Madigan’s reign ends as longest-serving legislative leader in U.S. history
Illinoisans watched the politically impossible become the politically inevitable.
Exactly 50 years after first taking his seat in the Illinois House of Representatives, today marked the end of the longest reign of any legislative leader in American history.
Mike Madigan was denied a 19th term as House speaker. He has held that post for 36 of the past 38 years.
Long thought to be politically untouchable, Madigan was reportedly cleaning out his office yesterday evening. As recently as 2009, he had a neutral approval rating. Nearly 1 in 5 Illinois voters weren’t even sure who he was or had no opinion. And since 1983, a total of three Democratic House members had ever voted against Madigan for speaker.
State Rep. Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, will now serve as the 70th speaker.
How did it come to this?
Madigan gave a hint in a statement released after four of his allies were indicted in November as part of a federal investigation into Commonwealth Edison’s yearslong scheme to bribe the speaker.
“Some individuals have spent millions of dollars and worked diligently to establish a false narrative that I am corrupt and unethical,” he said.
The narrative surrounding Madigan’s handling of Illinois’ twin crises – ethics and debt – reflected reality. Federal agents certainly took it seriously.
Illinois Policy’s 2016 documentary, “Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics.” revealed for the first time on screen the full picture of how Madigan’s policy priorities were designed to give him unmatched influence over patronage jobs, property tax appeals, gerrymandered maps, political purse strings and the state’s finances. Millions have since viewed parts or all of the film.
By 2016, Madigan’s net approval rating had plummeted to -37. Further polling in 2019 showed a stunning 71% of voters statewide disapproved of the speaker.
Of course, Illinois will not change overnight due to Madigan’s ouster.
Without structural reforms he long worked to prevent, the state will continue down a path of higher taxes, worsening social services and outmigration. For example, due to unsustainable pension promises, Madigan oversaw the long slide of Illinois from one of the most credit-worthy states in the nation to the least – teetering on the edge of “junk” status.
This momentous day in Illinois state politics should not be just about a new face. It should be about a new way of doing the people’s business.
Commonsense ethics reforms, bringing democracy to the Illinois House through rules reform, and passing pension reform that protects Illinoisans reliant on social services, workers’ retirement security and taxpayers’ pocketbooks all remain as critical today as they were yesterday – no matter who is speaker.
But make no mistake: Madigan’s removal from power was a necessary first step to transforming Illinois into a beacon of prosperity that shines across the Midwest.
And it serves as a powerful reminder to Illinoisans that the state lies in the hands of voters making informed decisions about their future – not a permanent and unaccountable ruling class.
“Power is like beauty,” Madigan once said.
“Much of it is in the eye of the beholder.”