By the end of 2020, most people assumed there were only three ways to get House Speaker Michael Madigan out of office, and none were going to happen anytime soon.
Not one of those scenarios involved the Republican Party, the Chicago Tribune editorial board, the Illinois Policy Institute, or their fellow travelers and funders of the coordinated effort to dethrone the state’s Democratic king. Their constant attacks on Speaker Madigan only tightened the partisan and union support around him and strengthened his resolve to remain in office by any means necessary.
Either the feds were going to ensnare the longest-serving House Speaker in the nation, or Father Time would finally catch up with him or his members would somehow get up the nerve to revolt.
But even when a total of nineteen House Democrats said they would not vote to re-elect him as the weeks clicked away on that chaotic year and 2021 dawned, Madigan and his allies assured themselves that the man with millions of dollars in his campaign account which could also be used for legal defense, his years of healthy living, and his perfect record of dealing with his members for decades, would allow him to get through this latest crisis, too.
It wasn’t to be. The nineteen couldn’t be cajoled, they couldn’t be bullied. They had more than enough votes to block his re-election, and not a single one of them budged. ComEd’s deferred-prosecution agreement in the summer of 2020 included allegations of bribery by people close to Madigan in order to influence Madigan’s decisions. And that set off their revolt, and there was no tamping it down.
In the end, folks like Representative Costa Howard finally had enough of being on Team Bad Guy. No matter how brilliant their leader was, no matter how successful, no matter how much he protected and sheltered them from the consequences of their legislative (and personal) actions, he had to go. Yes, he was hurting some members politically, but people could also no longer stomach the thought of him staying after the stunning allegations made against his inner circle.
“Speaker Madigan has a duty to recognize that these allegations have cast a deep shadow on the reputation of our House,” Representative Howard said in July of 2020. “He must take action now to avoid inflicting further damage on the members of the House and the Democratic Party.”
“(T)he corruption and unethical behavior that have been revealed by this investigation make it impossible for Representative Madigan to continue in his leadership roles,” Howard continued back then. “I hope he will do the honorable thing and step down.”
There was no joyous celebration during last week’s Statehouse press conference by the nineteen. Costa Howard even appeared to tear up while speaking, maybe remembering the trauma of the ferocious push-back she and her colleagues endured as they were told over and over again by colleagues and union leaders and others that they were siding with chaos and defeat over continuity and victory and would be punished accordingly, no matter the outcome.
“The possibility that this day was coming and would distract us from our work on behalf of the people we serve was top of mind for many of us as we took this position, even as we faced intense pressure to maintain the status quo,” the nineteen said in a joint statement last week about their non-negotiable demand that Madigan step down.
If it hadn’t been for Costa Howard and the rest of the nineteen, Madigan would’ve still likely been House Speaker when he was finally indicted by a federal grand jury on 22 corruption counts. So, if you think the indictment news is politically bad for Illinois Democrats during a remap election year (and it truly is), just think how much worse it would’ve been if he was still in office right now.
One other thing. When Madigan’s chief of staff not-so-subtly forced Representative Kelly Cassidy to resign from her part-time job with the Cook County sheriff’s office after her outspokenness on the House’s very real problems with sexual harassment, I warned Madigan pal Mike McClain, as a friend, that he and Madigan needed to stop attacking her or they’d live to regret it. “Keep poking that little bear and she’ll rip your head off,” were, I believe, my exact words. He laughed and waved me off.
Well, Representative Cassidy opened and closed last week’s post-indictment press conference. “We are committed to continuing the work of restoring our constituents’ faith in Illinois government,” Cassidy told reporters. “And there's a lot of us.”
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.