CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WMBD) — For weeks, many Illinois lawmakers have been calling for the resignation of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.
In mid-July, ComEd, the largest utility company in the state of Illinois, struck a deal with federal prosecutors to pay a fine of $200 million in order to avoid criminal charges in an elaborate bribery scheme involving secret payments to friends of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.
U.S. Attorney John Lausch, filing 38 pages worth of court documents against Speaker Madigan, who except for two years, has been Illinois House Speaker since 1983.
The court documents say ComEd agreed to disguise payments to Speaker Madigan’s political allies as legitimate salaries or through indirect payments as vendor subcontracts in exchange for laws and regulations that would benefit ComEd’s bottom line.
WMBD spoke with multiple Central Illinois lawmakers on both sides of the aisle on if they think it’s time for new leadership at the helm of Illinois government.
“I think the Speaker should resign. I don’t think there is further information that needs to be presented,” said State Rep. Ryan Spain (R-Peoria). “I think for the good of the State of Illinois, the good of the Illinois House of Representatives, we need new leadership. Obviously, the Democrats control the majority so there is a different Democratic legislator that could be elevated to Speaker.”
“I do think Speaker Madigan should resign, not only as Speaker of the House but also he should resign as the head of the Democratic party in Illinois,” said Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville).
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been dodging questions for weeks on whether he thinks Speaker Madigan should step down. He has yet to take a hard line on the issue.
“If these allegations are true, the Speaker is going to be required to resign in my view,” Pritzker told the media on July 29.
Davis responded to Pritzker’s comments saying the governor was being hypocritical.
“It just shows you how powerful Mike Madigan is to Illinois Democrats,” Davis said.
“Even a billionaire like J.B. Pritzker is worried about parsing his words. Gov. Pritzker didn’t have the same compassion for Sen. Marty Sandoval before he was proven corrupt. He wanted him to resign immediately. It’s hypocritical that the Governor doesn’t say the same to Speaker Madigan. But remember, Gov. Pritzker is involved in this investigation too let’s not forget that.”
Davis along with Rep. Darin LaHood (IL-18), John Shimkus (IL-15), Adam Kinzinger (IL-16), and Mike Bost (IL-12) released the following joint statement regarding the investigation.
Illinoisans are sadly no strangers to corruption in our state’s politics, but simultaneous federal criminal investigations into both the Speaker of the House and the Governor are truly unprecedented. Today’s developments in the ongoing bribery investigation against Speaker Madigan and the property tax fraud investigation against Governor Pritzker are disturbing. We fully support U.S. Attorney John Lausch and other federal officials in their important work to bring those who violate the public’s trust to justice. The people of Illinois deserve better than Illinois Democrats’ embarrassing, systemic corruption.
State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) said while some Democrats have spoken out against Speaker Madigan, many more will have to speak out for anything to get done.
“I think you see from Democrats an unwillingness to stand up to someone who today is the Speaker of the House, he’s also the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party,” Barickman said.
“So no, I think Democrats have been overly quiet on this. Even the Governor’s position. He kind of couches in this notion of ‘if it’s true, then something must occur.’ Well, my question would be, how do you prove what’s true? Is the governor going to take a wait and see approach while this thing plays out in federal court over possibly several years? I think all of us that serve in public office are expected to be held to a higher standard. It’s not just about whether you broke a federal law or state law for that matter, the public entrusts us, they expect us to act ethically and accountable for our actions. I think it’s ridiculous what you’ve seen out of the government’s filing of what’s happening in our State Capitol and with the Office of the Speaker right now.”
State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) told WMBD he donated all money he received from ComEd to the Center for Prevention of Abuse.
“If there’s guilt by anybody, I don’t want to be associated with them,” Koehler said.
Koehler said while ComEd has admitted guilt, Madigan has not.
“There have been no other indictments, so I think we just have to let it take its process,” Koehler said.
Speaker Madigan released the following statement saying he has no plans to resign.
“I understand that the last couple weeks have been difficult for our caucus and party, and I have had many candid conversations with members of the Democratic caucus on this matter. The feedback is positive and demonstrates continued support for me and my leadership roles.”Mike Madigan | Illinois Speaker of the House
Court documents sent to WMBD from U.S. Attorney John Lausch’s office claimed the corruption in relation to the bribery scheme could have gone all the way back to 2011.
Democratic lawmakers have also been calling for Speaker Madigan’s resignation. Those calls have mostly come from women in the Illinois House and Senate.
“It’s very clear in what you’re reading in the ComEd document,” said State Sen. Iris Martinez (D-Chicago), the DNC’s Hispanic Caucus chairwoman and a state party committeewoman for 26 years. “You know nothing happens in Springfield without the speaker signing off. You don’t have to read between the lines to see what is going on.”
Other Illinois lawmakers joining Martinez in July in wanting Speaker Madigan to step down are Rep. Stephanie Kifowit (D-Oswego) and Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago). Before that, Sen. Melinda Bush (D-Grayslake) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) also joined the call according to the Associated Press.
