Madigan suspends campaign for House speaker

Madigan suspends campaign for House speaker

The most powerful speaker in American history may finally be stepping aside amid a wide-ranging federal corruption probe.

Thirty-eight years after he was first sworn in as speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives, the Michael Madigan era of Illinois politics may soon be coming to an end.

The speaker announced a suspension of his campaign for House speaker Jan. 11.

That followed an internal caucus vote on Jan. 10 in which Madigan came up nine votes short of the 60 required to become House speaker, but still enjoyed the support of the majority of House Democrats.

“This is not a withdrawal,” Madigan clarified in a statement. “I have suspended my campaign for Speaker.”

“As I have said many times in the past, I have always put the best interest of the House Democratic Caucus and our members first. The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker.”

The floor vote for speaker will not take place until immediately after the 102nd General Assembly is sworn in on Jan. 13.

Madigan is the target of a wide-ranging federal corruption investigation, which has resulted in four indictments and Commonwealth Edison agreeing to pay a $200 million fine for a yearslong scheme to curry favor with the speaker through $1.3 million in no-work contracts and patronage jobs for Madigan’s closest allies.

Madigan has denied wrongdoing, and said he considers helping constituents find jobs to be part of his public service.

Madigan is the longest-serving speaker in American history, and has consolidated unprecedented power through parliamentary rules, control of the Illinois Democratic Party purse strings and preventing good-government reforms, such as independently drawn political maps. Since he became speaker in 1983, Illinois’ credit rating has fallen from the highest possible score to the worst in the nation – driven primarily by unsustainable pension promises made to his allies in government worker unions.

What comes next is likely to be a contentious battle for power in Madigan’s wake. Yet regardless of who is the next speaker, little is likely to change unless the House reforms the practices that concentrated so much power in Madigan’s hands.

Illinois should revamp the legislative redistricting process, taking it out of the hands of lawmakers, strengthen ethics rules to mandate transparency and hold lawmakers accountable for their conflicts of interest, and free the legislative inspector general to investigate and publicize wrongdoing without hindrance from lawmakers.

The most time-sensitive issue, though, is to reform the House Rules. The House Rules vote will follow soon after the House speaker vote, which is expected Jan. 13. Specifically, representatives should change the rules to:

  • Stop killing bills in the Rules Committee
  • Stop letting one person appoint committee chairs
  • Stop letting one person choose who votes in committee
  • Put an end to shell bills as a way to rush major legislation
  • Stop letting one person decide when to call bills for a vote
  • Put term limits on the House leadership

Replacing Madigan will not stop one-person, corrupt rule in Illinois unless the system is changed to make sure those elected to pursue the people’s will in Springfield have a chance to be heard.

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