Editorial: Entire state may feel repercussions from Kifowit's challenge of Madigan
We've been quick to heap praise on Democratic lawmakers who openly have taken the politically courageous stand of calling for Mike Madigan to give up his positions as House speaker and head of the Illinois Democratic Party. But the announcement by Oswego Democratic state Rep. Stephanie Kifowit deserves special acknowledgment of its own. For, Kifowit brings something to a decision about leadership in the House that the lower chamber hasn't seen in almost anyone's memory.
Isn't it going to be interesting to see what legislative Democrats do with it?
Kifowit, a four-term representative from the 84th House District, announced last week that she will challenge Madigan for the speakership this January. Few can recall when Madigan last had a challenger for the speakership, if ever, since he was first elected coming onto four decades ago -- with a brief lapse when Republicans managed to get control of the House for two years. Just crossing the speaker on routine matters carries known risks for Democrats, including the loss of plum committee assignments, the premature burial of their legislation and the acquisition of Madigan-backed opponents come primary election time. His speaker candidacies as a rule attract near-unanimous support, and even abstentions from within his party are noticed.
So, Kifowit's undertaking could have serious implications for her political career, whether or not she mounts a viable campaign for the most powerful seat in the legislature. For risking that, she deserves plaudits at minimum for taking a meaningful stand for ethical values in government. Madigan has been implicated in a major bribery scheme involving ComEd, and his allies and operatives are doing everything in their power to keep him from having to face questions from a House subcommittee investigating the case. Illinois government has all too few insiders willing to stand up and be counted on the side of principle.
But Kifowit's action also will tell as much about her colleagues as about her. For months, Democratic legislative candidates, as well as lawmakers without a race or opposition, have hidden behind the promise, issued with eerie conformity, to vote next January "for the man or woman I believe can deliver results on the issues Illinoisans care about." Now, at last, and for the first time in memory, they could be faced with actually having to show what that phrase means, knowing that one of the top issues on Illinoisans' minds is government corruption. Moreover, it could force members of both parties to re-examine the rules that can allow so much power to become invested in a single Illinois lawmaker.
And maybe, just maybe, Kifowit's show of nerve might help other Democrats find theirs and step up to provide real choices for House leadership -- and an unmistakable message that it is time for the current speaker to go.
"They always say Marines are the first ones in and the last ones to leave," Kifowit, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said in making her announcement. "So, I guess I'm the first one in."
Let's hope she gets reinforcements and doesn't leave until -- by her or someone she inspires -- the job is done.