Women have put the most intense pressure on Madigan in the past three years as he has faced a series of incidents involving charges of sexual harassment, intimidation and more by his staff and House members and the revelation last winter by WBEZ of an email by Madigan confidante Michael McClain seeking leniency from the governor for a state worker who had, among other things, kept quiet about an alleged rape. Martinez urged him to resign after the email’s disclosure, from the Associated Press.
“Women have been bullied over there for a long time,” Martinez said. “As women, we have to fight harder while the men take care of the men.”
Barickman said this investigation shows the need for term limits for Speakers of the House.
“Competitive election results in accountable elected officials,” Barickman said. “I’ve long been a proponent of the Fair Map Proposal. The proposal that would allow for independent drawing of the legislative districts. That process is about to begin next year. We’re long overdue for adoption a Fair map proposal. I think it’s an area the Governor could lead, quite frankly.”
Koehler agrees there should be term limits, saying the Senate has already voted to limit the terms of the Senate President and Minority Leader to 10 years.
“That’s only a Senate rule, so that doesn’t pertain to the House,” Koehler said. “I’m also a co-signer on a bill that would put a constitutional amendment on the ballot for all the citizens of Illinois to say we should have term limits for the four leaders that represent the two chambers. There’s a lot of power that’s consolidated in those offices, let’s make sure we keep a new flow of leadership in them.”
Koehler said something the state needs is major ethics reform.
“I think we would’ve passed something this past spring had we not had the pandemic and had a shortened session,” Koehler said. “I know the committees are working to see if they can’t put together some real substance of a good ethics bill and hopefully we can get this done in November when we come back for veto session.”
Koehler said he would be in favor of calling for a special session if they have something of substance to vote on.
Spain said another issue that has been avoided for years has been Fair Map Redistricting.
“The Speaker has been the primary opponent to Fair Map Redistricting Reform for the last 10 years,” Spain said.
“Because he controls the legislative calendar, he has been able to ensure that the General Assembly could not take action on making amendments to the State constitution in time for the next legislative remapping process. There are other things that are just good government initiatives that run contrary to his holding of power that have been equally treated with disregard and inappropriate activities. One of the things I would most look forward to in changing our government is a real engagement on important issues that the Speaker has unilaterally blocked for decades. That could be high property taxes, pension challenges, a need for independent redistricting reform. All of these things are items that Mike Madigan have not allowed to see the light of day through his conduct as leader of the House.”
Now after 37 years, Spain said it’s time for a new Speaker of the House, but he said with Speaker Madigan’s current power, it won’t be easy.
“Looking at the activities of ComEd. If you go back 15 years ago, they would acknowledge their bitter rival in state government was Mike Madigan. Blocked at every turn for different initiatives of theirs,” Spain said. “Then all of a sudden, things changed. The statement of facts and findings from the U.S. State’s Attorney’s Office spells it out very clearly. Exactly what changed. It’s not hard to draw conclusions. We haven’t seen the last of this story, but maybe we’ve seen the last of Speaker Mike Madigan.”
Spain, Davis, and Barickman all said the Speaker has had too much power for too long.
“The average lifespan for a legislator in the Illinois State government is relatively short, four-to-six years on average, but again, the anomaly is Speaker Madigan,” Spain said. “Not just serving in the legislature for 50 years, but serving almost 38 years as Speaker of the House. That’s an awful lot of power for one person and has not been applied for the State of Illinois.”
“He has, over the years, consolidated so much power in the Illinois General Assembly, it’s given this corrupt behavior,” Davis said. “At the same time, this guy has been in charge in the House of Representatives since 1983. I was 13 at the time, I’m 50 now. It’s time for a change. Corruption shouldn’t be a partisan issue.”
“Speaker Madigan has been in office for decades, longer than I’ve been alive,” Barickman said.
“We know the best mechanism to hold public officials accountable is through elections. Speaker Madigan, to my knowledge, has never been challenged politically. He’s amassed more power than possibly anyone in the country in this type of position. We know that absolute power corrupts. We’re seeing that in the statements from the United States Attorney’s Office. The U.S. state’s attorney called this a ‘decade long corruption scheme.’ All fingers point to Speaker Madigan as being at the center of this corruption investigation. The question to my colleagues and to Gov. Pritzker is what are you willing to do about it?”
Spain told WMBD he hopes someone else can step up soon and take the reigns of House Speaker.
“Any person that enters into this job is going to have a different philosophy, I hope and I assume, is going to have a better willingness to engage in collaboration,” Spain said.
Davis told WMBD he hopes Illinois voters look at who is funding Illinois Democrats.
“It’s Mike Madigan. It’s the same corruption,” Davis said.
Davis continued saying if Republicans could gain a majority, he’d want to see State Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Springfield) step up as Speaker of the House.
Speaker Madigan is up for re-election this November. If elected again, it is possible he will be in place as House Speaker for at least two more years.
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