Former House Speaker Lee Daniels finally getting portrait

Updated 2/28/2011 7:54 AM
  • Lee Daniels, former speaker of the Illinois House.

    Lee Daniels, former speaker of the Illinois House.

SPRINGFIELD -- It's been 14 years since the end of Elmhurst Republican Lee Daniels' two-year stint as Illinois House speaker.

But only now, on Wednesday, Daniels is scheduled see his official portrait hung in the Illinois House, where he was the only Republican to control the prized speaker's gavel since House Speaker Michael Madigan began his run in 1983.

Daniels first started in the House in 1975, leaving in 2007, not long after his former chief of staff, Michael Tristano, was convicted of doing campaign work on state time.

Daniels says he hasn't been back on the House floor since he left. He plans to be there Wednesday when his portrait is unveiled.

"I guarantee you it's going to look a lot younger than I look today," he said.

Tradition holds that former House speakers have portraits hanging in locations around the Capitol. Daniels' will be hung in the House chamber.

"When it's 100 years from now, you're probably in some closet," Daniels said.

Daniels served as House Republican leader even after his term in office. He was replaced by Tom Cross in 2003 as Daniels was dogged by the controversy that eventually led to Tristano's conviction.

Did the controversy delay Daniels' portrait?

"No, I just never thought about it," he said.

"I could have done it when I was speaker," he said. "I never gave it a thought."

In fact, Daniels said, the idea that he get a portrait came from a Democrat, Senate President John Cullerton, who was in the House chamber looking at portraits as he was planning his own. Cullerton noticed Daniels' wasn't there, and asked about it.

Now, Daniels teaches at Elmhurst College and works in real estate. He says he stays active in politics to the extent that he endorses candidates, including Republican Rep. Dennis Reboletti of Elmhurst, who replaced him.

"When you're replacing someone as iconic as him ... those are really big shoes to fill," Reboletti said.

Daniels replaced Madigan as House speaker after the 1994 election, when a wave of Republican support thrust GOP leaders to the helm of Congress, too. Madigan and the Democrats retook control of the Illinois House two years later, though.

Daniels said he has a "very high degree of respect for Speaker Madigan."

"There is no better political operative or politician than Mike Madigan." he said. "He's probably the best we've seen in our lifetime."

Daniels said it could be tough for Cross to take control of the House and replace Madigan anytime soon. Democrats control the rights to redraw political boundaries this year, perhaps making it harder for Republicans to succeed in the next decade of elections.

"Hang on," Daniels said. "It's going to be rough,"