(The Center Square) – Michael Madigan’s decades-long tenure as Illinois Speaker of the House could end Wednesday, when state representatives begin meeting to nominate and then vote on their next leader.
Madigan's storied political career in Illinois won't end if he doesn't keep his hold on the gavel, but losing it could significantly diminish his power. Madigan has served as House Speaker for all but two years since 1983.
On Monday, Madigan suspended his campaign for speaker, but he didn't withdraw his nomination, leaving open the possibility that he could return to the contest if no other candidate is able to gather the 60 votes needed to secure the speakership.
“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,” Madigan said. “The House Democratic Caucus can work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes for Speaker.”
Other candidates for speaker is Democratic state Reps. Emanuel Chris Welch and Jay Hoffman. Welch said late Tuesday that he had enough votes to become the next speaker. State Reps. Ann Williams and Stephanie Kifowit withdrew from consideration Tuesday.
Republican leaders said they don't plan to support Democrats for speaker.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said state Rep. Chris Welch, D-Hillside, had lobbyists reach out for Republican support for Welch’s speaker bid. Durkin said Welch should be disqualified for blocking Madigan from testifying in a House investigation of the ComEd bribery scheme.
“To me, I consider Chris Welch an extension of Mike Madigan and we’ve got to break from the past,” Durkin said. “And trust me, Mike Madigan is going to do everything he can to pass the baton on to someone who’s going to continue the model of Madigan Inc.”
Welch and Durkin clashed through news conferences and letters over the House Special Investigating Committee that Welch chaired. Republicans wanted to subpoena Madigan. Welch and Democrats on the committee blocked that and ended the committee’s work without hearing any testimony other than what ComEd volunteered.
During a Sunday caucus vote for speaker behind closed doors, no one was able to get the 60 votes needed, said state Rep. LaShawn Ford, D-Chicago. In that vote, Madigan came out on top with 51 votes.
The race for speaker could be contentious. It could also take time if no candidate is able to secure 60 votes. Politics professor Kent Redfield said it could take multiple ballots before a speaker is chosen.
In addition to serving as Speaker of the House, Madigan also serves as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois. The dual roles give Madigan control over the party's political funds and control over what legislation is allowed to move through the state's lower chamber.
Madigan's reputation has taken a series of hits over the past several years. The most recent and serious was his implication in a nearly decade-long bribery and patronage scandal involving ComEd.
The utility company agreed to pay a $200 million fine after signing a deferred prosecution agreement with federal prosecutors last summer. In the agreement, ComEd admitted that officials with the company paid $1.3 million in jobs and contracts to Madigan associates in an effort to influence the speaker.
Madigan has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing.
Former ComEd official Fidel Marquez pleaded guilty to the bribery scheme. Madigan associate Michael McClain, along with two other former ComEd officials and another Madigan ally, pleaded not guilty to bribery charges.
Madigan declined to answer questions from the Illinois House Special Investigating Committee that was created to look into his conduct in the ComEd scandal. The committee ended its investigation in late 2020 after a tie vote along party lines.
Before the ComEd scandal, Madigan faced criticism for what some women described as a hostile work environment in Springfield. In 2019, the Illinois Legislative Inspector General found two Madigan employees harassed other employees and should never be allowed to work for the state again.
In June 2018, Madigan’s longtime Chief of Staff and Clerk of the House Tim Mapes was fired after House employee Sherri Garrett publicly accused him of bullying and repeated harassment over several years.
Just a few months earlier, in February 2018, Kevin Quinn, a longtime political operative of Madigan’s, was accused by campaign staffer Alaina Hampton of sexual harassment. He was later fired from both his political and state government jobs.
During Madigan's tenure as speaker, Illinois' fiscal position has deteriorated to among the worst in the nation. Illinois has the worst credit rating in the U.S. at just one notch above junk bond status, and the state's five public pension systems are the worst funded in the nation. That's despite Illinois taxpayers paying among the highest combined state and local taxes in the country.