More Democrats Say It’s Time For A New Illinois House Speaker Who Is Not Michael Madigan

Michael Madigan
Michael Madigan's leadership is being challenged by more of his own party as a close friend of his is charged in the ComEd bribery scheme. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ
Michael Madigan
Michael Madigan's leadership is being challenged by more of his own party as a close friend of his is charged in the ComEd bribery scheme. Manuel Martinez / WBEZ

More Democrats Say It’s Time For A New Illinois House Speaker Who Is Not Michael Madigan

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Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is facing further calls from within the Democratic Party — including from Gov. JB Pritzker — to step aside as leader after federal authorities filed new bombshell indictments Wednesday against four former Commonwealth Edison executives and lobbyists for engaging in a bribery scheme --- among them Madigan’s consigliere, Michael McClain.

That comes as Madigan issued a lengthy and forceful statement Thursday morning reiterating that he faces no criminal charges and denying any wrongdoing.

“If there was credible evidence that I had engaged in criminal misconduct, which I most certainly did not, I would be charged with a crime,” Madigan wrote. “But I have not, and with good reason because there is nothing wrong or illegal about making job recommendations, regardless of what people inside ComEd may have hoped to achieve from hiring some of the people who were recommended.”

But Madigan’s response to the indictment prompted criticism from Pritzker, who called on Madigan to resign if he doesn’t answer reporters’ and lawmakers’ questions.

“Written statements and dodged investigatory hearings are not going to cut it,” Pritzker said. “If the speaker cannot commit to that level of transparency, then the time has come for him to resign as speaker.”

Madigan was not named in the new federal indictment, though he is clearly referred to throughout the 50-page document as “Public Official A.”

In addition to McClain, prosecutors charged former ComEd CEO Anne Pramaggiore, along with former lobbyists for the power company John Hooker and Jay Doherty.

All four have released statements denying wrongdoing. They are scheduled to make their first appearances in front of a judge next month.

In July, ComEd admitted to an illicit, eight-year effort to win Madigan’s favor for electricity rate increases and other lucrative state legislation, funneling consulting payments to a litany of the powerful speaker’s allies for doing little or no work for the state-regulated, public utility giant.

Authorities wrote in the new indictment, “It was further part of the conspiracy that Public Official A and McClain sought to obtain from ComEd jobs, vendor contracts and subcontracts, as well as monetary payments for various associates of Public Official A.”

Prosecutors alleged the beneficiaries of the misconduct including Madigan’s “political allies” and campaign workers for the speaker, such as precinct captains from Madigan’s 13th Ward Democratic operation.

Madigan had already been facing calls to step down as either chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois or as House Speaker since ComEd’s July admission. Thursday morning, more stepped forward to call for new leadership.

“The charges announced last night only confirm what we already knew: the old ways of doing business in Springfield will not be adequate to rise to our present challenges. We will need new, transformative leadership to meet this moment,” Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, wrote in a statement. “I join many of my fellow House members in asking Rep. Madigan not to seek re-election as Speaker of the Illinois House. If he does, we will not be voting for him. And without our votes, we do not believe he will have the requisite number to be re-elected as Speaker.”

Reps. John Carroll, D-Northbrook, and Sam Yingling, D-Grayslake, also released a statement that they will not support Madigan as speaker when the winners of this month’s election are inaugurated in January.

And four more House Democrats released a joint statement clearly explaining they would not vote for Madigan to be House Speaker come January.

“In the wake of yesterday’s expansive and far-reaching indictment, it has become even more clear that the Speaker will no longer be able to effectively lead the House Democratic caucus, and we will not be supporting him for Speaker,” it read.

The statement was signed by Reps. Ann Williams, D-Chicago, Anna Moeller, D-Elgin, Robyn Gabel, D-Evanston, and Deb Conroy, D-Elmhurst.

In addition, House Republicans convened a special bipartisan investigative committee that could ultimately lead to a vote on whether to expel Madigan from the House. Though those hearings have been on hiatus while they wait for ComEd to deliver on its promise to provide documents that haven’t yet been made public.

“We need the special investigating committee to resume immediately so we can delve into how the Speaker abused the power of his office and committed acts unbecoming of a member of the House of Representatives,” Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said Thursday.

The Democrats on the committee accused Durkin of rushing forward with proceedings before receiving ComEd’s documents. They’ve also had partisan disputes about whether the committee should issue subpoenas to Madigan, McClain and others involved in the scandal.

If these and the other Democratic lawmakers who have already said they will not support Madigan for speaker voted against him in January, Madigan would not meet the threshold of 60 votes needed to retain the title which he has held for nearly every year since 1983. Madigan was not speaker for two years — from 1995 to Jan. 1997— when Democrats lost the majority in the House.

Beyond the statehouse, other prominent Democrats have also called for Madigan to relinquish some of his political control. After voters rejected the graduated income tax constitutional amendment and Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride lost his retention bid, putting the partisan makeup of the court up in the air, Pritzker and Illinois U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth called for new leadership in the state’s Democratic Party.

Madigan has thoroughly rejected calls that he step aside from either position.

“Some individuals have spent millions of dollars and worked diligently to establish a false narrative that I am corrupt and unethical,” Madigan wrote in his Thursday statement. “I have publicly ignored their antics because those who know me and work with me know that this rhetoric is simply untrue. The truth is that I have never engaged in any inappropriate or criminal conduct. Despite baseless speculation alluding to the contrary, I have always gone to great lengths to ensure my conduct is legal and ethical, and any claim to the contrary is patently false. I have always steadfastly worked to build a strong Democratic Party and House Democratic Caucus in an effort to help the hardworking people of Illinois.”

Tony Arnold covers Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow him @tonyjarnold.

Editor’s Note: ComEd is a WBEZ underwriter.