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Our View

OUR VIEW: Mr. Speaker, it's the end of the road

Mike Madigan has two choices, but only one is correct.

Last week, federal prosecutors discussed an investigation in which Commonwealth Edison agreed to pay $200 million in fines connected with accusations of insider dealings like trading profitable legislation for cushy jobs handed out as favors to connected politicians.

Court filings referenced Public Official A, once a moniker for disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, but now an alias for House Speaker Madigan, who has controlled both the General Assembly and state Democratic Party for decades.

No other state legislative leader has as much power to control what comes up for votes. Only 21,619 22nd House District residents voted for Madigan when he ran unopposed in 2018, but the House colleagues he helped win election faithfully installed him as speaker, entrenching his outsized influence over all 12 million Illinoisans.

Factor that loyalty with the privilege of drafting partisan political maps every 10 years in order to further embed power, shielding his foot soldiers from voters’ wrath and controlling campaign purse strings, and it’s become painfully clear just how much influence Madigan wields across the political spectrum.

So he has two choices at the moment: Ride it out, insist he is blameless and cooperating with investigators while hoping everything just blows over, or read the writing on the wall, put down the gavel and walk away.

Opting for the former would irreparably damage everything Madigan’s built since the 1970s. 

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has already poured tens of millions of dollars into the effort to convince voters to amend the state constitution and enact a graduated income tax. The feds also are asking questions about Pritzker’s property tax history, and while that issue hasn’t dragged him below the surface, Republicans are smartly tying the speaker’s scandal around the governor’s neck.

A carefully constructed House majority could feasibly fall if every Democratic candidate is forced to campaign with money flowing through Madigan’s organization and be forced to admit they have no choice but to endorse his next term as speaker.

That House majority includes first-timers elected in 2018’s blue wave, and the same can be said for members of Congress like Sean Casten and Lauren Underwood, who turned red districts purple enough for one trip to Capitol Hill but are not guaranteed return tickets in November.

Madigan should pack up and leave the General Assembly. He should cede control of the state party and its fundraising. This alone would not be enough to remove the stain of his dominance — Madigan has been speaker for 35 of the last 37 years, effectively stifling any dissent from within his ranks such that there is no Democrat serving in Springfield who doesn’t reliably adhere to the speaker’s agenda — but it’s the only plausible political move.

What’s more, the few Democrats who have issued statements for Madigan to step down, but conditioned those remarks on further investigative developments, should refine their message. They need to pressure Madigan to vacate with expedience and then turn their focus to the legislative ethics commission he barely tolerates, otherwise they’ll cede any moral high ground. 

Republicans have rightly demanded serious attention for these reforms, so now is the time for an actual bipartisan effort that boldly moves the state forward. Such an effort is wholly impractical if Mike Madigan is any way involved. 

Mr. Speaker, you’ve reached the end of the road. Every day you remain in defiance further taints whatever legacy you think you’ve built. If Democrats won’t lead on this issue, they’ll have made it clear they prefer the power of one man over the best interests of the entire state. Many voters have already decided that’s the reality, this is the last chance to convince anyone of the alternative.

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