9 Democrats demand Madigan’s resignation as Illinois House speaker

9 Democrats demand Madigan’s resignation as Illinois House speaker

America’s longest-serving House speaker is facing mounting pressure from within his own party over corruption implications in the federal case against ComEd.

Nine Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly have asked for the immediate resignation of Michael Madigan as House speaker and as leader of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

After nearly four decades leading Illinois’ largest legislative body, Madigan faces more doubt than ever about his abilities to serve as speaker and party chairman. A federal prosecution agreement against electric utility Commonwealth Edison implicated Madigan in a $1.3 million bribery scheme. Further subpoenas showed federal investigators are interested in his relationships with other prominent politicians and corporations in Illinois.

Madigan has denied wrongdoing and refused to resign.

While Republican state lawmakers also called for Madigan’s resignation, the nine Democrats calling for it face retaliation through the party and the five Democratic House members face limits to their effectiveness thanks to Madigan’s tight grip on power. The Democrats wanting him out are:

Sen. Melinda Bush

The state senator from Grayslake was the first Democrat to call for Madigan’s resignation as speaker just hours after he was implicated in the charges filed against ComEd. Bush said Madigan’s involvement with ComEd’s bribery scheme is enough for him to resign from office.

“I would encourage the Speaker to take his own advice and resign not only his Speakership and his legislative seat, but step down as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, effective immediately,” Bush said in a statement.

Bush cited Madigan’s own words from last fall when former state Rep. Luis Arroyo was charged with bribery. At that time, Madigan “urged” Arroyo to resign immediately.

Sen. Iris Martinez

Martinez, of Chicago, serves as Assistant Majority Leader in the Illinois Senate and serves nationally as the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee’s Hispanic Caucus.

“It’s very clear in what you’re reading in the ComEd document,” Martinez said. “You know nothing happens in Springfield without the speaker signing off. You don’t have to read between the lines to see what is going on.”

This is not the first time Martinez has called for Madigan’s resignation. After it was revealed Madigan’s friend and close ally, Michael McClain, sought leniency for a state worker who kept quiet about a rape in Champaign, Martinez called on the speaker to resign for his involvement with McClain.

Sen. Heather Steans

The Chicago state senator called for Madigan to resign immediately, regardless of the outcome of the federal investigation.

“Some will argue that the Speaker is innocent until charges are filed and he’s proven guilty,” Steans said. “But those are not the standards that should apply to his leadership role. Serving as Speaker is not a right; it’s a privilege. A leader’s actions must avoid even the perception of wrongdoing. Speaker Madigan repeatedly has violated that trust.”

Steans noted the ComEd scandal “undermines public trust in government” and will be very costly for taxpayers. Because of this, she believes Madigan must resign as speaker for betraying the public’s trust.

Rep. Kelly Cassidy

Like Martinez, Cassidy has sparred with Madigan over his handling of sexual assault allegations in the Statehouse. Unlike Martinez, Cassidy is in Madigan’s chamber and directly faces repercussions from Madigan, who punishes dissent by taking away power in the House and campaign cash through the party. The ComEd scandal has further harmed the Chicago representative’s relationship with the speaker. Cassidy called for Madigan’s resignation after the ComEd case was made public on July 17.

“I cannot pretend that we have another minute to wait and see, or look the other way and hope for the best. The stakes are too high. Speaker Madigan must step down from his leadership roles, both in the House and in our party,” Cassidy said.

Rep. Terra Costa Howard

The first term House member from Lombard said Madigan’s implication in the ComEd scandal shows how he has failed to lead Illinois as speaker.

“The corruption and unethical behavior that have been revealed by this investigation make it impossible for Rep. Madigan to continue in his leadership roles,” Costa Howard said. “He must take action now to avoid inflicting further damage on the members of the House and the Democratic Party.”

Rep. Stephanie Kifowit

The representative from Oswego said she lost sleep wrestling in her mind with Madigan’s ability to lead following his implication in the ComEd scandal. She wrote a letter directly to Madigan explaining how she lost trust in him.

“The actions described in the U.S. Attorney’s Deferred Prosecution Agreement by ComEd show that you have compromised the integrity of the office of Speaker of the House and undermined the public trust,” wrote Kifowit. “In addition, your involvement as ‘Public Official A’ exposes a conflict of interest as we deliberate and evaluate how the legislative process has been manipulated.”

Rep. Lindsey LaPointe 

The Chicago representative said now is the time for Madigan to resign as speaker, regardless of how the ComEd implications play out.

“I’m not really interested in issuing a press release or making a big announcement, but yes, I think he should resign,” LaPointe told the Chicago Tribune.

Rep. Jonathon “Yoni” Pizer

Pizer is the first male Democrat in the General Assembly to call for Madigan’s resignation. Pizer was struck by Madigan’s inability to meet ethical standards in both this situation and previous instances of sexual harassment. He also hit back at some lawmakers who have called for Madigan’s resignation “only if” the allegations against him were proven true, which is the stance Gov. J.B. Pritzker took.

“Although I deeply believe in the bedrock Constitutional presumption of innocence, this is not a court of law, and we cannot wait for the courts to adjudicate and administer their verdict,” Pizer said. “As legislators, we don’t have to hold the Speaker to a criminal standard of proof or observe rules of evidence in order to demand a change in leadership.”

Pizer encouraged his colleagues to strengthen their calls for Madigan’s resignation and not be cowed by the political fallout they would face from Madigan and his staff.

Rep. Anna Stava-Murray

When the Naperville representative was sworn in, her relationship with her party’s boss was immediately off to a rocky start. Stava-Murray is proud she was the only Democrat in the House to vote against Madigan for speaker.

“While the Speaker seems to have perhaps limited days left in office, which I believe he should make more limited by resigning from both of his leadership positions, I would also like to take this moment to highlight that ethics should be prioritized by both sides of the aisle not just in word but also in deed,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

Reforms needed

Madigan’s reign has highlighted the desperate need for ethics reform. Madigan himself has changed the rules to make the General Assembly run at his will. To step out from his shadow, the House needs to reform those rules by:

  1. Not killing bills in the Rules Committee
  2. Not allowing one person to appoint committee chairs
  3. Not allowing one man to choose who votes in committee
  4. Stopping the use of shell bills to pass unread legislation
  5. Giving lawmakers a reliable schedule for voting on bills
  6. Placing term limits on House leadership

With these reforms, Illinois can rid itself of a speaker-dominated chamber and enjoy a better-functioning, more democratic legislative process. These reforms should happen even without Madigan’s resignation.

Additionally, Illinoisans on Nov. 3 have an opportunity to deny Madigan additional taxing power. The “fair tax” question on the Nov. 3 ballot would amend the Illinois Constitution and give state lawmakers greater power to decide who should pay state income taxes, such as retirees and the small businesses that fuel Illinois’ jobs growth.

Madigan’s abuse of patronage and cronyism shows why state lawmakers should not be entrusted with greater powers to say who should be taxed by how much. If the system is ruled through corruption, can it be trusted to honestly say it needs more taxes?

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