News & Politics

Long-Serving Illinois Democratic House Leader Madigan Withdraws From Race for Speaker

Long-Serving Illinois Democratic House Leader Madigan Withdraws From Race for Speaker
(Justin L. Fowler /The State Journal-Register via AP)

When state Rep. Michael Madigan first became speaker of the Illinois House, the internet and cell phones were in their infancy, Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” was one of the most popular hits, and the Washington Redskins — er, I mean, the NFL football team in Washington — won the Super Bowl.

Except for a brief two-year period in the 1990s when Republicans controlled the House, Madigan has held the speakership almost like a birthright. He has wielded enormous power, making or breaking political careers and controlling several Democratic congressmen in Washington.

Madigan represents the last gasp of machine politics in the state. He wields power like a Middle Eastern potentate, dispensing favors and justice from his small office in the state capitol building while overseeing his vast empire that has entwined businesses, politicians, and criminals into one messy whole. The rules are simple; obey and prosper. Refuse to give fealty and you don’t.

But last year, Madigan became embroiled in a scandal that threatened his hold on power. The electric company giant ComEd has been accused of providing money and no-show jobs to Madigan associates to curry favor with the speaker for legislation. Madigan must be puzzled over the controversy. It’s how he’s conducted business for 37 years. It’s how things work in the state — downstate, upstate, Chicago, and elsewhere. Illinois is wired from top to bottom, end to end, so that people like Madigan can plug in anywhere and make the taxpayers work for them and their cronies.

But the people in Illinois have grown weary of the licentiousness of politicians. And Democrats in the House are listening. Madigan has been unable to secure the 60 votes necessary to become speaker again. He announced yesterday that he was “suspending” his candidacy for the job.


He released a statement saying that, “This is not a withdrawal. 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.”

“It’s a stunning turn of events,” said ABC7 Political Analyst Laura Washington. “Mike Madigan on the surface would appear to be giving up and that’s not Mike Madigan.”

It comes after an informal vote on Sunday where Madigan garnered the backing of 51 Democrats for Speaker, but he needs 60.

Could this be the end for Michael Madigan? Don’t bet on it. Madigan is banking on the House Democratic caucus being unable to agree on another choice and then turning to him for salvation. I’m sure that plays out very well in the speaker’s mind, but is it realistic?

Democrats in Illinois are torn between their loyalty for Madigan and the hard-nosed political calculation of having a tainted leader of their party in power. The investigation into the ghost-job scandal isn’t over and Madigan could still be fingered by one of the defendants. No doubt his name will be mentioned during the trial of the four ComEd executives accused of bribery.

But realistically, there’s not one Democrat in the House who has the stature to win the 60 votes necessary for the speakership. That’s why Madigan is likely to return to his old job, although no doubt chastened by events.