Chicago, said. “Our retaliation should come from our voters, if our voters don’t feel like we’re doing the right thing.”
Martinez last November called on Madigan to answer questions about payments made by his “cronies” to former party worker Kevin Quinn following Quinn’s firing for sexual harassment. She’s now unopposed for Cook County circuit court clerk.
Federal prosecutors in mid-July announced a settlement with ComEd, in which the utility admitted that for nearly a decade some of its top executives sought to get in Madigan’s graces by paying off allies. During that time, the General Assembly passed a pair of measures that significantly increased ComEd’s bottom line.
While he’s indirectly referenced as the “Public Official A” around whom the bribery scheme revolved, the court filings do not cite direct conversations with Madigan or proof he was engaged in the affair.
Madigan has said subpoenaed documents will prove it.
Even if that’s true, Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Aurora, is one of the legislators who says it’s time for Madigan to step down as speaker, saying Madigan should have been aware.
“When you are named Public Official A in FBI documents I don’t even know how you can justify that scenario,” she said. “If he claims he didn’t know? Well, you allowed it.”
Kifowit said it’s fine with her if Madigan remains a state representative as that’s up to voters of the 22nd district (Madigan is unopposed as he seeks a 25th term in November), but she said that he has compromised the integrity of the Office of the Speaker of the Illinois House.
“We’re talking about leadership and we’re talking about integrity and we’re talking about public trust,” she said. “And then you have somebody that violates all of those; that is spelled out in the ComEd agreement. I think it’s a different standard.”
Kifowit is the rare House Democrat to come out publicly against Madigan.
Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, is often mentioned as a potential successor to Madigan.
Late Thursday afternoon, Cassidy issued a statement saying that given the stakes in November, Madigan should step down as both speaker and chair of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
“It is clear that the constant drip of corruption stories will interfere with our ability to advance a progressive agenda,” she said. “Whether these investigations ultimately implicate him or continue to pick away at his inner circle, the damage is done.”
Previously, suburban Democratic Rep. Terra Costa Howard called on Madigan to “recognize that these allegations have cast a deep shadow on the reputation of our House. He must take action now to avoid inflicting further damage on the members of the House and the Democratic Party” by resigning as speaker.
Freshman Rep. Anne Stava-Murray has likewise come out against Madigan; she made headlines as the rare Democrat to not vote for him as Speaker in January 2019.
But the quad make up a mere 5.5% of the 73 Democratic members of the Illinois House.
A dozen Democrats who comprise the House Progressive caucus (Cassidy among them) have stopped short, saying only that Madigan should resign “if” the allegations are true.
Previously, some Republicans had also used that standard but on Thursday morning, House GOP Leader Jim Durkin dropped the speculative nature and demanded Madigan’s “immediate resignation” as speaker and as a member of the House in general.
“The federal charges outlined in the ComEd prosecution highlight a scheme solely for the benefit of Speaker Madigan. These facts are a disgrace of the highest level to the citizens of Illinois and to the institution of which we serve, the Illinois House of Representatives,” Durkin said.
Meanwhile, Democratic Sens. Heather Steans of Chicago and Melinda Bush of Grayslake are publicly themselves in the Madigan should resign camp.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky