Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday that he agreed with U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan should no longer be the leader of the Democratic Party of Illinois.
The outcome of Tuesday's election, on several fronts, wasn’t good news for Madigan, D-Chicago, and the party he controls. Voters rejected a progressive income tax amendment supported by Madigan, Pritzker and other top Democrats, booted a Madigan-backed Illinois Supreme Court justice, and handed several Illinois House seats to Republicans.
Madigan is the only state House Speaker who is also the chairman of a state’s major political party, a nexus of power that allows him to direct campaign dollars to political allies and control what legislation moves through the Illinois House.
Madigan has been implicated in a nearly decade-long bribery and patronage scheme. Exelon subsidiary ComEd admitted paying lobbyists and others for jobs that required little or no work to curry favor with Madigan. The utility told a House committee investigating the speaker that the company paid $1.3 million in bribes to Madigan allies to influence the speaker. Madigan hasn’t been charged with a crime and has denied wrongdoing.
Durbin, D-Springfield, told WTTW Wednesday that the Democratic party “paid a heavy price for the speaker’s chairmanship of the Democratic Party.”
“Candidates who had little or no connection with him whatsoever were being tarred as Madigan allies who are behind corruption and so forth and so on,” Durbin said. “It was really disconcerting to see the price that we paid on that. I hope he takes that to heart and understands that his presence as chairman of our party is not helping.”
Pritzker said Thursday he agreed with Durbin.
“I agree with Sen. Durbin,” Pritzker said. “Opponents were able to tap into voters' concerns about corruption and their lack of trust in government. There are real challenges there.
“The Republicans and the billionaires that sided with them were effectively able to use the Speaker as their foil and that hurt our ability, our state’s ability, to get things done,” Pritzker said.
Madigan said he plans to to continue as chairman of the party.
“I am proud of my record electing Democrats who support workers and families and represent the diversity of our state,” Madigan said in a statement issued by the Democratic Party of Illinois. “Together, we have successfully advanced progressive policies that have made Illinois a strong Democratic state with supermajorities in the legislature. Illinois is the anchor in the ‘blue wall’ that has been reconstructed in the Midwest, and I look forward to continuing our fight for working families as chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.”
U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, told the State Journal-Register that both the Illinois House and the Democratic Party of Illinois should “consider” new leadership.
“The ongoing investigation surrounding Speaker Madigan is an unnecessary distraction and makes it harder to carry out the work of helping the people of Illinois,” Duckworth, said in a statement to the State Journal-Register. “As our nation hopefully embarks on a brighter path with a new president, the Illinois Democratic Party and the Illinois House of Representatives should consider new leadership to continue the progress we’ve made at the state level and build on it.”
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said with several House Democrats losing to Republican challengers, voters sent a clear message.
“Just Tuesday, voters across Illinois sent a message to House Democrats and that is ‘you can run but you can’t hide from Speaker Madigan,’” Durkin said. “Despite having a significant financial advantage, Illinois residents and House Democrats just witnessed a referendum against Michael Madigan.”
Tim Schneider, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said having Madigan step down as party chair would do little to restore trust in Springfield.
“Let me be clear: a superficial and political demotion as Chairman of the DPI does nothing to end Madigan’s reign of corruption as Speaker of the House,” he said. “His position at the heights of our state government is where he derives his power and where he still diligently gives Governor Pritzker his marching orders. Suggesting the Speaker step down as party chair is a cop out.”
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, on Thursday again pushed to be elected the next Speaker of the House to replace Madigan.
Madigan, D-Chicago, has held the job for all but two years since 1983.
Kifowit said Tuesday’s election results show voters in Illinois are “craving new leadership.”
“The people of Illinois crave a state government that they can put their full faith and trust in to solve the mourning issues that are going to have to be addressed soon,” she said. “To do this, we need to begin a new chapter in the Illinois House of representatives without Michael Madigan at the helm.”
She noted other Democrats in the House have said they will not support the speaker for another term.
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