Jim Dey: Poll shows Madigan out of favor, even with friends
Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is powerful, not popular.
But that's OK with him. Power is his drug of choice. Nonetheless, Madigan's 40-year rule as the man in charge of the General Assembly is wearing thin with the people of Illinois.
A new poll shows that Madigan is so unpopular that, as the old saying goes, even his friends don't like him.
A recent Capitol Fax/We Ask America poll found that Madigan is viewed unfavorably by 65 percent of likely voters. The poll found that 20 percent had a favorable opinion of the veteran legislator and chairman of the Illinois State Democratic Party.
Further, 50 percent of the respondents said they would be less likely to vote for a local candidate if that candidate was supported by Madigan. No wonder Carol Ammons and Sam Rosenberg, the two Democratic candidates in the March primary contest to replacing retiring state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, competed to see who could distance him- or herself from Madigan the most. That occurred even as Rosenberg accepted Madigan's backing in the primary race, and Ammons was preparing to do so if she defeated Rosenberg to become the party's candidate in the fall election, as she did.
Here's the kicker — 50 percent of Democrats don't even like him, according to the poll results. Pollsters interviewed 836 likely voters on April 14, and the poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
It's hard to know what to make of these numbers in terms of their electoral effect, but veteran Springfield reporter Rich Miller writes that "Madigan has become the perfect bogeyman."
"Years of negative publicity, the state's many, many problems, the Republican Party's decades-long accusations that he's holding the state back and Madigan's historically long tenure are all undoubtedly driving these horrible numbers," Miller wrote.
Wastching moves on popular measures
Madigan may not care much if people don't like him. Insulated from the public in a safe Chicago district, he's beyond reach of the voters and, leaving nothing to chance, not above rigging his re-election efforts by running phony Republicans candidates against him.
But he cares — a lot — if people threaten his power.
That's why Madigan is leading — from behind the scenes — assaults on popular measures that could spell big trouble for him — two proposed constitutional amendments he's determined to knock off the fall ballot. One would set eight-year term limits on legislators like him while the other would strip the majority party of its authority to draw House and Senate district maps in its favor.
Backers of the proposed amendments have filed the necessary petition signatures with the Illinois State Board of Elections, completing a Herculean task of collecting 300,000-plus signatures for each. But even before the petitions were filed, Michael Kasper, a veteran Madigan lawyer, filed lawsuits that seek to rule them invalid.
Usually Sphinxlike, speaking only through his designated spokesman Mike Brown, Madigan has gone out of his way to publicly denounce the proposals, suggesting they are the spawn of frustrated Republicans intent on seizing power.
But even as Madigan worries about retaining his future grip on power, he remains fully in control. Illinois, to hear his critics call it, should be called "Madiganistan." Few politicians mess with Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Madigan's daughter, for fear of having to answer to "Dadigan." After one Republican House member, Angelo "Skip" Saviano of Elmwood Park, publicly insulted Lisa Madigan, "Dadigan" went out of his way to oversee's Saviano's 2012 defeat.
Madigan can be equally brutal with Democrats who cross him. No one who follows Madigan's career will ever forgot how he parted ways with his longtime political protege Gary LaPaille. After LaPaille got too big for his britches in the late 1990s, Madigan forced him out of the Illinois Senate, out of the chairmanship of the state Democratic Party, even out of the State of Illinois.
Madigan's fearsome reputation as a man who doesn't get mad, but does get even is the reason why so many were shocked when the speaker faced an almost unprecedented level of public opposition two weeks ago when he was re-elected party chairman. There was one dissenting vote, an almost whispered expression of opposition from state Sen. Michael Noland of Elgin.
It was enough for Noland to vote against Madigan; he wasn't foolish enough to explain why in public.
Noland explained it was "nothing personal," that he considers Madigan a "true leader" and that his vote "had to do largely with policy and the betterment of the party."
"I'm going to honor my commitment to the Speaker and not elaborate too extensively (on the reasons for the no vote)," Noland sheepishly explained to reporters.
For his part, Madigan said it's been his practice to turn opponents into converts.
"We want to work with the people and we want to move in the right direction," he said.
Known mostly for bland public statements, Madigan usually has little to say in public or private, unless it's with close allies. One Republican who works with Madigan recalled that he says virtually nothing but takes meticulous notes at leadership meetings involving GOP legislators and representatives of Gov. Quinn's office. But even his inaction speak volumes.
When daughter Lisa, then an inexperienced lawyer wanted to be elected attorney general in 2002, he moved heaven and earth to get her elected, raising and spending unprecedented sums to finance her campaign. When daughter Lisa wanted to run for governor in 2014 and said "Dadigan" needed to retire so there wouldn't be too many Madigans under the capitol dome, he flatly refused.
"She knew very well that I did not plan to retire. She knew what my position was. She knew," Madigan later said about his daughter's Hamlet-like indecision about whether she would run for the governor or re-election as attorney general.
Now 72, trim and unflappable, Madigan was elected to the Illinois House in 1972, serving as speaker for all but two years (1995-96) since 1983. He's considered a brilliant political tactician and a zealous partisan who places a higher priority on gaining political advantage than public policy.
That's one reason Madigan's plate is overflowing with problems, mostly financial, created over recent decades in which he was one of the few constants in state government. Madigan is working with Gov. Quinn to make the state's temporary 5 percent income tax permanent, but he's more focused on keeping Republicans out of the governor's office and maintaining Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate.
As for proposed term limits and a bipartisan map-drawing process, just thinking of the threat they pose to his power base makes his skin crawl, and Madigan will use all of his formidable resources to maintain the status quo.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at email@example.com or at 217-351-5369.