Madigan poised to seize speakership yet again

Madigan poised to seize speakership yet again

After sweeping victories for Illinois Democrats in November, Mike Madigan is all but assured an 18th term as speaker of the House of Representatives when new members are sworn in Jan. 9. Madigan has already broken the record for longest-serving state legislative speaker in U.S. history.

No American has led a state House of Representatives longer than Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan. He has held the speakership for all but two years since 1983.

And the stage is set for Madigan to extend his 34-year reign when members of the General Assembly are sworn in Jan. 9.

One wrinkle in Madigan’s typically smooth re-election as speaker: For the first time in history, one incoming Illinois House Democrat has publicly declared her intention to reject Madigan in advance of the vote. State Rep.-elect Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, has repeatedly said she will not vote for the longtime speaker.

The rare sign of dissent highlights the ways in which Madigan has been able to accrue and cement power over Illinois’ legislative process.

The speaker vote

Voters in the tiny 22nd House District on Chicago’s Southwest Side send Madigan to Springfield. Fellow House members then elect him to the speakership.

Here’s how it works:

First, a temporary clerk of the House calls for nominations for speaker from House members, all of which require a second. Then, after nominations are done, House members take a roll call vote where they each voice the name of their preferred speaker. No debate is permitted before the vote.

The nominee who receives a majority vote – 60 votes or more – becomes speaker of the House for the following two years.

This means Stava-Murray’s call for a “nay” vote on Madigan could come in one of two forms. The first is to vote “present,” and the second is to cast her vote for another nominee. She could even cast a vote for herself should another House member second her nomination.

Madigan was first elected speaker of the House in 1983, following his controversial redrawing of Illinois’ legislative maps and a constitutional amendment that reduced the size of the House to 118 members from 177. House members have elected him speaker for all but two years since then.

Only two Illinois House Democrats have ever rejected Madigan as speaker.

The first was former state Rep. Richard Mautino, D-Spring Valley, who dared to cast a “present” vote for speaker in 1987. He was immediately deprived of a vice chairmanship on a House committee. Two years later he would vote for Madigan, who promptly made Mautino chairman of the House Insurance Committee.

It would be 30 years until another House Democrat refused to cast a speaker vote for Madigan.

In 2017, state Rep. Scott Drury, D-Highland Park, voted “present” for speaker. Drury will not be returning to the General Assembly in 2019, since he entered last year’s race for Illinois attorney general.

The power

Support for Madigan as House speaker despite his 21 percent job approval rating statewide highlights the power he has accumulated through the speakership, which has done nothing less than undermine democracy in Illinois.

No other state legislative body in the nation grants such extreme powers to the House speaker. Through the House rules, which like the speaker vote are passed into law by Illinois lawmakers, Madigan wields the power to:

  • Assign committee chair positions and the stipends that come with them
  • Control who votes in committees
  • Dictate when a bill will be called for a vote
  • Control what bills make it to a vote

Republican leadership expanded the power these rules granted legislative leaders in the 1990s, and Madigan has been more than happy to continue that trend in the two decades since Democrats took back control of the House.

The House will likely vote on its rules for the 101st General Assembly on Jan. 29.

But it’s not just the rules from which Madigan draws power. He is also the only legislative leader in the nation to head a state political party. As chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois, Madigan controls policy, politics and purse strings at the same time.

Stava-Murray will undoubtedly face consequences for her speaker vote.

But the scope of power one man wields in doling them out further highlights the reason for her stance.

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