Madigan nears title of longest-serving House speaker in U.S. history

Madigan nears title of longest-serving House speaker in U.S. history

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan told reporters he has “overwhelming support” to be re-elected to his longtime post come January. Another two-year term would bring his total tenure as speaker of the House to 34 years.

Mike Madigan is the longest-serving House speaker in Illinois history. He controls the legislative map, the legislative process and a property tax law firm that makes millions in Cook County.

But should House Democrats elect Madigan as speaker of the House for the 17th time in January 2017, he’ll be in the national record books as well: No one in modern American history will have held a Statehouse speakership for longer.

By the end of that two-year term, Madigan will have served as Illinois House Speaker for a total of 34 years.

South Carolina’s Solomon Blatt is the longest known House speaker in U.S. history, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. He served a total of 33 years in that position, from 1937 to 1946 and 1951 to 1973.

Tom Murphy of Georgia holds the record for the longest consecutive stretch as House speaker, serving from 1973 to 2002 in the Peach State.

It’s difficult to know whether any 18th or 19th century politicians bested those marks, but it’s improbable to say the least.

“We simply do not know for certain that there were not longer serving speakers in the 1700s and 1800s,” NCSL 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.”

Madigan is the most powerful politician in Illinois.

He is also the most disliked politician in Illinois – nearly two-thirds of voters disapprove of Madigan. And despite drawing the legislative map, he’s fresh off a loss of his supermajority in the House, losing four Democrat seats on net.

But the speaker seems confident in the vote he needs most to maintain an iron grip on Springfield.

“As you probably know I’ve been talking to the Democratic members of the House and I have overwhelming support to be re-elected as the speaker,” Madigan told reporters after a Nov. 28 legislative leaders meeting.

Perhaps his confidence is warranted. After all, there is not a single sitting House Democrat who has ever voted for someone other than Madigan for the speakership (setting aside the 1995 vote, when Republicans controlled the chamber.)

But some Democrat House members seem uncomfortable with their vote.

According to political columnist Rich Miller, state Reps. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, and Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, want to meet with Madigan to address their concerns before committing to vote for his re-election as House speaker.

State Rep.-elect Katie Stuart, D-Glen Carbon, gave an awkward answer when questioned about the first vote she will take as a state representative.

“I don’t know what the options will be,” Stuart told the Illinois News Network. “You’re asking me a hypothetical question just like I wouldn’t tell you how I would vote on any piece of legislation until I actually read the legislation.”

Of course, a Madigan speakership is far from hypothetical. For many Illinoisans it’s all too real.

The state’s dire straights could change what was once the easiest and most obvious vote for House Democrats – Madigan for speaker – into one of the most contentious of the upcoming legislative session.

It will be historic in more ways than one.

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