House Speaker Michael Madigan avoided calling the General Assembly back into session during the pandemic for several reasons, many of them having to do with himself. But Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch told me earlier this month that “The legislature is back in business. We're going to work in 2021.”

“The legislature is going to be a check on the executive branch,” newly-elected House Speaker Chris Welch flatly declared to me during an interview the other day. Speaker Welch was responding to a question I posed to him about his January 13 inaugural address, when he asked not-so-rhetorically, “Why is it difficult to ensure that families' unemployment checks continue unabated and arrive on time so struggling families can feed their children? Why is that hard to grasp?”

“This isn’t their Republican Party anymore!” Donald Trump Jr declared on January 6 during a fiery speech near the U.S. Capitol. “This is Donald Trump’s Republican Party,” the President’s son insisted. “Today, Republicans, you get to pick a side for the future of this party. I suggest you choose wisely.” And then, later in the day, all heck broke loose

I reached out to several House Democrats who could be considered politically vulnerable in 2022 to ask them how they plan to vote on Speaker Michael Madigan’s re-election in January. With one exception, I didn’t make much headway.

“What if” games are never quite accurate, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Governor JB Pritzker had the opportunity, and most probably the votes, to balance the state budget with an income-tax hike during 2019, his “honeymoon” year with the General Assembly. Instead, the governor came into office and proposed what was essentially a pension payment holiday and other magic budgetary solutions.

Outsiders may not get it, but it makes some sense that the majority of House Democrats still back House Speaker Michael Madigan’s re-election. He’s been a genius at getting things done for his caucus. He is loyal to his people and has infinitely more institutional memory and can pull more strings and push more buttons than anyone alive.

Illinois House Democratic Caucus Chair Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) told me last week that her decision to oppose Speaker Michael Madigan’s reelection was a process that she’s been struggling with since the summer. Willis became the 19th House Democrat to declare opposition to Madigan, putting him six votes shy of the 60 he needs to win.

On page nine of last week’s federal indictment of four people accused of conspiring to bribe House Speaker Michael Madigan with favors from ComEd is this heading: “Defendants and Relevant Individuals. ”But the first person listed is not one of the defendants. “Public Official A was the Speaker of the House of Representatives,” the list begins.

With the announcement by Representative Bob Morgan (D-Deerfield) earlier this month that he will not vote to reelect Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan in January, the opposition numbered eight House Democrats, with at least a few more privately leaning their way. They’ll need 13 or 14 Democrats, depending on final general-election results, to deprive Madigan of the speaker’s gavel. So, they may need some help to get over the hump. And there’s one person outside the House who may have enough votes to tip the balance either way.

Illinois Democrats were hoping for some big election-night wins last week, but now everything has devolved into finger-pointing chaos. Governor JB Pritzker’s graduated-income tax proposal was in some doubt for a while. The governor’s campaign chose not to advertise early because of the delicacies of politics during a pandemic, so they passed up a chance at total dominance of the playing field during crucial months.

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