Democrats Opposed To House Speaker Michael Madigan Say They Aren’t Budging

Michael Madigan
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan faces opposition for re-election to the speaker position from 19 Democrats. WBEZ
Michael Madigan
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan faces opposition for re-election to the speaker position from 19 Democrats. WBEZ

Democrats Opposed To House Speaker Michael Madigan Say They Aren’t Budging

Writing collectively for the first time, 19 Democratic state representatives issued a joint statement Saturday reiterating that they remain committed to not voting for Michael Madigan to be speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives.

“We are unified in our belief that our caucus needs new leadership, and that we will be voting for a new Speaker in the 102nd General Assembly,” they wrote.

The 19 lawmakers also address the monumental issues they’re looking to take up once inaugurated, from systemic racism to the public health and economic crises caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“And we must restore the public trust,” they wrote.

The joint statement marks the first time the 19 lawmakers have spoken in one common voice. The bloc poses a unique and unprecedented threat to Madigan’s record-setting hold on the speakership because collectively the group pushes him below the voting threshold he needs to control the House gavel for two more years. That vote could come as soon as mid-January when the House is scheduled to reconvene.

For months, each of 19 have individually and incrementally come forward to express their concerns with Madigan remaining House speaker after federal prosecutors agreed to defer prosecution against Commonwealth Edison for giving jobs and contracts to Madigan associates in exchange for favorable legislation.

Madigan faces no criminal charges and denies wrongdoing.

However, his longtime confidante and former ComEd lobbyist, Michael McClain, was charged along with three other ComEd lobbyists and executives. Those four have pleaded not guilty. Another former ComEd lobbyist admitted guilt.

And such high profile Democrats as Gov. JB Pritzker and U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth have called on Madigan to step aside as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

The statement from the 19 House Democrats comes two days after they received a letter obtained by WBEZ from six of their Democratic counterparts — including Rep. Michael Zalewski, D-Riverside, who asked them to “come together as a family,” and talk about a “path forward for us all.”

That letter did not overtly call on any of the 19 lawmakers to flip back in favor of re-electing Madigan as House speaker. But the authors did appear to be challenging the group — urging them to talk with the Democrats who remain aligned with Madigan to come up with a solution.

Zalewski seemed to take the letter from the 19 on Saturday as an encouraging sign.

“I appreciate and welcome an area of agreement over the last couple days: We need to come together collaboratively because the work ahead is critical for the State of Illinois,” Zalewski wrote in response to Saturday’s statement from his 19 colleagues.

In his own letter to the 19 sent on Thursday, Zalewski and five other House Democrats cited a recently-published Chicago Tribune editorial in which the newspaper’s editorial board advocated for Republicans — who hold a super minority of members in the House — to get behind a Democratic lawmaker who is not Madigan to be the next speaker.

“To be clear, the Editorial Board with a history of animosity toward core issues that our Caucus holds dear has openly called for the House Republican Caucus to intervene in our leadership election. The inherent danger in even considering that premise cannot be understated,” the letter states.

Besides Zalewski, the first letter was signed by: Frances Hurley, D-Chicago, John D’Amico, D-Chicago, Nick Smith, D-Chicago, Justin Slaughter, D-Chicago, and Mike Halpin, D-Rock Island.

Earlier this week, the House Black Caucus publicly endorsed Madigan. That’s with the exception of State Rep. Maurice West, D-Rockford, who signed Saturday’s statement and reiterated that he will not vote for Madigan.

One other Democrat has come forward as a candidate for speaker: State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego. But her candidacy has so far not been met with strong outward support.

Tony Arnold and Dave McKinney cover Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow them @tonyjarnold @davemckinney