Editorial: Reform requires more than ousting Madigan

  • The nameplate marking the desk of Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan sits at a desk at Bank of Springfield Center, where the House will hold a lame-duck legislative session this week.

    The nameplate marking the desk of Illinois Speaker Michael Madigan sits at a desk at Bank of Springfield Center, where the House will hold a lame-duck legislative session this week. Associated Press Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/11/2021 8:34 PM

First in an Opinion series

Later this week, the Illinois House will come together and begin what could be a lengthy effort to elect a speaker from among its members.


Political gamesmanship is often filled with intrigue, so you can never be sure what will happen. Democrats were to meet behind closed doors Saturday to try to start finding a consensus candidate.

But unless some of the legislators who publicly have staked out opposition to Michael Madigan suddenly cave, the votes to continue his long tenure do not appear to exist.

Kathleen Willis of Addison and Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego are among the early announced candidates, as is Ann Williams of Chicago, but there are no signs so far of momentum building behind any of them. Very possibly, an unannounced candidate like, say, Jehan Gordon Booth of Peoria or even Majority Leader Greg Harris could suddenly emerge.

And given Madigan's political skill over the decades, it's impossible to rule him out until the white smoke rises from the Capitol chimney.

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It's very possible that we will see days of protracted deliberations before a new speaker is identified.

There is a sense that, whomever it is, as long as it's not Madigan, a new age of clean politics and open government will follow.

To that, we say, don't bet on it.

The vote for a new speaker is important.

But it's also just the first step.

The vote that follows on the House rules -- changes to the House rules that reform how the legislature operates -- is perhaps even more important. Corruption and power politics are so ingrained in Springfield that they are not going to vanish just because a few of the personalities do. The system has to be changed for any of that to change.

Interestingly enough, Madigan was not the architect of most of the vise-grip rules that provide all power to him today.

When he came of age in the 1970s, the House operated by rules that were so open that the sessions would go on interminably.

Madigan made some restrictions to those rules, but they were for the most part common sense restrictions meant to bring order to the process.

Most of today's suffocating rules, which essentially allow nothing to take place in the Illinois House without the speaker's OK, were introduced by Republican Lee Daniels after he became speaker in 1995 and patterned the House operation in the style strongman GOP Senate President James "Pate" Philip used.


When Madigan returned to the speakership in 1997, he merely took advantage of the rules Daniels had bequeathed.

The thing is, those rules give Madigan -- or any speaker -- absolute power over anything that happens in the House.

It's not enough to simply elect a new speaker. Democrats -- the Illinois House members -- must elect a reform candidate, someone committed to opening up the process and sharing authority with the rank and file.

And they must follow that election by adopting changes in House rules that ensure that participatory governance.

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