July 21, 2020

Illinois House Rules are the secret to Madigan's power


MEDIA CONTACT: Rachel Wittel (312) 607-4977

How to prevent another Madigan
Illinois House Rules are the secret to Madigan’s power

SPRINGFIELD (July 21, 2020) – State leaders have begun calling on the nation’s longest-serving House speaker to resign in the wake of his implication in a federal bribery case against Commonwealth Edison. But Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s ousting wouldn’t be the end of his position’s unprecedented power, and wouldn’t prevent someone else from building a powerful political machine once he’s gone.

In large part, Madigan’s power is granted by the Illinois House Rules: parliamentary rules that govern the House of Representatives’ legislative process. According to Illinois Policy Institute original analysis, no other state grants their House speaker as much power as Illinois, including the power to control exactly which bills become a law and even which lawmakers are allowed to vote in committees.

Institute research shows why reforming and dismantling the Illinois House Rules will be necessary to ensure Illinois taxpayers avoid the same corruption-inducing power should Madigan retire and be replaced.

Statehouse solutions include:

Stop letting one person appoint committee chairs and choose who votes in committee

  • The role of each House committee is to debate committee-specific bills and to vote on whether to send those bills to the House floor for consideration. Under the House Rules, the speaker appoints the majority of each committee’s members, including the chair. Each chair receives a stipend of $10,574, which can be used as a reward or taken away as punishment.
  • In addition, the speaker can appoint temporary replacements for any committee member who is “otherwise unavailable.” This means if a lawmaker does not want to be on the record for taking an unpopular vote, or if Madigan wants to ensure a particular result, the speaker can swap out members for those in safe seats who will not face voter backlash.
  • Michael McClain, a close confidant of Madigan’s and a former Exelon and ComEd lobbyist, wanted to gain unanimous support in 2014 for a resolution backed by Exelon. Emails obtained by WBEZ earlier this year show how prior to a vote on that resolution in the House Environment Committee, Madigan swapped out Democratic members who Exelon identified as hostile. The resolution passed 16-0, prompting McClain to write to a high-level Madigan staffer: “I love you.”
  • House legislative committee chairs in Illinois should be appointed by a majority vote of their caucus, and minority chairpersons should be appointed by a majority vote of their caucus. In Nebraska, the unicameral legislature appoints committee chairs by secret ballot on the chamber floor.

Stop killing bills in the Rules Committee 

  • The Rules Committee is the gatekeeper for moving bills into other committees and then onto the floor, and the House speaker appoints the chairperson for the committee and a majority of the members. Getting a bill out of the Rules Committee without approval is virtually impossible. It requires a motion supported by three-fifths of House Democrats and three-fifths of House Republicans, all of whom must be sponsors of the bill. Otherwise, discharge requires a unanimous vote of the House.
  • In other states, it is not this difficult for a bill to get a fair hearing. For example, in the Idaho House of Representatives, any member can get a bill out of committee unless that motion is opposed by a majority of the members.

Stop allowing the speaker to call bills at will by sticking to a schedule 

  • The House Speaker can decide when a bill will be called to vote on the floor and is not required to share this information with anyone else. This prevents lawmakers from knowing when they are needed to vote on a bill that affects their constituents. For example, on May 15, 2015, there were 244 bills scheduled on the calendar. The General Assembly chose 16 bills to act on that day, and only Madigan knew for sure which bills those would be, and in what order they would be called.

Not every state allows this sort of uncertainty. The Ohio Legislature and Virginia Legislature, for example, do not allow a bill to be taken up out of order without the approval of a majority of the caucus.

Austin Berg, author of “The New Chicago Way” and vice president of marketing at the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute, offered the following statement:

“Most Illinoisans have never cast a vote for Mike Madigan. He’s held the speaker’s gavel for 35 of the last 37 years. Illinois’ median age is 37 years old. No legislative leader in American history has held power for longer. A small district near Midway Airport sends him to Springfield every two years. Then House members make him speaker.

“Illinois needs real ethics reform now, and that starts with amending the rules that give the House speaker so much power. This is bigger than Blagojevich. And the Madigan-ComEd scandal shines a light on how the system really works – against the people – in Illinois politics.”

To read the full report, “To prevent political bribery in Illinois, change the House Rules,” and view the Institute’s full solution set, visit: illin.is/HouseRules.

For bookings or interviews, contact media@illinoispolicy.org or (312) 607-4977.