It’s something of a tradition: Every two years, once the election is over, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan calls the Democrats who’ve been newly elected or reelected to the body to ask whether they’ll support him as the chamber’s leader — the position he’s held for all but two years since 1983.
This year, some Democrats are calling Madigan instead to preemptively tell him their answer to his question is no.
Thus far, eight House Democrats have publicly said they will not vote for Madigan for a 19th term as speaker.
The latest is Rep. Bob Morgan of Deerfield, who wrote an email to his constituents on Sunday.
“The allegations surrounding Speaker Madigan and Commonwealth Edison are extremely troubling, as are ones about sexual harassment by top aides. Leadership requires taking responsibility, and the pervasive culture of mistrust and corruption in Illinois rests at Mike Madigan’s feet. Therefore, I will not support Mike Madigan for Speaker under any circumstances. I will work with my colleagues to bring new leadership to the Illinois House of Representatives,” Morgan wrote. “Mike Madigan has irreparably breached the trust of the people of Illinois and he cannot lead us any longer. I encourage my colleagues to cast a vote for change we can believe in, and reflect the promise of the great State of Illinois.”
Some House races remain too close to call, but it’s likely Democrats will hold a 72-46 majority in the House come January — a supermajority that means a dozen Democrats can defect for Madigan to reach the magic 60 votes needed to continue to keep his post in the speaker’s well.
In the not-so-distance past, it would have been unthinkable that Madigan’s power was in question. A freshman legislator made news two years ago when she voted “present” — that is, not for, but also not against — another term for Madigan as speaker.
But Democrats began to speak out this summer after Commonwealth Edison pleaded guilty to an ongoing bribery scheme targeted at Madigan, who is referenced repeatedly in court documents as “Public Official A.”
The speaker has said it was all without his knowledge and that he has done nothing wrong.
But Democratic Reps. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn, Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz of Glenview, Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, Lindsey LaPointe of Chicago, Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville, and Maurice West of Rockford — and now Morgan — have said that Illinois cannot move forward with Madigan at the helm of the House.
Likewise, Madigan is facing calls for his resignation as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, including from U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Sen. Dick Durbin, who said, the day after the election, that Democrats had “paid a heavy price” at the polls for Madigan’s leadership — a constitutional amendment allowing Illinois to tax income at graduated rates failed, and despite massive spending, Democrats did not pick up or defend House districts they’d expected to win.
The speaker quickly rebuffed that criticism last week with a statement avowing his plans to remain head of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
“I am proud of my record electing Democrats who support workers and families and represent the diversity of our state. Together, we have successfully advanced progressive policies that have made Illinois a strong Democratic state with supermajorities in the legislature,” Madigan said.
Madigan defenders point out that his prolific fundraising helped to make some of the districts competitive in the first place, and that propelled Democrats to reach supermajority status.
Rep. Marty Moylan of Des Plaines issued a statement last week calling the clamor over Madigan “political games.”
“As a Democrat who has faced difficult races and won by being upfront with people, I want to be very clear: To criticize Chairman Madigan while Democrats continue to compete and win in districts that Republicans have held for decades is absurd,” Moylan wrote.
Moving ahead after “Washington’s failed leadership” during the coronavirus pandemic, Moylan wrote, will require “steady, proven leadership — not false and shortsided blame.”
Rep. Thaddeus Jones of Calumet City likewise said that it’s too early, and a mistake, to blame Madigan for any electoral defeats, and said that he believes Madigan when the speaker said he has committed no wrongdoing, noting that Madigan has a reputation for being strict and careful.
“The speaker to me saved the Democratic Party and saved Illinois from (former Governor) Bruce Rauner’s dangerous policies. You know, Bruce Rauner took us through four years of hell. Nobody seems to remember that. Nobody seems to remember, you know, say what you want about the speaker but he stood up and stood on principles and saved a bunch of social service agencies and saved a bunch of programs that we hold dear,” Jones said. “I’m gonna vote for the speaker and I’m sure he’s going to get 60 votes to stay as speaker.”
Morgan said while Madigan “definitely did great things, with regards to protecting the state against the Rauner years, but I also think he bears responsibility for the failure of his administration. And we all need to hold him accountable for that.”
Illinois is facing major challenges with the economy and budget, and as legislators make those tough choices, “We need to have public support. And that starts with changing our speaker,” Morgan said.
Before talking about a potential replacement, Morgan said the matter of whether Madigan will get support from 60 Democrats should first be decided; that matter, he predicted, will play out both privately and publicly in the coming weeks.
At least five more Democrats would need to break from Madigan in order for him to lose the gavel.
Kifowit has publicly declared that she wants the job.
“The public is craving change,” Kifowit said Monday. “Perception is reality, and there is a profound mistrust of government, and that mistrust is often aligned with the speaker of the House.”
Meanwhile, a special House panel convened to investigate Madigan’s conduct in the ComEd scheme has been on hold since late September.
The bipartisan committee’s three Republican members on Monday accused the Democratic members of blocking their investigative efforts in order to protect Madigan, with Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, calling it “shocking” that the panel hasn’t met in 42 days and Rep. Deanne Mazzochi, R-Elmhurst, saying Democrats are “disinterested” in actually investigating whether Madigan’s conduct is unbecoming of a legislator.
The chair of the committee, Democatic Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch said the GOP’s complaints are disingenuous.
While there have only been two formal hearings, Welch said the committee’s members communicate regularly and have a call with ComEd scheduled for Tuesday. Welch said given the coronavirus surge, it makes sense to limit the number of times the group physically gathers.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky