At the behest of a trio of Republican state legislators, a special Illinois House committee will investigate whether Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has engaged in conduct that would warrant discipline – up to and including expelling him from the chamber.
While Illinois is known for taking political sport to ruthless levels, it’s a rare maneuver, last used in November after then-Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, was indicted for bribery, and before that in 2012 when another Chicago Democrat, then-Rep. Derrick Smith, was arrested on bribery charges.
Madigan, in a lengthy statement issued Wednesday, reiterated past pledges that he’s done no wrong and has “never made a legislative decision with improper motives. The notion that the passage of two consequential pieces of energy legislation was tied to the hiring or retention of a few individuals is seriously mistaken.”
But House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, in both an interview and in the petition to create the investigative committee, points to a July court filing known as a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) in which Commonwealth Edison admits to federal prosecutors that for nearly a decade it bribed and worked with Madigan allies and agents in order to curry favor with him as the utility sought to win approval of two major laws that allowed ComEd to raise its rates on electric customers.
“I’m not going to wait and be intimidated, like many people are in Springfield, by the speaker. I’m going to do my job. And you know what? Let the chips fall where they may. But I want answers. People in Illinois want answers,” Durkin said. “It’s important that the public knows that we, the members of the legislature, are not going to be intimidated, but we’re going to find out as much as we can about what exactly happened. That’s our job, that’s our responsibility.”
In his 35 years as speaker, Madigan has built a reputation as a cunning politician with the power to break or build careers as well as to either shatter or shepherd political agendas and laws.
Because he’s the subject of the investigative committee, Madigan said he immediately recused himself and left it to House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, to take the next steps.
“This is a political process, not action by law enforcement, and the rules are not the same as a court proceeding. The Speaker has not been accused of or charged with any criminal action or wrongdoing and is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” Harris said in a statement. “With that said, it is important that we follow the process and provide the petitioners and the Speaker with an opportunity to address the petition.”
Harris appointed three Democratic Representatives – Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside, who will serve as chair, Elizabeth Hernandez of Cicero and Natalie Manley of Joliet – to serve on the committee.
Likewise, Republicans appointed three of their members: Reps. Tom Demmer of Dixon, Deanne Mazzochi of Elmhurst and Grant Wehrli of Naperville.
It takes a majority – so, at least four votes – for the investigation to proceed to the next stage, in which another, new committee would determine a possible punishment; that recommendation would go before the House. Two-thirds of members are needed before any representative can be expelled.
The equal breakdown of the committee means that Madigan can’t lean on Democrats’ prowess as the super-majority party to protect him, but he doesn’t need to, should the vote come down along partisan lines.
“In the past, because this actually happened when someone’s been charged in a federal indictment, the bipartisan work has been easy. I don’t think the work is going to be easy here, but we’re going to roll up our sleeves and see where the process takes us,” Welch said.
Welch said that he is committed to running a fair process.
“It’s a very solemn and serious appointment and I’ll treat it as such,” he said of his duties as chair.
As an attorney Welch said he’s also committed to ensuring that Madigan, like everyone else, is afforded the due process he’s owed.
While Madigan called the endeavor a “political stunt” meant to distract in an election season from President Donald Trump, when asked whether he sees it that way, Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he hopes not.
Pritzker has said Madigan should resign “if” the allegations against him prove true.
“There are questions that need to be answered by the speaker and perhaps the creation of this legislative committee will actually get some of those answers,” the governor said. “I favor more information, more transparency.”
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