Suburban Democrat Seeks To Unseat Madigan As House Speaker

Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan
Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, at the Illinois State Capitol on Dec. 1, 2016. Seth Perlman / Associated Press
Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan
Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, at the Illinois State Capitol on Dec. 1, 2016. Seth Perlman / Associated Press

Suburban Democrat Seeks To Unseat Madigan As House Speaker

A four-term House Democrat and veteran from west-suburban Oswego launched a longshot bid Thursday to topple embattled Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan, accusing him of having repeatedly “undermined the public trust.”

State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit said her move was motivated by revelations within Commonwealth Edison’s $200 million settlement of a federal bribery investigation into its efforts to curry favor with the speaker by giving no-work utility jobs and contracts to his campaign workers and other associates.

Stephanie Kifowit
The chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, wants to take Michael Madigan’s job as speaker of the House. Courtesy of Stephanie Kifowit

The chairwoman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee said the ComEd case is simply the latest in a succession of blemishes on Madigan’s record that call his leadership into question, including his role in a 2014 patronage scandal at Metra and, more recently, his handling of sexual harassment allegations against a former top aide.

“It’s just again and again and again. It needs to stop, and we need new leadership,” said Kifowit, who earlier this year called on Madigan to relinquish the speaker’s gavel he has held for all but two years since 1983.

“He compromised the integrity of the office of Speaker of the House and undermined the public trust. And he remains,” she continued. “As days go by, it’s clear to me we just need a new day in Illinois, and the people of Illinois deserve to have leadership that’s honest, trustworthy and that you can believe in.”

Madigan is now the focus of a legislative inquiry into his possible misconduct surrounding the ComEd case. The company’s former top in-house lobbyist has pleaded guilty to overseeing a bribery scheme directed at the speaker to advance the company’s legislative agenda.

Madigan, who has denied wrongdoing and has not been charged, did not directly comment on Kifowit’s bid to unseat him, saying only that Democrats should be focused entirely on winning back the White House.

“I have spent my entire career supporting Democrats, regardless of differences in perspective within our party. We are at a critical juncture in our country, and all of us should be focused on coming together to defeat Donald Trump and repair the hate and division he has sown in our communities,” Madigan said in a statement following Kifowit’s announcement.

“We have a lot of work to do, and I’m focused on the November election and addressing the devastating effects of COVID-19 on the workers, families and people of Illinois,” he said.

Madigan is likely to win reelection in November and seek reelection as speaker in January, when at least 60 members of his caucus have to support him for another two-year term as House leader, which would be his 19th.

There are now 74 House Democrats. Madigan is hoping his caucus expands its ranks in the Chicago suburbs if Democrats turn out to vote for presidential candidate Joe Biden, and succeed in ousting a handful of GOP incumbents in the process.

Thus far, six House Democrats have called for Madigan’s ouster, a threshold still well short of posing serious political risk to the speaker’s tenure.

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