While the conspirators alleged to have spent the better part of a decade working to bribe Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan may be sticking by him, enough Democrats have deserted Madigan that it appears his tenure as speaker may be coming to an end.
As of Thursday evening, 16 Democrats elected to be part of the Illinois House next year have publicly said they will not support Madigan for what would be a historic 19th term in the powerful position.
Even though a 57 of the 73 incoming House Democrats have either remained in support of Madigan or not openly come forward to take a stand on his future, the 16 defections means Madigan does not have the requisite 60 votes needed to win another two-year term.
Democrats have been splintering from Madigan for months in the wake of corruption scandals, but the eight who came forward on Thursday tilted the ratio to the point that Madigan stands to lose his longstanding grip on the gavel.
Or, as Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, put it, “we’ve reached a critical mass. There are no longer enough votes for the speaker to get to 60 votes and become the next speaker.”
Guzzardi is among the eight Democrats came forward on Thursday. The others are Reps. John Carroll of Northbrook, Deb Conroy of Villa Park, Rep.-Elect Margaret Croke of Chicago, Robin Gable of Evanston, Anna Moeller of Elgin, Ann Williams of Chicago and Sam Yingling of Round Lake Beach.
They join Reps. Kelly Cassidy of Chicago, Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn, Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz of Glenview, Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, Lindsey LaPointe of Chicago, Bob Morgan of Deerfield, Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville and Maurice West of Rockford, who previously have withdrawn support for Madigan as Speaker.
The additional Democratic opposition comes after Madigan’s longtime consigliere, Mike McClain, two other Commonwealth Edison lobbyists – John Hooker and former City Club of Chicago President Jay Doherty –and former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, were indicted for allegedly conspiring to give contracts, jobs and money to Madigan allies in order to entice and reward the speaker for supporting legislation favorable to the utility.
Madigan issued a statement on Thursday morning echoing some of his previous comments, denying any wrongdoing and taking offense at the notion he could be bribed.
“If there was credible evidence that I had engaged in criminal misconduct, which I most certainly did not, I would be charged with a crime. But I have not, and with good reason because there is nothing wrong or illegal about making job recommendations, regardless of what people inside ComEd may have hoped to achieve from hiring some of the people who were recommended,” Madigan said in the statement.
While it may be true that Madigan did nothing illegal, Guzzardi said that’s for judges and juries to decide.
“Our job (as legislators) is to decide what kind of leadership do we want in our chamber. And when the speaker says ‘this kind of activity is just the normal sort of day-to-day horse trading that happens all the time around here’ that to me is not exculpatory. In fact, that to me just underscores the problem,” Guzzardi said. “If twisting arms at a corporation to get them to put your friend as a member of the board, that’s like normal day-to-day business in Springfield, day-to-day business is deeply broken and we need leadership that’s going to run business differently.”
Carroll said removing from Madigan is nothing personal; he said Madigan is different than the villainous figure he can be portrayed as in the media.
“I’ve never been intimidated, nor have I ever been told how I need to vote. None of that stuff,” Carroll said. “But that’s really not … my relationship with him is not what my constituents care about. I think what my constituents care about is, it’s time for a change.”
Carroll also hinted that while under the federal microscope, Madigan has not performed his job as speaker well enough.
Madigan has not convened House Democrats for a meeting, known as a caucus, since May, despite the abundance of issues facing the state such as an overburdened unemployment filing system, the budget, and responding to other issues arising from the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re a group of 74 elected officials that our districts felt are here for a reason. Let us get together and work,” Carroll said.
Democrats lost one seat in the November election, bringing their ranks from 74 to 73 – still a supermajority, but not the electoral success the party had been hoping for considering President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in suburban districts.
Critics like Guzzardi attribute the losses in suburban races in part to Madigan’s drain on Democratic candidates and the party in general.
Public statements are not tantamount to an actual vote for speaker, but Guzzardi said he doesn’t expect anyone who has come out against another term of speaker Madigan to change his or her mind, which he equated to political suicide.
There’s some belief that the opposite will happen, and that opposition to Madigan may now snowball.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker refrained from directly calling for Madigan to step down, but he said the speaker has to offer more than pat statements if he’s to keep his job.
“The pay-to-play, quid pro quo situation outlined in these indictments released last night are unspeakably wrong,” Pritzker said. “If Speaker Madigan wants to continue in a position of enormous public trust, with such a serious ethical cloud hanging over his head, then he has to at the very least be willing to stand in front of the press and the people and answer every last question to their satisfaction.”
Madigan last answered questions from reporters when he was in Springfield for a meeting of the Democratic Party of Illinois, which he chairs. That was July 15; two days later the U.S. Attorney’s Office made the bombshell announcement that ComEd agreed to pay a $200 million fine after admitting to partaking in a yearslong bribery scheme.
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