Editorial: After Madigan vote, here's what must be done

  • Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan stands in the back of the room as a bill is debated Monday in Springfield.

    Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan stands in the back of the room as a bill is debated Monday in Springfield. Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 1/13/2021 9:08 AM

Third in an Opinion series.

Let's say one person could decide what bills might become law.


Let's say that person could be in charge pretty much for life.

Let's say he could give titles and raises to his backers so they'd want to keep him in charge.

Let's say he could make sure his backers stuck around by minimizing competition for their jobs.

That's how the Illinois legislature works. And while a lot of people see House Speaker Michael Madigan as the source of Illinois' political and legislative dysfunction, replacing him will not by itself reform a system that puts power in the hands of a politician and robs it from the people.

Changing the way Illinois does business will take a concerted effort, but it has to be done.

Replacing Madigan, as we've said before, is the first step. There are many reasons for that, but one is the unconscionable confluence of power in one person who not only runs the Illinois House, but also leads the Illinois Democratic Party -- a position with the power to decide who will run for office, dole out campaign money and place primary election opponents against those out of favor.

Dismantling that power structure is the route toward state government that is more effective, transparent and fair. It must begin with real action by lawmakers, not just sympathetic murmurings, and we call on them to hold the next House speaker accountable for these important advancements:

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Change the rules. Committee chairs -- not the House speaker -- should decide which bills progress to a vote. And those committee chairs should be named by seniority or by committee members, not by -- you guessed it -- the speaker.

Limit leaders' terms. Holding the speaker job for 35 years, as Madigan has done, gives you lots of chances to build alliances and make friends. Friends who are lobbyists wanting favors. Friends who owe you something. State senators in 2017 set a 10-year limit on leadership. The House needs a limit, too, and the next speaker must commit to it.

Draw fair maps. Legislative maps will be redrawn this year and last a decade. Who wields the pencil? The majority party, and Madigan has had an outsized role. Favorable maps can reward cronies, unfavorable ones can punish the disobedient, and the process always enhances partisan control. An attempt to change the state Constitution to give the job to an independent panel failed last year. So what's next? Legislators could pass laws committing to a bipartisan process that includes public input. Will they? Not under Madigan's reign, and possibly not at all. But that is the minimum bar we should set for those who represent us, and especially for legislative leaders.

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