Illinois House speaker 'suspends' campaign for retention

JOHN O'CONNOR
·4-min read

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said Monday he would suspend his campaign for a 19th term in the leadership post amid fading support from fellow Democrats, largely because of a federal bribery investigation that's implicated him.

Madigan, the longest-serving leader of a legislative body in U.S. history, has thus far been unable to get a majority of votes from his caucus to remain speaker, but the statement he issued began: “This is not a withdrawal.”

By suspending his campaign and not withdrawing, Madigan magnanimously steps aside to allow a successor to step up. But if no one else can collect enough support, he remains in the wings and could become the unlikely compromise choice.

His statement urged House Democrats to “work to find someone, other than me, to get 60 votes 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,” Madigan said.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, a Republican from Western Springs, accused Madigan of spinning “misdirection and uncertainty” on the eve of a new General Assembly. Madigan’s move, Durkin said, “is typical of his style and appears to be another ploy or a head fake.”

“For the sake of the institution, his caucus must demand that he be direct and honest about his intentions: In or out,” Durkin said.

Last summer, Madigan was identified in a Justice Department investigation as the beneficiary of a yearslong bribery venture involving ComEd. It has thus far yielded a $200 million fine on the utility giant, a ComEd executive’s guilty plea and indictments of four others, including Madigan’s closest confidante. Madigan has not been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing.

Since the investigation was revealed, 19 House Democrats since have said they would not support the speaker’s retention. In a first private caucus vote Sunday, Madigan fell markedly short of the 60 votes he needed, but still far outdistanced rivals.

The other candidates for speaker, Rep. Ann Williams of Chicago and Stephanie Kifowit of the Chicago suburb of Oswego, did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday.

Madigan, a 78-year-old Chicago Democrat, this week marks the 50th anniversary of his first inauguration to the House. He was elected speaker in 1983 and has won subsequent two-year terms since, with the exception of 1995, when Republican seized control of the chamber, but relinquished it again to Madigan in 1997.

Madigan became longest-serving speaker of any state or federal legislative body on Aug. 5, 2017, topping topped South Carolina Speaker Solomon Blatt’s record of 11,893 days.

For much of the past three decades, he also has had an iron grip on Illinois Democrats, having become state party chairman nearly a quarter-century ago. His longevity as speaker correlates closely with that role.

“Maybe he’s been there too long, but the truth of the matter is Illinois would not be as Democratic as it is now without Madigan,” said Aaron Jaffe, a retired Cook County judge who entered the House with Madigan in 1971 and served 16 years. “His genius is in getting people elected.”

Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said since July that Madigan must publicly answer questions about the scandal or resign. Pritzker also blamed Madigan’s trouble for Democrats' election setbacks in November and demanded he resign as party chairman, as did the state's two Democratic U.S. senators.

But Pritzker has been hands off on the speaker's election, telling reports during Monday coronavirus briefing: "I will work with whoever the members of the House of Representatives elect as their speaker."

Madigan has weathered scandals before, including at Chicago's Metra transit agency. That 2013 scandal involved questions about Madigan's ability to provide government jobs and secure raises for political loyalists, although it found no violation state ethics or related laws.

He began to lose popularity after a series of revelations beginning with the resurgence of the #MeToo movement in 2017 . He was criticized for his management of incidents of sexual harassment by lawmakers and staffers and a scathing report that his chief of staff of 25 years maintained an office atmosphere that tolerated bullying and intimidation.

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Associated Press writer Sophia Tareen contributed from Chicago.