Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s bombshell decision to not seek reelection sent shock waves through the state’s political world on Friday.
After serving 14 years as the state’s top prosecutor, Madigan announced she will seek a “new challenge,” though she declined to give specifics. Madigan’s name has frequently been floated as a potential contender in a number of political races, from governor to mayor of Chicago.
WBEZ political reporter Tony Arnold breaks down the surprise announcement and looks at what could be next for Madigan.
Why the announcement was a surprise
Tony Arnold: Madigan quietly said a few months ago that she was running for reelection. And the way that she did that was in line with her previous announcements. She hasn’t had a big to-do, a big rally with balloons and Katy Perry playing, saying, “I’m going to do it! I’m running again!” That’s how a lot of politicians might do it, but she didn’t do that. So she was behaving as if she was going to run for a fifth term.
She’s also been one of the most popular politicians to run for statewide office in Illinois. Last time she was on the ballot, she got 60 percent of the vote. The time before that, 65 percent, and those are incredibly safe numbers.
Will she run for office again?
Arnold: Practically speaking, it’s getting late for her to run for governor in the 2018 election, if she even wanted to do that. Some of the nine Democrats running next year have already had their campaigns going since January. Signature petitions to run in the election have to be collected right now — literally right now.
But you do have to wonder what the play is here, what the next move is. Madigan’s name has been mentioned for Chicago mayor in 2019, U.S. senator in 2020. Nobody says this, but maybe she just wants to go to private practice, I don’t know. Who knows?
But what I can say is Madigan has had political aspirations before. She considered running for governor in 2014. She was fundraising and she was already well known around the state. And then she gave this abrupt statement that she didn’t think people would be well served if she were governor and her father, Michael Madigan, continued to serve as house speaker. And her father made it clear he was not leaving his position, so she never ran for governor.
What to expect next
Arnold: You can expect people to start scrambling to be the next attorney general. This was a surprise to Democrats who’d be interested in having her job. It took maybe two hours before state Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) started telling reporters that he’s interested in running. But it’s a wide-open field on the Democratic side.
On the Republican side, Erika Harold was ready to run against Madigan. She’s the only declared candidate from the GOP. She’s a Harvard-educated attorney and former Miss America who previously lost a run for Congress.
But this announcement — that Lisa Madigan will not run for reelection — it changes a lot of dynamics. And Republicans are going to be looking at an open seat, wondering if they have a shot at this.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to hear the entire interview.