Madigan breaks record as longest-serving House speaker in modern history

Austin Berg

Director of Content Strategy

Austin Berg
August 8, 2017

Madigan breaks record as longest-serving House speaker in modern history

The speaker’s prowess for political longevity is unmatched in modern America.

In his 17th term heading the Illinois House of Representatives, House Speaker Mike Madigan has broken the record as the longest-serving House speaker in modern U.S. history.

Madigan has now controlled his chamber as speaker for 11,900 days, surpassing South Carolina lawmaker Solomon Blatt. Blatt was speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives for roughly 11,894 days.

It’s difficult to know whether any 18th or 19th century politicians bested those marks, but it’s highly implausible.

“We simply do not know for certain that there were not longer serving speakers in the 1700s and 1800s,” National Conference of State Legislatures researcher Tim Storey told the Washington Times in 2014. “It is very unlikely that there were, because legislators and leaders did not generally serve nearly as long then as they do today.”

Iron Mike

Madigan doesn’t just wear the longevity crown, he’s also the most powerful House speaker in the nation. No other state grants its House speaker so much control over the legislative process. In fact, it is with that power through which Madigan has muzzled debate on issues such as term limits.

In addition to his speakership, Madigan’s also been the state Democratic Party chairman since 1998. He’s the only House speaker in the nation who also serves as a state party chair, according to the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform.

Every two years since 1970, a relatively small group of voters on Chicago’s Southwest side have elected Madigan to the House. His fellow House members in Springfield then elect their speaker. They chose Madigan for the first time in 1983 after he drew an unprecedented legislative map heavily favoring Democrats, and have continued to choose Madigan all but once since then, when Republicans briefly held a House majority.

Not a single sitting House Democrat has ever voted for someone other than Madigan for the speakership (setting aside the 1995 vote, when Republicans controlled the chamber.)

In January, state lawmakers faced heavy scrutiny during the typically routine vote for the speakership. Democratic state Rep. Scott Drury of Highwood voted “present,” the first time a House Democrat had cast such a vote for the speaker in 30 years.

Since Madigan first gripped the speaker’s gavel in 1983, the U.S. House of Representatives has had eight speakers.

Setting the record

Despite drawing the state’s legislative map, Madigan last year lost his supermajority in the House, dropping four Democratic seats.

But if Madigan simply retains his majority following the 2018 elections, it’s very likely he will retain the speakership as well. The speaker’s daughter, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, announced in May she will seek re-election to a fifth term in 2018. This would extend her record as the longest-serving attorney general in Illinois history.

The prevailing political wisdom in Springfield is that Lisa Madigan will not run for governor as long as her father stays in his position of outsized power.

Her re-election announcement may signal the elder Madigan does not plan to leave office anytime soon.

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