‘Circus’ of picking next Illinois House speaker could compound state’s problems


Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan says he has the votes to continue to be speaker. Other Democrats project he doesn’t. It’s setting up what could make for what a political observer called a “circus.”

“The decision on the next speaker of the Illinois House will be made at a caucus, after a full discussion of the issues facing our state and the qualifications of the candidates,” Madigan, D-Chicago, said in a statement late Friday. “I plan to be a candidate for speaker, and today I confirmed that I continue to have support from a significant number of House Democratic caucus members.”

He did not say that he has a majority support.

Madigan has not been charged in the ComEd bribery scheme and maintains he’s done nothing wrong. That hasn’t kept even more Democrats announcing they won’t support the speaker.

Utility ComEd has admitted it paid $1.3 million over nine years in bribes to Madigan associates in an effort to influence the speaker. Five people, including three former ComEd officials, have been charged in the scheme. One pleaded guilty in September. Two were charged late Wednesday, as were two others, including close Madigan associate Michael McClain.

Since then, enough House Democrats have come out publicly to say they won’t support Madigan for another term as speaker, a role he’s held for all but two years since 1983.

Longtime Illinois politics professor and observer Kent Refield noted two instances over the past 50 years, before Madigan was speaker, where balloting for leadership in the General Assembly took dozens of rounds.

“If the stakes were not so high and we were not in so much trouble fiscally, and in terms of our public health, this would be a great circus to watch,” Redfield said. “But there are real problems that need to be addressed and this is shaping up to be a real diversion that the governor would like off the table yesterday.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday it’s up to Democrats who will be speaker, but stopped short of calling a special session for such action.

“Look, the legislators themselves know what they need to consider,” Pritzker said. “They’re the ones who ultimately are going to decide whether the speaker is going to continue.”

Redfield said with Madigan projected to have lost enough support, dooming his chance to win another historic term, there could be some collaboration to get to 60 votes.

“There certainly is precedent for some minority party members crossing over to elect a speaker of the House,” Redfield said. “It’s just one more fascinating turn in a year that’s been beyond crazy.”

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, doesn’t expect any such horsetrading.

“This is a problem with the Democrats,” Durkin said. “We are in the minority. They’re the ones that have to make a decision, put on their big boy and big girl pants and do something that’s right for the state of Illinois.”

Durkin and Republicans demanded a new speaker be chosen immediately.

Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, canceled fall session. They’re not back until just before the new Legislature is seated in January. The governor could call them back, but he has not indicated he will.

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