Madigan re-elected to 18th term as Illinois House Speaker

Madigan re-elected to 18th term as Illinois House Speaker

The longtime speaker has held the gavel for 34 of the past 36 years, and maintains procedural powers unheard of in other states.

When Mike Madigan first became speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives in 1983, Illinois was among a handful of states that enjoyed a AAA credit rating. In 2013, Illinois was declared the least creditworthy state in the nation. Now the state is just one notch above junk status.

Many things have changed in state government during the past 36 years. Madigan has held constant. That will continue, as House members Jan. 9 re-elected the speaker on a 72-44 vote, following the inauguration of the 101st General Assembly. State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, will retain his role as House minority leader.

There was a wrinkle.

One House member, state Rep. Anne Stava-Murray, D-Naperville, voted “present.” It was the first time in Madigan’s more than three decades as speaker that a freshman Democrat refused to cast this vote for him. Stava-Murray has been a vocal critic of the speaker’s handling of sexual harassment allegations in his party organization and his treatment of the #MeToo movement generally.

Her lone voice of dissent casts into relief the overwhelming, unique power Madigan wields as speaker and as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

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.

Through the House rules, which, like the speakership, are voted on 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

No other state legislative body in the nation grants such broad powers to its House speaker. 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 simultaneously controls policy, politics and purse strings.

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

The fact that her stance is so costly is exactly why the House rules vote – granting one man extraordinary power – is so important.

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