Madigan on Nekritz’ rising stature

There is a specific reason behind everything Michael Madigan says and does. The powerful longtime House speaker and Illinois Democratic Party chair, however, has never shown a need to disclose the strategy behind his actions. That mode of operation was evident as he strode to the backbenches of the House floor last year, calling on a Democratic member who crossed him months before to serve in a leadership capacity. In an interview, Madigan details why he selected state Rep. Elaine Nekritz for a number of significant roles over the past years, including the politically charged House investigation of member Derrick Smith, the Chicago Democrat indicted on federal bribery charges.

Q. A few years ago Elaine made a vote against the rules. Was that a significant move in your eyes? That seems like something Democratic House members don’t often do.

A. I would simply say that over several years, my message to Democrats is, there’s a choice here. As a group, manage the House, or let yourself be managed by the Republicans. Managing the House is not an easy thing to do. By its nature, it’s a raucous place. People don’t come here wanting to proceed in an orderly deliberative manner. They come thinking differently from all that.

Q. But did it strike you at the time? Her “no” vote?

A. Do you know how long I’ve worked with Democrats? Forty-two years. I pretty well know them. As Mark Twain said, “I’m not a member of an organized party, I’m a Democrat.” So Democrats in that respect, we really haven’t changed that much in a long time since Mark Twain.

Q. How has your relationship grown with Nekritz? Would you say you’ve gotten to know her better than some other members and why?

A. Very recently Elaine has really taken some significant steps. For this term she is the chair of the Judiciary 1 Committee. It’s populated by lawyers. The expectation is a bill will get a real good examination in the committee. We’re very happy with how she’s conducted that particular committee. In addition, she’s now chair of the pensions committee. And she’s a member of the working group that the governor’s office is conducting on pensions. She’s become very knowledgeable in terms of all of the intricate aspects of pension law. And she’s done very well on that. And then you know she’s been appointed chair on the matter of (state Rep.) Derrick Smith.

Q. Talk a little bit more about choosing her for that investigative committee.

A. The committee will function in the nature of a grand jury. So, when I made my appointments, I was very concerned. I wanted people who will take their responsibilities seriously. Not to create a bias for or against Derrick Smith. This is an extraordinary action. She’s a chair of the group; they’re working with the office of the U.S. attorney in Chicago.

Q. How do you choose individuals for leadership positions? Is there a formal process and is she on that track?

A. In a certain way, she’s part of leadership now.

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