The cost of crossing Madigan

The cost of crossing Madigan

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s election to the speaker position in 16 of the last 17 legislative sessions is a testament to the loyalty he demands from his Democratic colleagues.

Perhaps the least suspenseful vote taken during each session of the Illinois General Assembly is the very first.

After the representatives are sworn in, the first order of business is to elect a speaker of the House of Representatives. And for 16 of the last 17 legislative sessions, that man has been Michael J. Madigan.

In fact, for 10 of those votes the outcome was so clearly written on the wall that Madigan was elected by acclamation. In the elections by acclamation, every member of the House – Republican as well as Democratic – is recorded as having voted for Madigan, with Madigan having recorded his vote for the Republicans’ speaker nominee to allow that member to be named minority leader.

What Madigan expects from every member of the Democratic caucus is simple: loyalty. He expects each member’s first vote to be for him, for the members to return him year after year to the speaker’s chair, and to keep him firmly ensconced as the most powerful man in Illinois. The 68 current members of the Democratic caucus in Springfield who have voted for Madigan for speaker have done so a combined 309 times over the course of their careers.

That’s loyalty. And, perhaps, fear.

What happens when someone has the temerity not to cast his first vote of the session for Madigan?

An example from the late 1980s is illustrative.

In 1987, the late state Rep. Richard Mautino, D-Spring Valley, voted “present” in the roll call for House speaker. Mautino and Madigan clashed frequently, with Mautino often “demanding a quid pro quo for state interests outside the Chicago area in exchange for support of legislation assisting Chicago,” according to the Chicago Tribune. These clashes led Mautino to withhold his vote for Madigan as speaker in 1987.

To be clear, Mautino didn’t vote for Madigan’s Republican opponent. He simply didn’t vote affirmatively for Madigan in a contest that Madigan won 66-51 over Republican leader Lee Daniels.

For this transgression, Mautino paid a steep price. He was stripped of his vice chairmanship of the House’s powerful Appropriations Committee. Mautino learned his lesson: He voted for Madigan for speaker in 1989. And Mautino’s renewed loyalty was rewarded when he was named chairman of the House Insurance Committee.

In light of the high price paid by Mautino for his open defiance of Madigan, it’s not hard to understand why no other sitting Democratic state representative has dared to withhold his or her vote for Madigan’s speakership in 29 years.

Madigan demands loyalty. And it’s loyalty that he gets.

Correction: A previous version of this post incorrectly stated that former state Rep. Helen Satterthwaite was subject to reprisal for challenging House Speaker Michael J. Madigan in a speech on the House floor in 1989.

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