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Energy Bill Runs into Trouble with Illinois Speaker PDF Print E-mail
Commentary/Politics - Illinois Politics
Tuesday, 25 November 2003 18:00
Up until last Tuesday afternoon, it looked like Commonwealth Edison had it made in the shade. House Speaker Michael Madigan had signed off on what was thought to be the final draft of ComEd’s bill to help it purchase downstate electric company Illinois Power.

Everyone was all smiles, including the Citizens Utility Board. CUB was aghast at a deal Governor Rod Blagojevich had cut with ComEd the day before. And, while it couldn’t outright support the Madigan-negotiated bill, the consumer group hinted that, pending a thorough review, it could remain neutral. ComEd and its parent company Exelon appeared to be literally hours away from passing legislation that only days before had looked deader than a rock on a stump.

But then Madigan’s top lawyer found a big problem with the bill.

Madigan wanted to make sure that ComEd couldn’t sign any long-term electricity-purchasing contracts at relatively high prices, and then use those agreements to force the Illinois Commerce Commission to raise its rates. ComEd assured the speaker that the bill satisfied his concerns.

But when Madigan asked for changes, to make extra special sure ComEd was properly constrained, the company refused to go along. Madigan decided that ComEd and Exelon had been playing him for a fool.

Now it’s one thing to fudge a position in a press release, as ComEd did the week before when it claimed it was withdrawing its request for a locked-in, speeded-up rate hike and hadn’t actually done so. Lying to the news media is not an unacceptable tactic in Springfield. It’s also not unheard of to lie to a rank-and-file member and get away with it.

But it’s quite another matter to look House Speaker Michael Madigan in the eye and prevaricate – especially if you represent a company that he doesn’t particularly care for in the first place.

And that’s what Madigan claimed ComEd and Exelon did last week. The speaker made a public statement accusing ComEd of not telling the truth, then jammed a bill through a committee that contained the same proposal that ComEd had rejected.

Madigan is not known as a guy who easily forgives people who have wronged him. He doesn’t take offense at small slights, but he remembers the big stuff forever.

Earlier this year, for instance, Madigan decided that he’d had his belly full of the state’s news media. Lots of reporters, he believed, had gone out of their way to write ugly stories about him and his daughter, Lisa, when she was running for attorney general.

One reporter even staked out his wife to ask her about her divorce and Lisa’s subsequent adoption by the speaker. Another located Lisa’s biological father and penned a flattering portrayal of a man who hadn’t bothered to contact his own kid in years. Some of the stories were deserved, some were way out of line. But Madigan decided enough was enough. He also figured that journalists would try to pit him against the new governor, so the best thing for everyone was just to stop talking to most reporters. And he hasn’t said a word to them since.

It wasn’t much of a surprise, therefore, when Madigan refused to meet with Exelon Chairperson John Rowe the day after he accused Rowe’s company of lying to him.

Madigan also rebuffed the governor later that day. Blagojevich called to invite Madigan to a negotiating session with the other legislative leaders, Exelon, and the Citizens Utility Board. No dice.

But there is another story about Speaker Madigan that might also be useful here.

For two years in the late 1980s, Madigan seemed constantly under pressure from Governor Jim Thompson, the Chicago editorial pages, and his own Democratic members to raise the state’s income tax. But he wouldn’t budge off his declaration that a tax hike was not needed.

Then Rich Daley was elected mayor of Chicago and Madigan figured he’d bring out the Welcome Wagon. Within days, Madigan negotiated and passed an income-tax hike, with half the money earmarked for municipalities.

The moral of the story is that Michael Madigan can be as cold-blooded and stubborn as they come. But when a golden opportunity presents itself, he is smart enough to take advantage of the situation. Exelon’s only chance at breaking through the brick wall Madigan constructed last week is to devise a grand proposal that will move him to action. As I write this, that hasn’t happened yet.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter. He can be reached at www.capitolfax.com.
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