Jim Dey | Madigan's under fire, but he's not sweating much

Jim Dey | Madigan's under fire, but he's not sweating much

Republican candidates for state office in Illinois are having a field day with their futile calls for Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan's political head.

"Everyone has had enough of Mike Madigan, no matter what the party," said Republican state Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Wheaton House member who is challenging Gov. Bruce Rauner for the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

But even as Republicans try to burnish their political bona fides with attacks on the evil Madigan, they aren't alone.

For perhaps the first time in his long political career, the 75-year-old Chicago Democrat finds himself under sustained attack from members of his own party. Sometimes it's for principled reasons, and sometimes it's because his critics see attacking Madigan as a way to gain Democratic votes in the March 20 primary election.

Take state Rep. Heather Steans of Chicago. The Democratic legislators questions the propriety of Madigan's holding dual political posts — speaker of the Illinois House, a tremendously powerful position that allows him to kill legislation with a snap of his fingers, and chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party, a less potent post that enhances his already incredible reach and influence.

"I certainly think best practices are that you shouldn't wear both hats," Steans said.

That, of course, depends on how one defines "best practices."

To Steans, it represents the optimum way of doing things to avoid conflicts of interest and abuse of power.

To Madigan, it means establishing the best way to position himself so he can ignore conflicts of interest and abuse power.

The big question, of course, is what's going to happen now that Madigan is under political attack for mishandling charges of sexual harassment and bullying by two of his key operatives. The pair — Kevin Quinn and Shaw Decremer — have been ousted from their role as Madigan foot soldiers, at least for the time being.

Nonetheless, Madigan has been criticized for dragging his feet on the harassment issues, particularly as it related to Quinn. The facts indicate that Madigan planned to take no disciplinary action against Quinn until he became aware that the Chicago Tribune was on the verge of reporting the controversy.

That lapse of judgment — a rare failure on Madigan's part to read the political landscape — has hurt his reputation at the same time that Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner is waging a political and media campaign to portray him as representing all that is wrong with Illinois.

How badly has Madigan been hurt? Well, how many times has Madigan ever publicly expressed regret over mishandling a public issue?

Madigan, of course, has only accepted responsibility, not blame, for presiding over a coarse political and campaign culture in his varied organizations. But he has felt the imperative of promising improvements, appointing a three-woman committee to study the issue and make recommendations on how to fix it.

With the speaker, however, every motive is mixed. He may be interested in the committee's recommendations, but he's definitely interested in dragging this issue out until passions cool.

At the same time as Madigan has expressed regrets, he's answered most questions through his lawyer and public-relations spokesman and declined to let his opponents see him sweat. The only time he's ever shown any excitement is when reporters have asked him if he's considered stepping down from either of his two posts.

His answer is an emphatic "no."

Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown, a veteran observer of that city's rancid and ruthless brand of politics, predicts "Mike Madigan isn't going anywhere" in the short term and probably not in the long term.

He's hoping to wear his critics out by waiting them out.

No stranger to the long game, Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for all but two years since 1983 — 35 years — and party chairman since 1998 — 20 years.

Those who doubt that politics and all that goes with it is Madigan's raison d'etre need only consider the following.

In 2014, Madigan's daughter, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, wanted to run for the Democratic nomination for governor. Since Lisa Madigan felt she couldn't be governor if Michael Madigan was speaker of the House, she decided one of them must stand down.

One of them did, but it wasn't her dad. If he wouldn't leave as a means of boosting his daughter's political ambitions, he won't consider leaving the speaker's post anytime soon unless he has no choice.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-3551-5369.

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