For 50 years, Illinois’ 22nd state House district on Chicago’s Southwest Side was represented by one man: former Speaker Michael Madigan.
Two months into 2021, the district has had three representatives in the span of a week.
Madigan was sworn in for a 25th term in January but resigned Feb. 18. 26-year old Edward Guerra Kodatt on Sunday was appointed to fill the remainder of Madigan’s term but resigned at Madigan’s urging after unspecified “questionable conduct” came to light (conduct which meant Kodatt also lost his job with the 13th Ward). And on Thursday, Angelica “Angie” Guerrero-Cuellar was sworn in.
She was the runner-up when local Democratic party leaders voted over the weekend.
Guerrero-Cuellar, the first Latina to represent the heavily Latino/Hispanic district, said she will resign from her job with Envision community services.
The 39-year-old longtime Southwest Side resident is married to a Chicago police officer who used to be undocumented, and they have two daughters; her parents were also immigrants – a background she said makes her representative of the community.
“My mom made a decision many years ago to come to this country, not knowing what would be her future and her determination and her will and her success, I mean, I had her stand next to me when I took that oath because this position, it’s not about me, it’s about her and the choices that she made and my dad made,” she said, with heavy emotion in her voice.
The often taciturn Madigan told reporters Kodatt had been vetted, but that new information came to light after the weekend when Madigan used his weighted vote to first elevate him to the job. He said he wants to move on.
Madigan likewise brushed off questions about criticism from other top Democrats, who’d wanted him to step down from party leadership after he was implicated in a Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal.
“I’m not going there,” he said. “Because I don’t want to.”
While members of Madigan’s inner circle are fighting federal charges related to the scheme, Madigan has not been indicted, and he has denied any knowledge of the scheme, saying he has done nothing improper.
Still, the scandal ultimately led Madigan in January to lose his bid for another turn as House speaker, setting in motion the chain of rapid turnover in his district.
On Sunday, Madigan noted what his new state representative will be up against.
“There are severe problems facing the state of Illinois and the government of the state of Illinois. COVID is just one of them,” he said. Lawmakers will have their “hands full” during the next legislative session as they “attempt to grapple with the financial problems of the state, which are severe.”
They may be made more so by the shuffling for his former seat.
Under Illinois law, the comptroller is obligated to pay a lawmakers by the month, regardless of whether they served and worked for that whole time.
Which means that taxpayers could be on the hook for paying three, $5,788.66 legislative salaries this month to 22nd district state representatives: to Madigan, Kodatt and Guerrero-Cuellar.
“And that’s why this is so infuriating. The fact of the matter is I don’t have a say in not paying it because under current state law the comptroller is required to issue a full month’s salary to any legislator, whether they served one hour or the full 30 or 31 days of the month, right. It’s outrageous,” Comptroller Susana Mendoza said.
Mendoza said legislators previously were paid up front for the year, and it was considered a reform in 1976 when the law changed so salaries were dispersed monthly.
But she said it became apparent to her that it’s a loophole after legislators like former state Rep. Luis Arroyo and former state Sen. Martin Sandoval held onto their seats before resigning in disgrace, allowing them to “exploit” the system by getting paid.
The potential issue with the 22nd district is a “trifecta of abuse” she said. That could mean “taxpayers will be on the hook for paying three full legislative salaries for one month because of this scenario of three legislator’s at the same time having served in the month of February. It’s totally obscene. It needs to end.”
Mendoza has formally requested that Kodatt not submit the paperwork to receive a paycheck that she said he is legally, but not ethically, entitled to.
She said she is requesting Guerrero-Cuellar to likewise “set the example here for the people of the 22nd district and for taxpayers across the state who feel abused, literally, unfortunately by government officials that are supposed to be helping them.”
“I’m excited to see a Latina join the General Assembly, but I would certainly be more excited if she were to join us in this cause to end the exit bonus, and start by not accepting 30 days’ worth of pay for a day-and-a-half of service,” Mendoza said.
Mendoza is publicly and privately inviting Guerrero-Cuellar to sign on as a co-sponsor of legislation (SB484 and HB3104) that would instead pro-rate legislative pay.
Guerrero-Cuellar answered questions from reporters just after her swearing-in on Thursday, but was not asked about this.
WTTW-News reached out to her Thursday afternoon, but the brand-new lawmaker did not immediately respond.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky